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Are we 'up and coming'? Researcher explains Money magazine rank

July 11, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY

andrews@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown might be on the rise - but not exactly for the reasons you've heard.

Word of the city's inclusion on a list of "up and coming" cities in Money magazine spread by mouth, by newsprint and by airwaves.

City and economic development officials trumpeted the news as a badge of honor - a mark of well-roundedness, prosperity and diversity.

But the full story is deeper than that - and the answers are in Pittsburgh.

That's where Kevin Stolarick, a Carnegie Mellon University lecturer on information systems, worked on his research.

Stolarick helped his colleague, Richard Florida, a professor, analyze 331 cities and metropolitan areas across the country for their creativity.

Florida theorized that an area's "Creative Class" - people who create for a living - can drive its economic health and all-around potential. He laid out his ideas in a book, "The Rise of the Creative Class."

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Florida studied and ranked cities for their three T's: technology, talent and tolerance.

Technology included patents and high-tech output. Talent referred to Creative Class jobs, education levels and population growth.

Tolerance covered other demographic and social categories, such as foreign-born population, same-sex couples and interracial marriages.

Each place received a "regional creative scorecard."

The June issue of Money magazine included an article by Jon Gertner called "What Makes a Place Hot," which examined Florida's research and what it meant.

A graphic that accompanied Gertner's article - not the article itself - is where Hagerstown showed up.

In the under-250,000 population category, Hagerstown was considered "up and coming," one of the cities "that will attract members of the Creative Class 10 years from now."

City and economic development officials called a press conference to trumpet the news.

Mayor William M. Breichner said at the time that Hagerstown fares well in the categories mentioned in the article. He read aloud a subhead under the headline, "Escalating home values, job growth, new immigrants, a lively music scene."

Tom Riford, the president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, praised "the music scene, the events that happen here, our parks, our recreation opportunities, the attractions that are here in Hagerstown and in Washington County."

"I'm thrilled that Money magazine recognizes our great quality of life," Riford added.

Although what Breichner and Riford said might be true, it doesn't reflect the "up and coming" rankings.

First, Money was merely the messenger.

Gertner said he asked Florida to devise the "up and coming" rankings to go with the article. Stolarick ended up doing the analysis, which he said is similar, but distinct from what he and Florida did for the book.

Also, Stolarick pointed out that it's actually not Hagerstown itself that tied for second on the "up and coming" list. Rather, it was Washington County.

Hagerstown was mentioned because it's the heart of the county and is shorthand for the area.

Finally, the "up and coming" rankings listed in the graphic were based on different standards than were described in the article.

Stolarick crunched statistics on Creative Class jobs, wages, population density and per capita income growth - and nothing else - to come up with the rankings.

He said it was a way to answer a question: "Are there places out there that are doing well, but don't make the radar, like the San Franciscos and the Austins do?"

Told during an interview how local officials brought up various other elements of the area, including cultural amenities, to back up its "up and coming" ranking, Stolarick said, "That's not what we used (for) this list."

It's difficult to compare Washington County's tie for second place in its "up and coming" category with how it did on the creative class scorecard.

Stolarick said there was no single overall ranking for each city on the creative class scorecard.

Also, for the creative class scorecard, Washington County is lumped together with populations great and small, which was not true for the "up and coming" rankings.

Locally, Riford was the person who saw the article and quickly organized the press conference.

He said Thursday that it was the right thing to do.

"To be mentioned in a Money magazine article is positive news," he said. "That's something to be shared."

Breichner said the gist of the rankings is what matters and Hagerstown, as a driving force in Washington County, scored high.

After hearing more about the research, he said it sounded confusing.

"The only thing I knew is what I read in the magazine," he said.

During an interview in which the two sets of data were explained, Riford pondered the information for a while, then decided that the news remains good.

Although Washington County has room for improvement, a tie for second place in an "up and coming" category, he said, is "still a superlative, worth cheerfully letting people know."

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