Information, Inspiration, and Ideas for a Sustainable Rural Future
Promoting the Entrepreneurial Community Spirit
Nanocorps in Micropolis: Small Is Good in the Network Economy
Even the U.S. Census Bureau Understands the Implications of the Rise of the Creative Class in our Network Society
Sohodojo Moves to Northcentral Montana
Visitors to the Sohodojo web site know that this NARFI strategic partner is home of the nanocorp and the Small Is Good Business Revolution.
When Sohodojo chose to leave North Carolina's sprawling Research Triangle Park for northcentral Montana, folks asked founders and research directors Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky, "Why Havre?" In response, Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn would tell inquirers about the unique isolation factor, and how Havre has the critical mass of just enough public/private infrastructure to have all the stakeholders you need to get cooperative business and community development strategies going.
Havre and its surrounding region is a place that is 'just right', big enough but not too big, and sufficiently remote that it is not in the "gravitational pull" of any nearby urban metropolitan area. Havre and the Hi-Line (the regional name for the northcentral plains area of Montana) are, in short, perfect 'field study' locations (quite literally) for Sohodojo's research and social action agenda. And the opportunity to help articulate the mission and to launch the North American Rural Futures Institute (NARFI) was too significant to ignore.
Together, NARFI and Sohodojo are engaged in applied research and development exploring the opportunities and challenges for solo and family-based entrepreneurship within rural communities. This is a perfect time for such a unique partnership to develop future-oriented innovations in rural small business.
In the emerging Network Economy, connection and value-contribution are more important than geographic location. With today's communication and transportation technologies, entrepreneurial small businesses can transcend their rural locations from a business opportunity standpoint without folks having to give up the rural lifestyles they enjoy. Contrary to the nay-sayers predicting the death of rural small towns and rural small business, there is an indomitable spirit among rural citizens that will shape a new role in the national economy for rural areas and their extended networks of entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Micropolitan Montana - Even the U.S. Census Bureau Sees It Coming!
You don't have to take our word for it anymore when it comes to recognizing that Small Is Good, and that some interesting things are brewing in rural America. And these healthy new brews are not just scaled-down versions of what's happening in urban areas.
The U.S. Census Bureau now recognizes micropolitan areas along with the more familiar metro variety.
And, yes, Havre, Montana is one of them! Here's our listing:
25660 Havre, MT Micropolitan Statistical Area 25660 30041 Hill County, MT
found in the bureau's current list of Micropolitan Statistical Areas and Components. Havre is one of five micropolitan areas in Montana. Even our state capital, Helena, is in the ranks along with Bozeman, Butte-Silver Bow, Havre, and Kalispell.
The U.S. Census Bureau's standard definitions of metropolitan areas were first issued in 1949 under the designation "standard metropolitan area" (SMA). The term went through a long series of subtle terminological tweaks over the next four decades. The term "core based statistical area" (CBSA) became effective in 2000 and refers collectively to metropolitan and the newly designated micropolitan statistical areas. (Follow this link for more on the Census Bureau's metro/micro CBSA classification system. See this bulletin for the Office of Management and Budget's official declaration of the new micropolitan definition.)
For the U.S. Federal government's purposes, a Micropolitan Statistical Area is a Core Based Statistical Area associated:
"...with at least one urban cluster that has a population of at least 10,000, but less than 50,000. The Micropolitan Statistical Area comprises the central county or counties containing the core, plus adjacent outlying counties having high degree of social and economic integration with the central county as measured through commuting."
Ironically, note in the above definition that the Federal government thinks that commuting – to those increasingly scarce stable, full-time jobs – is the best indicator of regional social and economic integration. Maybe commuting made sense as an integration indicator in the 50's. But not today, not in the era that Richard Florida has characterized as the rise of the Creative Class.
Metropolitan and Micropolitan Creative Class Dynamics
Richard Florida, Carnegie Mellon's distinguished professor of economic development, dramatically shook up the thinking of local government officials and regional planners with the publication of his best-selling book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. In tROCC (the acronym by which the book and its associated theory are increasingly referenced), Florida cogently and compellingly makes the case that regional economic health comes from the qualities of place, not from a bean-counting preoccupation with traditional benchmarks like the number of multi-national employers, the number of professional sports teams, and the capacity of their stadiums.
When Florida took a detailed look at urban regions that were thriving and those that were dying, he found a new set of key indicators to summarize the qualities of place that productive, creative people value. These key indicators clustered around three core values called the "three T's" – Talent, Technology and Tolerance.
In a work world where the half-life of a job is measured in months rather than years, creative folks care more about where they live than where they work. Talent recognizes and values talent. So not surprisingly, talented, creative people are drawn to areas where there are other talented people. Today's creative class members also value technology, especially broadband Internet access and quality transportation systems that help them live locally and work globally. And perhaps above all, creative folks value a community spirit of tolerance where everyone can be themselves.
Florida states that when the "Three T's" of place come together, we get a high degree of social and economic integration. The Census Bureau definition of metro- and micropolitan areas recognizes the importance of such core-anchored regions. When the mix of Florida's "Three T's" is right, we find healthy, vibrant local economies. When the mix is out of balance, we find stagnation or deterioration.
Recognizing the newfound importance of the qualities of place, regional planners and local government officials became hungry for benchmark measures that could help them asses the health of their communities. Richard Florida, through extensions of his research by his consulting practice, The Richard Florida Creativity Group, developed a rigorous assessment methodology and associated indexes to measure regional economic health.
Four indices – the Creativity Index, Diversity (Gay) Index, High Tech Index, and Innovation Index – map the location and extent of Creative Class members in the U.S. (and increasingly international) workforce. These measures have been applied to a diverse range of data, mostly urban areas of at least 50,000 residents or more. The most media-publicized results have been of the "Top Ten" variety – competitive measures between big cities like Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Austin to determine the most creative places.
This focus on cities has two drivers: scale and available data. Just as the brightest stars are most apparent in the night sky, so too have we focused on the state of our major cities to assess our national economic health. To this point, the only available data for such social-economic research was for MSAs, metropolitan statistical areas. Rural areas, small towns and smaller cities were simply a blindspot in the data.
But the Federal Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau's recent expansion of its data classification system to include micropolitan regions has redefined the domain of our potential research and application of Creative Class theory. The Census Bureau is, in effect, recognizing the fractal nature of our evolving network economy. That is, micropolitan areas serve the same networking dynamic that such highly urbanized Creative Class hubs as Austin, Atlanta and Boston do for their regional economies.
We might be tempted to simply extend Florida's theory, methods, and indices to this newly available micropolitan data. But doing so would miss an important point. Micropolitan regions, like Havre and the Hi-Line of northcentral Montana, are not just scaled-down versions of our urban metro neighbors. There are qualitative differences as well as quantitative differences as we move from City Life to Country Life. We'll need to extend the theory and tune the benchmark measures to bring the insights of Creative Class theory into rural areas.
At Sohodojo and NARFI, we are addressing this research and social action agenda in the tROCCits Project. We are leading a theoretical and applied investigation into the Rise Of the Creative Class In The Small through a strategic collaboration with The Richard Florida Creativity Group to articulate and explore this important emerging dynamic in our evolving network economy.
The catalyst for this collaboration was the invitation by Anita Walker of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to Richard Florida to headline, and to Sohodojo to present a workshop, at the Creative Economy Unconference. As a counterpoint to and extension of Florida's largely urban and techno-savvy focus, Sohodojo presented Creative Class In The Small: Economic Fire in Rural and Distressed Urban Communities.
In this workshop, we foreshadowed our applied research interests to extend Creative Class theory and indices for application to rural and distressed urban communities – traditional 'outliers' in our network economy. We also predicted that a new class of collaborative, networked small businesses will find a home among the growing and diverse members of the Creative Class.
Now, with the recognition by the U.S. Census Bureau of the importance and network nature of micropolitan areas, we have the data to pursue this important work. Over the coming months, the tROCCits Project will focus on two agendas:
Nanocorps in Micropolis - Seeds of the Small Is Good Business Revolution
Given the cachet of the term, "Creative Class," and the status of counting yourself among its members, you might be led to thinking that members of the Creative Class are so hip, independent, and sought after that they are fully in the driver's seat of the network economy. Certainly many of today's workers are required to exercise creative discretion and independent action in increasingly decentralized and perpetually under-staffed workplaces. But in some ways, the Creative Class can be seen as a contemporary spin on the Knowledge Worker lionized over the last few decades, as we transition from the Industrial Economy to the Information Age.
Truth is, although they may be creative, self-motivated, and largely self-managed, many Creative Class members are simply Worker Bees seeking to live in "cool" creative places. While their "hive" jobs may last only a few months rather than be a life-long career, they are nonetheless dependent on somebody creating the creative job that they fill.
To limit our appreciation of the Rise of the Creative Class to simply a new spin on workforce employment dynamics would be missing the seed of the revolution, already underway, in the way we relate to work and evolve our communities.
At Sohodojo, we've envisioned and pursued this dramatic shift in the nature of employment and business organization over the last five years. We've described the components of new forms of business as nanocorps, entrepreneurial free agents, dejobbed small business, and microenterprise networks. All these atomic elements are components of the Small Is Good Business Revolution. And this revolution is both indicative of, and takes best advantage of, the dynamics of the emerging network society, its associated network economy, and the rise of the Creative Class.
As the Creative Class evolves, it is diversifying. Alongside the traditionally-employed Creative Class, we see a growing number of entrepreneurial Creative Classers. Valuing their creative independence and flexibility, this new class of entrepreneurs is not focused on creating the Next Big Thing. Getting rich, accumulating more "toys," and living in a gentrified urban center are far from the minds of these folks. Creativity and Collaboration, not Command and Control, are the "two C's" that they value. They do not want to create or join traditional businesses. These Creative Classers are looking for new forms of organization and innovative business models. Like the society and economy they live in, entrepreneurial Creative Classers will gravitate to network-based businesses.
Microenterprise networks (ME-nets) will evolve to meet the creative and collaborative needs of this new breed of entrepreneur. Taking a page from our pre-industrial past, the guild form of organization will be increasingly relevant to these new collaborative business networks. MIT's Tom Malone and Robert Laubacher's article, Flexible Work Arrangements and 21st Century Worker's Guilds, is particularly relevant to this Creative Class trend toward entrepreneurial collaborative business models. (See also.)
Microenterprise networks are inherently decentralized and distributed. They rely on self-organization and peer management. They are fluid and flexible. As such, they are ideally suited as a business venture for solo and family-based entrepreneurs in rural and distressed urban communities. Physical place is less important than the virtual place of an extended community of shared interest.
As a visible committment to our belief in the emerging value of microenterprise networks as a component of local and regional economic development, Sohodojo has entered a strategic partnership with Iowa-based Soyawax, Inc. to launch and evolve The Village Chandler Guild, a microenterprise network of soybean wax candlemakers. The Guild is holding its First Continental Congress in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in late August.
The U.S. Census Bureau and the White House's Office of Management and Budget has recognized with their new designation of micropolitan areas – what we've known all along at Sohodojo – Small Is Good. We're not saying best nor necessarily preferred. Good, in this context, means appropriate and sustainable. Just as micropolitan areas are taking a rightful and distinct place in our categorization of habitation categories, so are nanocorps, dejobbed small businesses and microenterprise networks joining the ranks of available business organization.
As we witness and participate in the evolution of our Network Society and its associated Network Economy, we will come to understand the role and potential of collaborative business networks, large and small, in rural and distressed urban communities within our micropolitan and metropolitan regions. Small Is Good in the 21st Century.
If you want to be fully aware of and prepared to participate in the Network Society and Network Economy, we cannot recommend a better and more important book than Albert-László Barabási's "Linked: The New Science of Networks", now in paperback with an insightful Afterward added since the first edition. Creative Class member or otherwise, you need to read this book, period.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. We invite your comments and inquiries about collaborative research and social action opportunities.
--Timlynn Babitsky and Jim Salmons--
Nanocorps in Micropolis is all about the emerging Network Economy. If you want to know more about these important ideas and you want to supplement your reading of Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, we recommend the following: