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Is Dallas ready for the economy of the future?

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By Shawn Williams

Dallas is not yet ready to be a major player in the economy of the future.  That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it’s gonna take some doin’ to get there.

We’re in the throes of the Information Age. The Industrial Revolution that started in the 1700’s greatly increased the living standards of non-enslaved people, however the Digital Age hasn’t had the same effect.

While many Americans struggle to find work, those with specific knowledge, whether nurses or HTML computer programmers, continue to be in high demand.  To remain competitive, the region should promote growth through the creation and use of functional technology.

This strategy should include increased support of business incubators with a focus on tech based startups. It also should include expansions of concepts in eduction that led the institution of DISD’s A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School.

I’ve always looked at Dallas as being far ahead of the curve as it relates to technology.  The telecom corridor is right up the way and one of the world’s foremost telecommunication companies is headquartered downtown.

However, in areas poised to take hold of the new economy, words like startup and innovation aren’t just concepts, but part of the very fiber of the community.  Entrepreneurs and risk-takers put Dallas on the map but now seem to be relegated to second-class citizens behind corporate types.

In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, author Richard Florida examines a group of people who add economic value through their creativity. This includes the “super-creative core” like artists, designers and media types as well as “creative professionals” working in areas like finance, the legal sector and education.

Kevin Walker, founder of Culture Lab wrote what I consider to be a local manifesto on the topic in 2010.  In an article titled “What does Dallas offer the Creative Class?” he asserts the city is not a draw for creatives.

“We have low numbers of young city dwellers, extreme racial polarization and high concentrations of poverty,” writes Walker. He claims the Dallas economy “is rooted too heavily in finance, commercial real estate and oil and gas.”

I was reminded by how much work North Texas has to do in the creative/tech space when I attended the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin a couple of weeks ago. When I told fellow North Texans I was headed south for the festival, at best they thought I was traveling to a concert.

In reality, SXSW Interactive has become one of the world’s most anticipated technology gatherings.  Add in the film, music and eduction components and you have a week long event that had a $167 million impact on the city’s economy last year.

During SXSW, Apple announced they will invest more than $300 million in a new campus based in Austin.  So while they continue to keep Austin weird, they’re also keeping the city competitive in the future marketplace.

It’s no accident our state capital is becoming one of the biggest hubs of tech activity outside of Silicon Valley. Florida shared a chart in his book that put Austin at the top of all U.S. metropolitan area based on “The New Creativity Index.”

The ranking focused on the “3 Ts”: technology, talent and tolerance. When you take into account the book was published ten years ago, it’s easy to deduce that the seeds were planted way  back.

I’m not suggesting Richard Florida has all the answers or that Dallas should try to out-Austin Austin.  But I agree with Walker’s manifesto, and his feeling that Dallas city leaders must “address the higher education deficiencies, racial polarization, and most of all promote a variety of mini creative districts in the urban core of the city.”

The results of such an effort can only have positive effects on the city and the region.

Photo by Gus Rios from Wikipedia

  • Mike H

    Right on point, but I don’t think we can look to the Dallas power structure to change the status quo that they are so comfortable with. We (progressive African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc.) will have to mobilize and begin to slowly get things turned in the right direction. We have some innovative people here, such as you and Kevin Walker, but we struggle when it’s time to unite under one common agenda. Strategize, mobilize, execute…..that needs to become our mantra.

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