Omaha profiled as “Smart Jobs” hub
June 9th, 2011
Omaha, NE – Omaha is profiled in this month’s issue of Wired Magazine, as a city undergoing a transformation with a growing “creative class.” And it’s helping draw jobs of the future to Omaha: “Smart Jobs.” KVNO News’ Robyn Wisch caught up with the reporter for the story, Adam Davidson, from National Public Radio’s Planet Money.
You’ve spent some time researching and reporting on the economy, and how it’s changing as we, slowly, come out of the recession. And you’ve just published a report for Wired Magazine and NPR: “Smart Jobs” – the jobs of the future. What exactly is a “smart job?”
The kind of jobs that seem to be growing, that seem to be paying more and more, and hiring more and more people are jobs that require people, basically, to think, to have skills. Even if these are jobs that we traditionally think of as not thought-based jobs. Farming can be a smart job in many cases, or working in a factory can be a smart job in many cases, basically the dividing line between doing better and better over time in America, and doing worse and worse over time, seems to be what can you do with your brain. There was a time in America when having a strong back and a willingness to work hard was a path to success, and it seems like that path is just not with us that much anymore.
And you’ve also found some of these future smart jobs will be coming out of unlikely places and unlikely industries.
Yeah, I think the most interesting for me was finding them in parts of the economy that I think people really think of as old, old, old industry. Like, we looked at the entire cotton to apparel supply chain. So cotton seed has become a high-tech product. The big companies, Bayer, Monsanto, they battle every year to come out with the new highest-tech, genetically modified cotton seed that has all kinds of characteristics that they think farmers will find attractive. And then farming itself has become incredibly high-tech in America. One farmer can do in America what 800 farmers can do in China or India or parts of Africa.
So that, to us, kind of opened our eyes to seeing high-tech everywhere.
Omaha was profiled in your article as a city with an emerging creative class. How does Omaha fit into this future landscape of “smart jobs”?
What’s interesting is that as jobs migrate more and more towards these smart jobs, people overall are becoming better educated, they’re becoming more knowledgeable about the world. And the side effect of that is that people are not willing to live in a place that doesn’t have an awful lot to offer, that doesn’t have good restaurants, or good cultural things to do.
We asked sort of the guru of creative cities, these kinds of cities that really are attractive to creative workers, we asked him where’s a great place to see a transformation? And he said, well Omaha, there’s no place better than Omaha. And not to insult Omaha in the 70s and 80s and 90s and earlier, I’m sure there was a lot going for it, I wasn’t there then. But I think most Omahans I‘ve talked to were aware of the trend, that the smart, ambitious creative people were pretty likely to leave, to move to Minneapolis or Chicago or New York or San Francisco, and not see Omaha as a place to stay.
And that has implications across the board, because an innovative architecture firm, or an innovative bag designer, they’ll employ a host of people, and bring wealth and jobs to a city. They’ll support restaurants and other life amenity-type businesses that will make other people want to live there, other people want to start businesses there. So it turns out to be pretty important to have, having a few nice restaurants can mean an awful lot. That coolness, that hipness, actually translates into real dollars for a city.
We received some pretty bleak unemployment numbers last week at the federal level. Are the “smart jobs” here? When will they impact the employment picture of this country?
Look, this particular article is really focused on a positive part of our economy, a part that’s doing well… where there are jobs and growing jobs and decent jobs. But there’s not enough of them, it’s that simple, there’s just not enough of them. And there’s just not enough educated people to do them if there were a lot more jobs.
So we have real, real problems in this country, real, tough problems… I definitely don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about this. There’s a good news story, but it’s hiding among an awful lot of bad news.