Let’s Get Creative: Creative-Class Counties

More than 200 nonmetro counties rank near the top nationally in the percentage of employees who work in “creative class” occupations, according to a USDA Economic Research Study. See how your county stacks up.


[imgcontainer] [img:creative_class_map.png] [source]Source: USDA, Economic Research Service data product, Creative Class County Codes, using data from the pooled 2007-11 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

Click for an interactive map. Creative class counties ranked in the top quarter in employment in creative class occupations. Metro/nonmetro status is based on the 2003 definition. Green counties are nonmetro, creative class. Gray counties are metro, creative class.

At first glance, Kalawao County, Hawaii, Loving County, Texas, and Hinsdale County, Colorado, may not have much in common with Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City.

But these small counties (with a combined population of fewer than 1,000 residents) rank among the nation’s top “creative-class” counties, when measured by the percentage of workers who are employed in creative-class professions.

They are in the top 25% of creative-class employment, alongside some of the nation's largest cities in the percentage of workers who have jobs in fields like arts, architecture, engineering and other "creative" occupations.

The creative-class thesis holds that communities that attract and retain more workers who are in creative occupations will fare better in today’s economy. 

Cities tend to have a lot of such workers. But if you look only in urban America for counties with the greatest proportion of creative-class workers, you’re missing a lot – 217 counties, to be exact, according to the Economic Research Service.

ERS researchers identified creative occupations listed in the 2000 Census and refined their selection criteria (the fine print of the study’s methodology and the data itself are here, courtesy of Tim Wojan and David McGranahan). Then they identified the top quarter of U.S. counties that had the largest percentage of creative-class workers.

Click on the map above to explore the data county by county. Green locations are nonmetro counties in the top 25 percent of creative-class employment. (The study used the 2003 metro/nonmetro definitions.) Gray locations are metro counties in the top 25 percent (there are 568 of those, according to the ERS study).

The map shows the number of creative-class jobs and the percentage of workers in creative professions. The map also lists the number and percentage of workers who are professional artists – a special category of creative-class workers that researcher Richard Florida, who developed the creative-class thesis, associates with new-firm start ups and high-tech specialization.

The ERS has found a connection between economic activity and the occurrence of creative-class workers. But Florida says that growth and success among creative-class workers doesn’t necessarily extend economic benefits to other parts of the economy, such as blue-collar and service workers, at least in metro areas.