"Creative Class" maven Richard Florida has ranked Jackson 75th on the creative-class scale (higher than Memphis and New Orleans!) As the JFP told you in our very first cover story back in 2002. That means we have potential as a regional hub for education, health care and government; it's already a hotbed of knowledge workers, students and teachers, not to mention artists, musicians and actors. But while reopening the King Edward Hotel and painting art boxes downtown is an amazing step (click here to view the gallery), there's more to be done, particularly to foster the inbound migration that a strong creative class city can encourage.
- Build On What We Have. Austin, Texas, doesn't have a major sports franchise, and it isn't a major travel hub or resort spot. It is a center of education and government, and it's parlayed that over a the years into being a center for creative commerce, music and general funkiness. (Plus awesome Tex-Mex.) The result? It attracts young professionals—and the companies who employ them—who help build the economy even more.
- Encourage Third Places and Spaces. City government, developers, and development authorities should open up doors and regulations (and low, low rents) to the next coffeehouse, art studio or outdoor festival—because the in-town residential and technology startups will follow. Make rent, insurance, improvements and licenses easy! Train creatives in business management. Foster quality of life. Support locally owned businesses.
- Make Education the City's Mantra. Jackson is primed for certain types of "state-side" outsourcing (call centers, light manufacturing), thanks to the low cost-of-living and low startup costs for businesses. But a "culture of education" is what really makes creative-class cities stand out, from creativity—both in curriculum and in arts—in the public schools to adult enrichment campuses and ad-hoc meet-ups for DIY tips and information sharing.
- Put 'People' First. Jackson may never be a biking mecca (it's hot ... a lot) but designing and improving neighborhoods for people—bike lanes, sidewalks, parks, walkable retail—will attract people. Greenways and byways can be some of the most effective and efficient projects a city or neighborhood can undertake, with great return on investment, but it takes more than just cutting trails; it takes cutting up the code book for buildings, zoning and roads.
Bear In Mind: Creative-class cities don't have to go broke funding huge developments or sports arenas; it's the authentic, local, small-feeling vibe that will help grow residents and the economy.
Crossed Fingers: Governing magazine just reported that Jackson may be reversing our population-loss trend. In 2011, we added more than 2,000 people, not continuing recent trends of losing about 1,100 folks a year.