Learning more about these knowledge clusters gives a richer, more detailed view of a region’s economic strengths and weaknesses. For example, it would seem like living in an area where there are a lot of doctors would be a boon to everyone who lived there. But from an economic standpoint, it may just be good for the doctors, Gabe says. Prosperity in the technology sector, on the other hand, tends to improve the overall economic outlook for a region, because — for example — the presence of computer programmers and IT specialists makes the people around them more productive.
Gabe’s interest in understanding the economic strengths of regions and how they contribute to productivity and economic activity springs from his research on the creative economy in the early to mid-2000s. Florida’s best-selling book, The Rise of the Creative Class, had just come out, creating buzz in Maine and nationally. Gabe conducted a few studies on the creative economy and that research evolved into his work on the knowledge economy, which caught Florida’s attention. Several years ago, Florida invited Gabe to give a presentation at the Martin Prosperity Institute.
“As an affiliate of the Martin Prosperity Institute, Todd brings a diverse set of research and interests and expertise that makes the institute’s work that much richer,” Florida says.
Gabe then collaborated with MPI researchers on the “Knowledge in Cities” article, which The Economist highlighted as one of the most interesting studies in September 2010. Gabe also recently completed a book chapter, “The Value of Creativity,” which will be published later this year in the Handbook of Creative Cities.
Gabe’s creative economy research led him to look at occupations — rather than industries — as an indicator of a person’s skills (it makes sense that a webmaster at a paper mill has more in common with a webmaster at a university than he or she does with others who fall under the “manufacturing” label). From there, the leap to “knowledge areas” — trying to identify which types of skills have a higher value in the market — wasn’t very big.
“The questions I’m asking haven’t changed,” Gabe says, “I’m still searching for the keys to economic development.”
At first, Gabe looked at the big picture: what impact does knowledge have on a person’s earnings? Then he started digging a little deeper to find out what impact knowledge had on the earnings of others, what he and his colleagues call the spillover effect.
“Now, I’m really interested in how these types of indicators affect geographic patterns of economic activity,” Gabe says. “Is there clustering of various types of knowledge? And how can this be applied in a practical sense?”
Though his research is helpful for individuals and policymakers, Gabe is interested in making the findings applicable to the business community.
He is currently researching the effects of population density on productivity through the lens of human capital — yet again looking at the data in a way nobody has before. He’d also like to come up with a way to see how the factors he’s researching today have affected economic growth over time.
“It would be really interesting to be able to go back in time and develop knowledge profiles and see how they affected growth,” Gabe says. “The occupations we have today are very different from the occupations we had 30 and 40 years ago. Even the way the jobs are done are different.”