A photo from Taste of Bethesda 2014 Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Bethesda has one of the highest concentrations of the creative class in the United States.

In a new survey by social scientist Richard Florida released this week, Bethesda ranked fourth on a list of America’s top 20 leading creative class cities. About 75 percent of Bethesda’s workforce is composed of members of the creative class. The percentage ranked slightly behind McLean, Virginia (75.5 percent), and Palo Alto (76.4 percent) and Cupertino, California (76.9 percent).

Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, first identified the creative class in his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class. In the book, he describes forces reshaping the modern workforce, particularly the high-knowledge group of workers who create things and develop ideas. This group encompasses a total of 40 million workers, including scientists, technology workers, business managers, health care workers, teachers, artists and media professionals.

Having these workers in your city, Florida writes in his book, gives rise to technology companies and other businesses that thrive in today’s economy. The creative class is attracted to places defined by an open, accepting culture that values individuality.

Florida writes that businesses are “making the adaptations necessary to attract and retain creative class employees—everything from relaxed dress codes, flexible schedules, and new work rules in the office to hiring recruiters who throw Frisbees. Most civic leaders, however, have failed to understand that what is true for corporations is also true for cities and regions: Places that succeed in attracting and retaining creative class people prosper; those that fail don’t.”


Since 2002, Florida has been examining the creative class, where it arises and how it affects urban communities. In the latest survey, Florida and students at the Martin Prosperity Institute used U.S. Census data to determine the top 20 creative class cities in the country.

Other nearby communities that made the list include Potomac at No. 6, North Bethesda at No. 10, Ellicott City at No. 17 and Arlington at No. 20. Brookline and Newton, Massachusetts; Redmond, Washington; and Berkeley and Mountain View, California—all of which are developing hot spots of technology innovation—also made the list.

The cities that have failed to attract this creative class—like Buffalo, New Orleans and Louisville, Kentucky—were stuck in “old paradigms of economic development,” Flordia writes. In the 1980s and 1990s these cities took actions including building “generic high-tech office parks or subsidizing professional sports teams” that led to losses of the creative class to places such as Boston, Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., according to Florida.


In the recent survey, Florida finds that the cities with the lowest percentage of creative class populations are either agricultural centers or hard-hit former industrial areas such as Pontiac, Michigan, and Reading, Pennsylvania.