Even if you don’t work in tech, you had better hope your town has more companies like Apple move in. If an innovation hub takes root where you live, you’ll be wealthier, healthier and less likely to divorce than areas that remain barren to it.
And if you are in a startup – wherever you live now, get yourself to one of these brain hubs before it’s too late.
That’s the crux of “The New Geography of Jobs,” a fascinating book by Berkeley economics prof Enrico Moretti who leads readers on a whirlwind tour of how tech innovation is reshaping opportunity in the US, clustering around places like San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Austin, Seattle, Boston, Washington, DC and Durham, North Carolina.
There’s a big debate, of course, about the yuppification of cities like San Francisco, which have seen a huge influx of monied engineers from companies like Apple, Facebook and Google, who are feeding a huge boom in tech. Locals are complaining about skyrocketing house prices, $4 toast and the artisanal food trucks that charge $12 for a tofu Thai burrito. Outrage Missionites react with birthday pinatas shaped like Google buses and posters from the Yuppie-eradication project.
However, there is another side to it. If an Apple worker moves next door, that person will create on average five jobs, Moretti’s research shows. Those jobs are a mix of skilled (nurses, lawyers, teachers) and unskilled ones (hairdressers, waiters, carpenters.) Innovation will never create the majority of US jobs, but it has an outsized effect on the economy of American communities, he writes. It’s not your resume but your zip code that determines how much money you make – so be glad instead of complaining about that Cupertino traffic, folks.
“Gentrification is a good problem to have”
Here in San Francisco a quick look around confirms that, at least on an anecdotal level. The Cult of Mac co-working space is abuzz with fancy-schmancy tattoo artists, hipster nail designers and boutique financial planners.
Moretti’s ideas – considerably nuanced and convincingly bolstered by research in the 250-page work – go counter to much of what’s being written about the squeeze of resources in the booming Bay Area. Gentrification is also a good problem to have, he says, acknowledging that it brings serious social consequences. The solution: not to discourage growth in innovation (in the vain hope manufacturing comes back to big cities) but manage the “growth in smart ways to minimize the negative consequences for the weakest residents and maximize the economic benefits for all.”
Given his local base, you’d expect a lot of interesting examples. In between a visit to a color scientist at Pixar and an artisan chocolate factory, he talks to a San Francisco bookbinder who employs eight people, uses the same equipment from decades past and whose fortunes go up and down with the high-tech companies of the NASDAQ. Noteworthy clients include the Jobs family, who had Steve’s condolence book made there.
Cities change and grow or they die out. And whether they thrive or wither in America now depends on innovation.
This picture of tech making things a little better for most of us is in stark contrast with the San Francisco that has been painted by the tech press as a gentrified, bloated old floozy who puts out for soulless tech workers who trample what dignity she has left by kickstarting pop-up food trucks and lofts that proliferate like mushrooms.
This strikes me as strange, coming from people whose livelihood often depends on breathless excitement over things like cell phone covers. Then again, I’m the fourth generation of my family to live here. I like to imagine that my great gran would find it funny that the Del Monte plant where she gave up elbow grease putting peaches into cans has morphed into a gaudy tourist shopping center. (I am also fairly sure she’d arch an eyebrow at my earnest writings about iPad stands, but still.)
Cities change and grow or they die out, basically. And whether they thrive or wither in America now depends on innovation. Whether you’re part of the innovation or provide services for those who are in it, you’re still better off. Moretti’s research shows that more college grads raise the salaries for everyone in an area – regardless of the higher cost of living. Same with lower divorce rates and better general health.
So get over that Tesla parked in your new neighbor’s driveway and get on with your life.