Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Providence Knows Nothing?

Sage Journals gave away a month of all their journal articles free in October. Thanks to a ping from Richard Layman, I got in near the end and downloaded some good stuff from Urban Studies. One of them was a paper called “Knowledge in Cities” by Jaison Abel, Adrienne Ross, and Kevin Stolarick. (A free copy is still available at the New York Fed web site).

The researches set out to measure the “knowledge traits” of regions by trying to find out what it is that the people in that region really know, and not just rely on generic indicators like college degree attainment. They did this by looking at the government occupational data, then a survey of workers that’s part of it that ask them what knowledge is important to doing their job, and how important it is. From that they sort of reduced it down until they reached 11 different knowledge clusters. The full methodology is in the study.

The various knowledge clusters were given names like “Thinking Region” or “Making Region.” Each of these has specific knowledge domains where they have higher knowledge, and others with lower knowledge.

Even among cities conventionally viewed as talent hubs, global cities, knowledge economies, or however you want to think of it, there’s a lot of variation. New York City is classified as a “Thinking Region.” San Jose is an “Engineering Region.” Boston, San Francisco and Washington are “Innovating Regions.” Los Angeles and Chicago are “Enterprising Regions.”

A lot of manufacturing regions like Detroit fell into the “Making Region” category, with high knowledge of manufacturing, obviously. There are others like Farming Region and Teaching Region with other high and low points.

The one I found interesting the authors termed a “Working Region.” In a Working Region, the authors actually found no areas of high knowledge. None. These regions did have areas of particularly low knowledge, however, including of IT and commerce.

Flipping to the list of regions, it was mostly smaller cities of a post-industrial bent: South Bend, Dayton, and Scranton, with some ones I found more odd like Lafayette Indiana and Lansing, Michigan.

There was only one US metro with more than a million people classified as a Working Region: Providence. In effect, the study is saying that Providence, and the rest of the cities on this list, don’t really know anything at a particularly high level.

Perhaps I’m misinterpreting the findings, but if that’s true, it augurs poorly for these regions. I’ve heard people in Providence say that the region should seek to build up its design industry because of the presence of the renowned Rhode Island School of Design. Yet this study actually listed Design as a regional area of low knowledge. Dittos for Computers, Electronics, and Telecommunications, which does not suggest the next startup hub either.

I wouldn’t read too much into a single study of this type, but I think the concept behind it is sound. That is, try to figure out what it is your region really has knowledge and expertise in at a granular level. Then you can look to rebuild economically around that.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development
Cities: Providence

5 Responses to “Providence Knows Nothing?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Where is Pittsburgh?

  2. Andy says:

    I think you are reading WAY too much into this study’s findings. It relies heavily on the O*NET system, which in itself based on individuals’ self-reported data. It’s not to say that you can’t learn something by asking someone how much specialized knowledge & in what fields is needed for her job. But I think it’s a wild extrapolation to claim the O*NET data demonstrates certain metros “don’t really know anything at a particularly high level” or that the O*NET data “augurs poorly for these regions.”

  3. Chris Barnett says:

    Kind of a slam on Brown as well.

  4. Rod Stevens says:

    One of the odd things is that while Michael Porter has stressed the theory of distinctive competence and strategic advantage, his urban think tank, the Institute for A Competitive Inner City (ICIC), has never really applied this concept to cities. It’s better known articles, some written in the 1990s, focused on the potential for recapturing local spending in poor neighborhoods, but to my knowledge, did not stress what the cities themselves could export, their “trading” sectors.

    Providence used to be known for its inexpensive jewelry, and many of the towns in both Rhode Island and Connecticut had manufacturing specialties, such as clocks, locks and hats. But those days are long, long gone, and it is fair to ask what Providence sells the world. Besides Brown, what is there?

    It’s going to take a long time to re-establish the specialty industries in these former manufacturing centers. Pretending they have a specialization, when they really don’t, won’t advance them.

  5. chris godlewski says:

    One can infer many things from the research and data. The last table identifying what cities belong to a specific cluster is very interesting. One could think these results somewhat acurately portray a cluster but this information suggests something more. Each state and region has a variety. The “making” cluster is in the bailout belt (rust belt) but also has thinking and innovative cities (Bloomington and Ann Arbor). Also who thinks of Salem, Oregon as a Making region. I am glad these results show variety and a more realistic depiction of the differences in each region. Of course clustering exists but so do some other knowledge clusters.

    Great way to rethink the regions we live in and based off good research.

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