Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Could prosperity be contagious?

“I wouldn’t call it a competition, I’d call it a collective,” Josh Potocki, the chef and owner of 158 Pickett St. Café in South Portland, said of the city’s food scene. “We are all trying to raise the level of food in Portland to insanely high.”
There has been much written about "social contagion" over the past few years. The latest NY Times Magazine has a long article describing the social dynamics of things such as smoking, drinking, and obesity.

I have been thinking a lot about whether the dynamics of contagion could be applied to economic development.

A powerful example of contagion that I have seen (or tasted, actually) is the restaurant scene in Portland, Maine. Even though Portland is a small city, it has evolved some of the best restaurants in the US. Mari and I recently ate at a restaurant called Bresca there, and the food was spectacular - on par with anything I have had in Washington, New York, San Francisco or London.

What is the key to this? No one knows exactly how it got started, but one or two really great chefs moved to town, and others followed. The dynamics are part competition and part collective. Each chef both emulates and tries to outdo the others, but each chef also knows that the success of the others bolsters the overall market. The NY Times article about Portland is here.

(Thanks to Eli and Scott Stefanski for the pointers to the restaurant and article!)