Editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine just published their Best Cities For the Next Decade, judging Austin; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Boulder; Salt Lake City; Rochester, Minnesota; Des Moines, Burlington, Vermont; West Hartford, Connecticut; and Topeka, Kansas as places that are prosperous, innovative, and will generate plenty of jobs in the next 10 years.
"Some U.S. cities," Kiplinger's says, "though slowed by the Great Recession, still thrive by lifting good old American innovation to new levels. And that will help put more Americans back to work."
In essence, new ideas equal new jobs. The case studies bear this out. Austin, the number one city on the list, is a breeding ground for start-ups. Burlington, 30 years ahead of the rest of the country with the local food movement, has seen economic growth driven by environmentalism. Boulder has more than 6,600 small business and corporations that do everything from instrumentation for the Hubble Telescope to convert old cars into hybrids.
Is there a lesson Memphis can take from this? Maybe one or two.
After researching and visiting our 2010 Best Cities, it became clear that the innovation factor has three elements. Mark Emmert, president of the University of Washington in Seattle, put his finger on two of them: smart people and great ideas. But we'd argue that it's the third element — collaboration — that really supercharges a city's economic engine. When governments, universities and business communities work together, the economic vitality is impressive.
(I would argue this is a good enough reason as any to build a thriving downtown, one that includes a lot of business, both big and small. You can't under-estimate the water cooler effect. Oh, added bonus link: Wired's story on how Pixar keeps churning out blockbusters: "Walking to the bathroom or getting a cup of coffee is often the most productive part of my day," says producer Darla Anderson. "You bump into somebody by accident and then have a conversation that leads to a fix.")
Kiplinger's also points out that economic vitality and livability go hand in hand. Cool music, art, culture, and recreational facilities attract "like-minded professionals who go on to cultivate a region's business scene."