by Max Brantley
You think they'd consider Arkansas as a home? If they did, the Republican Party would quickly let them know that we don't put out the welcome mat for just anyone. And are so proud of it that we prove it by legislating discrimination against women and sexual and racial minorities and in support of favored religions.
Grant Tennille, Arkansas Economic Development Commission director, was right. Asa Hutchinson is wrong. Economic policy is successful when it's a broad and thoughtful mix of things that encourage people to locate in your state — good education, good infrastructure, financial incentives, raw materials and so on. A clear signal that you welcome all kinds of people is NOT a disincentive, except to the narrow-thinking. That's what Tennille was saying before Republicans warped his message beyond recognition.
Remember Richard Florida? "The Rise of the Creative Class?" It's worth a replay in the current discussion engendered by Tennille's remarks. In the linked article, he recounted the story of a young fellow who'd passed up Pittsburgh for the next step in his working life.
I asked the young man with the spiked hair why he was going to a smaller city in the middle of Texas, a place with a small airport and no professional sports teams, without a major symphony, ballet, opera, or art museum comparable to Pittsburgh's. The company is excellent, he told me. There are also terrific people and the work is challenging. But the clincher, he said, is that, "It's in Austin!" There are lots of young people, he went on to explain, and a tremendous amount to do: a thriving music scene, ethnic and cultural diversity, fabulous outdoor recreation, and great nightlife. Though he had several good job offers from Pittsburgh high-tech firms and knew the city well, he said he felt the city lacked the lifestyle options, cultural diversity, and tolerant attitude that would make it attractive to him. As he summed it up: "How would I fit in here?"
This young man and his lifestyle proclivities represent a profound new force in the economy and life of America. He is a member of what I call the creative class: a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries—-from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.
You'll see in the article the creativity index that Florida devised. It ranks Little Rock high. Indeed, I suspect Little Rock will follow its customary pattern in 2014 elections and reject the Republican gubernatorial and congressional and Senate candidates, just as it led the state in opposition to the gay marriage ban, rejected the gay adoption ban and repeatedly rejected abortion bans. Thank goodness Asa Hutchinson and his pals are making sure that state policy, at least, overrides Little Rock's more inclusive and creative impulses. All the while sneering at sensible people like Grant Tennille, sure in their closed worlds that voters will respond to the Pavlovian chime of gay-baiting.
On the other hand, some people are undoubtedly proud to be known as the state that's home to a leader of the KKK, as well as unfriendly to gay couples. But, on that tangential subject, read here about a black man who got legal help from the KKK clan near Harrison and says he'd happily do so again.