The Economic Case For A Stronger Creative Class

For 2017 to be a banner year, we need more than pension and HRO reform. Jacksonville need’s a stronger creative class.

Jacksonville’s economy is showing promise. Mayor Lenny Curry’s tenacity suggests he will prevail in pension reform. Additionally, his leadership is courting big businesses into our community. The arrival of these businesses equates to additional jobs for Jacksonville.

But there is a low ceiling looming in our local economy.

On tours of Sierra Neveda’s Asheville brewery, visitors experience the future of American manufacturing. The facility – now entering its third year of operations – showcases a sophisticated labyrinth of machines revolutionizing the ancient practice of brewing beer. The tour highlights the miles of pipes, dedication to craftsmanship and impressive production capacity.

While their equipment is fascinating, the lack of employees involved in the process is equally astounding.

The brewmasters spend most of their time behind computer screens. A skeleton crew handles a fully operational brewery. The lack of manual labor underscores how technological advances are outpacing human ability. This culminated at the end of the tour. Two robots stack hundreds of thousands of glass bottles and kegs in perfectly organized rows and columns. Since they’ve opened the facility, the robots haven’t so much as cracked a bottle – or been late to a shift.

If this is how beer is now being made, it’s safe to assume similar technology is extending through all manufacturing. Jobs requiring people to exercise basic judgment and physical dexterity will be replaced by more and more machines. Additionally, artificial intelligence is poised to displace workers in nearly every industry. Early applications of artificial intelligence suggest it can do everything from drive trucks to diagnose disease.

These emerging technologies will enhance many lives while simultaneously costing many families their livelihood. Is Jacksonville prepared? Or are we adding jobs with a short economic life span? Sierra Nevada is an innovative company, but Amazon is an innovation pioneer. The new jobs produced by companies new to Jacksonville – like Amazon – are destined to be replaced by machines.

This is a problem. If machines can handle our physical and soon our intellectual tasks, what jobs will be left for Jacksonville’s workforce?

Artificial intelligence allows machines to master I.Q. Thankfully, humanity employs more than I.Q. to navigate and improve our world. Our minds rely on an equal degree of emotional intelligence to organize ourselves into productive groups. Computers are dependent on logic, and emotions can be hard to rationalize. By investing in emotional intelligence, people can create a competitive advantage over machines threatening their jobs.

In other words, Jacksonville’s economic future will be determined by our ability to embrace our emotions.

Underneath our stoic exterior, Jacksonville is hiding a vulnerable core. We need to find the confidence to turn these vulnerable feelings into our strength. We should feel encouraged to repeat parts of our history.

Our city once cultivated a vibrant creative community. We need to polish off these relics. We need to honor this heritage. We need new traditions and celebrations to remind our community – and the country – of our long-standing appreciation for the arts.

By prioritizing the arts, we inspire creativity in our residents and attract new creative minds. A thriving creative class will not only generate new jobs, but also insure job security in an uncertain future.

There is one detail hindering the development of a prosperous creative class.

Mayor Lenny Curry championed tax pension reform as the lead domino for unlocking Jacksonville’s economic potential. He argued that without the reform he would have limited influence on economic activity. The development of a creative class in Jacksonville must overcome a similar hurdle. We need HRO reform. Expanding HRO to include the LGBT community is the lead domino for building a strong creative class.

The creative class is populated with Millennials. When Millennials are looking for a new city, they look for a few key criteria. Jacksonville checks the majority of the boxes. We offer a low cost of living. We offer affordable housing. We offer a growing job market. We offer acres of parks for outdoor recreation. We offer local restaurants to choose over chain restaurants. The single criteria we don’t meet today is our antiquated policies towards the LGBT community.

Mayor Curry claims an expansion of the HRO policy isn’t necessary because discrimination does not occur in Jacksonville. He says we don’t need the change. If that is true, then the inverse is equally true. Making the change to the HRO wouldn’t change anything for the people opposing the expansion. The opposition can continue living in the world they want to live in, and simultaneously, our city can demonstrate progress towards evolving as a compassionate community.

If Jacksonville truly wants resilient economic growth, we need to rekindle our creative spirit. We need to champion the arts to build a strong creative class, and we need to pass HRO expansion to unlock creative growth in our community. This is the path to economic prosperity for our city.

[UPDATE: Jacksonville did it! HRO was expanded to include the LGBT community. 🏳️‍🌈]

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