Do Guns and Oil Out Earn Brains?

Last Updated May 13, 2010 7:44 AM EDT

Is Richard Florida Wrong About the Creative Class? Nearly every business-aware young person is familiar with Richard Florida and his book The Rise of the Creative Class which argues that regions which can attract creative, educated workers will flourish in the new economy and that these sorts of people should pick their city strategically. It's a vision many highly educated (and highly indebted) Gen Yers have heard and internalized when they packed their bags after college and moved to Boston, San Fran or Austin. But do the numbers match Florida's theory?
Economist Mike Mandel has sifted through the data and found something surprising. When he calculated gains in real-per capita income for all metro areas over the last business cycle (2001-2008), which came out on top?
  • Houma-Bayou Cane- Thibodaux, LA
  • Jacksonville, NC
  • Manhattan, KS
  • Farmington, NM
  • Fayetteville, NC
  • Killenn-Temple-Ft Hood, TX
  • Lawton, OK
  • Odessa, TX
And who came out on the bottom?
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Greely, CO
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Flint, MI
  • Atlanta- Sandy Springs- Marietta, GA
  • Raleigh-Cary, NC
  • Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX
Or in other words, it's not the vegetarian burrito and pho eating educated urban conglomerations that saw the greatest growth in wealth for workers, but the meat and potatoes regions where guns and oil reign. Mandel explains,
The big gains in the #1-ranked Houma region are mainly connected with the increase in oil drilling, since BLS data shows that wages in the mining/oil industry in Terrebonne Parish, where Houma is located, soared from $58K a year to $78K from 2005 to 2008. #2 Jacksonville (NC) is the location of Camp Lejeune. Fayetteville (NC). #5 Fayettville (NC) is home to Fort Bragg, one of the largest military bases in the world. #6 Killeen is obviously home to Fort Hood. #8 Odessa, Texas, is riding the oil boom.
His headline point: "Brains and education did not seem to count too much in success in the last business cycle." It's a conclusion that's sure to add fuel to burning question of whether a hugely expensive college education is worth it or whether our education system needs a rethink. That is if his ideas stand up to scrutiny. Do you think Mandel's argument makes sense?

For more specific numbers check out Mandel's thought-provoking post, where he also speculates on why the much-touted creative class cities failed to deliver the dollars to workers.

(Image of oil well by nestor galina, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.