WILL MOREDOCK ‌ Seeking the Creative Class 

Gov. Sanford doesn't know where it is or what it looks like

A recent issue of South Carolina Magazine featured the first in a series of columns by His Excellency Mark Sanford, Governor of the sovereign State of South Carolina. I don't believe for a minute that the Guv actually sat down at his computer and hacked out this forgettable piece of self-promotion, but his name and face are on it, so I hold him personally responsible.

The staff monkey who wrote these nuggets must have been trying mightily to impress the boss, or the editors of SCM. In the first paragraph, he cited author Richard Florida and his thought-provoking 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class.

He writes: "...wealth creation in the 21st Century will largely be driven by the creative process of redesigning, marketing and innovating products. This 'creative class,' Florida argues, will gravitate toward areas that boast a good quality of life. In other words, the way we look and feel as a state is increasingly a point of competitive advantage, which is why our administration has been focused on protecting and improving South Carolina's unique quality of life."

At this point the column turns surreal as the ghostwriter describes how the Sanford administration is repackaging and marketing tourism to make it fun and attractive to a whole new bunch of people.

Yes, I said tourism. Like wake-up calls and free continental breakfasts. Like crisp clean linens on your bed and well-trimmed fairways to drive on.

If the author of this misbegotten column had bothered to read Florida's book, he would have known that tourism is one of the lowest-paying industries in the country and the very antithesis of the high-paying creative culture that the governor says he wants for our state. To make his point, Florida singles out Las Vegas, the Tourism Capital of the Universe. Las Vegas stood at 47 on Florida's creativity ranking of the 49 largest cities in America. New Orleans, another tourist hot spot, ranked 42.

So who makes up the Creative Class? According to Florida, it includes scientists and engineers, architects and designers, writers, artists, musicians, and anyone else who uses creativity as a key factor in their work in business or the professions. The Creative Class comprises 38 million members and more than 30 percent of the nation's workforce. It will continue to shape our economy and culture for generations.

How is South Carolina doing in its quest to attract this dynamic new class?

Florida writes: "One of the oldest pieces of conventional wisdom ... says the key to economic growth is attracting and retaining companies -- the bigger the company the better -- because companies create jobs and people go where the jobs are."

Sound familiar? That's right. Over the past 35 years, our state and local governments have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at any company that would promise to come here and build a plant.

Has it worked? Well, that depends on what you mean by "work." I'm sure a few people would say that giving them millions of unaccountable dollars for doing what they intended to do anyway is just swell. But South Carolina still has the worst public education in the nation. We still have among the lowest standards of living and personal income. We still have among the shortest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates. Go down the list of quality-of-life indices and South Carolina remains among the worst places to live, based on all quantifiable data.

Quality of life -- including an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity -- is the key to attracting the Creative Class. Indeed, Florida offers what he calls a Gay Index, showing high densities of gays correlating very closely with the nation's creativity hot spots.

"My conclusion," Florida writes, "was that rather than being driven exclusively by companies, economic growth was occurring in places that were tolerant, diverse, and open to creativity..."

Yet what do we see when we look around our state? There is a full-scale tax revolt. People are tired of paying for public education and other social services. In the last month, The Post and Courier has reported on a local police department that did not have the money to hire enough officers to protect its citizens and a local fire department that did not have enough equipment to protect its buildings. Do you think people don't notice things like that when they look for a place to live?

And right now our Republican legislature is counting the days until they convene in January and pass legislation to ban gay marriage.

As long as South Carolinians continue to think that cutting taxes and persecuting gays is the way to a better life, we deserve to live like a Third World country. And as long as we keep electing people like Mark Sanford and Senate Majority Leader Glenn McConnell, that's just what we will get.


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