Wednesday, February 23, 2005 | Last summer, IBM, the world’s largest computer maker, acknowledged that a “significant number” – the labor unions say several thousand – “of software and chip development and engineering jobs” were being moved to India and China. Earlier, industry stalwarts like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer announced that they, too, were either outsourcing their software development or beefing up their foreign subsidiaries in China, India, the Eastern Bloc, or Russia to do the same. Forrester Research, Inc., a marketing research firm, estimates some 3.3 million service jobs will move out of the United States over the next 10 to 15 years.

While corporate CEOs, economists and politicians, are telling us that these are short-term adjustments, it is clear that the pervasive worldwide spread of the Internet, digitization and the availability of white collar skills abroad, mean huge cost savings for those global corporations. Consequently, this shift of high tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century. On the positive side, some economists believe that this will improve the profits and efficiency of American corporations and set the stage for the next big growth-generating breakthrough. But what will that be?

Many, like the Nomura Research Institute, argue that the stage is set for the advance of the “Creative Age,” a period in which America should once again thrive and prosper because of our tolerance for dissent, respect for individual enterprise, freedom of expression and recognition that innovation is the driving force for the U.S. economy, not mass production of low-value goods and services.

Today, the demand for creativity has outpaced our nation’s ability to create enough workers simply to meet our needs. Seven years ago, for example, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers asked the governor of California to “declare a state of emergency” to help Hollywood find digital artists. There were people aplenty who were computer literate, they claimed, but could not draw. In the New Economy, they argued, such talents are vital to all industries dependent on the marriage of computers and telecommunications.

But what makes someone creative? Can the community – through public art or cultural offerings, enhance the creativity of its citizens? And if the new economy so desperately demands the creative worker and leader, what do our schools and universities need to do to prepare the next generation of creative people?

While investing in the arts is a business in itself – a $134 billion industry, according to the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization Americans for the Arts – the real benefits of the arts, according to the National Governors Association, is that they are “a potent source for economic development.” Arts programs, the NGA argues, serve local communities by “contributing to a region’s ‘innovation habitat,’ thus improving quality of life – making it more attractive to the highly desirable, knowledge-based employees and permitting new forms of knowledge-intensive production to flourish.”

The Creativity and Innovation task force created last March by Envision San Diego is focused on the future of education and the development of creative clusters. The “Future of Education” subcommittee, chaired by Todd Gutschow Chairman of the Classroom of the Future Foundation, and founder and former CEO of HNC Software, is looking at various innovative educational models in San Diego such as School In The Park, High Tech High, Freese Elementary, Lemon Link in Lemon Grove and trying to determine which aspects might be more broadly applied to transform education throughout the region. Mary Lou Aleskie, President and CEO of the La Jolla Music Society, and Chairman of the subcommittee on Infrastructure/Creative Clusters, also believes there’s more we can do with Balboa Park, the City Center Creative Development Plan, the Naval Training Center, North Park and others, in the belief that as a community we need to think seriously about these clusters that are as important today as the “economic clusters” of an earlier era.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that initiatives such as these that promote education and infrastructure, and in the process more regional livable places and a civil society will be the hallmarks of the most successful and vibrant 21st century cities and regions. Those communities placing a premium on cultural, ethnic and artistic diversity, and reinventing their knowledge factories for the creative age, will likely burst with creativity and entrepreneurial fervor.

These are the ingredients so essential to developing and attracting the type of bright and creative people that generate new patents and inventions, innovative world-class products and services and the finance and marketing plans to support them. Nothing less will ensure our region’s success.

John Eger, Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communication and Public Policy and Executive Director of The International Center for Communications at SDSU, is co-founder of Envision San Diego: The Creative Community.

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