Regional Centers of Innovation 101
Tilling the Soil for Healthy Innovation Supports Economic Growth
See also: The Geography of Innovation: The Federal Government and the Growth of Regional Innovation Clusters By Jonathan Sallet, Ed Paisley, and Justin R. Masterman
Innovation Clusters (full archive of innovation clusters work on Science Progress)
Science Progress Editorial Director Ed Paisley provides a brief overview in this Ask the Expert video:
What are regional centers of innovation?
A regional center of innovation is a geographic area that supports technology-based economic development through a dynamic mix of researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, and infrastructure, with support from universities and local, state, and federal government policies.
In the United States, the two best examples are Silicon Valley, the hotbed of computer technology in northern California, and the metropolitan Boston area connected by Route 128, which is a nexus of biotechnology research and development. Each is centered around key research institutes: Stanford University in California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Massachusetts. Both areas excel because they are regions where exciting work happens and where high-tech workers socialize, sparking unexpected and unexplored ideas. Innovation springs from these interactions as individuals connect with capital, business and marketing talent, and ideas evolve into successful products, services and businesses.
Prosperous regional centers provide dividends to the domestic and world economies—advanced IT in the case of Silicon Valley and life-saving medical advances in the case of Boston. They also benefit local communities by attracting a talented and high-paid workforce, cultural organizations, and start-up businesses that generate tax revenue and support the cycle of growth.
What factors encourage the formation of a regional center?
Because economic growth is complex, local, and ultimately beyond anyone’s control, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating a regional center. Many areas have failed despite valiant efforts. But examining those that have succeeded reveals a set of principles that provide a framework for what works and what doesn’t. To paraphrase the innovation experts writing in Science Progress: policymakers can’t always predict how regional factors will contribute to innovation, but they can till the soil that will allow them to flourish. At the state level, these elements are key:
Regions must identify advantages in science, technology, and innovation that sustain and drive a state economy. These can include life sciences, information technology, manufacturing, or agriculture. A regional center takes advantage of existing resources and talent.
Groups aiming to cultivate a regional center must find the sources of seed capital and venture capital needed to invest in research, business incubation, and people.
Networking: Capital and Ideas
Policymakers, entrepreneurs, and researchers must work to align research interests in the region with opportunities for commercialization—the complex process of turning new discoveries into marketable products—that will spark investor interest. This requires utilizing sources of innovation that include universities, entrepreneurs, and dormant intellectual property housed in private industry. In some instances, this necessitates importing innovation from outside the region.
Networking: People with Capital and Ideas
Innovation policy should attract the best researchers to develop regional centers of excellence. To complement research capabilities, it’s also necessary to attract industry-specific business talent to provide key commercialization skills, access to venture capital investment, and mergers-and-acquisitions experience.
Innovators and entrepreneurs need space to do high-quality work. Development groups, often working with local universities, must provide the physical space necessary for innovation and commercialization to thrive. This involves creating the best research space to draw the best talent and building cost-effective incubation space and services. Quality housing, transport facilities and schools will also help attract the best people to the region.
How can regional centers support economic recovery and growth?
The United States, now ranks seventh among the 30 most developed countries in the amount of gross domestic product devoted to research and development, falling most recently behind Japan and South Korea.
The main reason: Since the late 1960s federal government spending on research and development has declined as a share of both total R&D spending and GDP. This has contributed to an alarming decline in the number of researchers as a proportion of the labor force. Boosting government funding of basic R&D in a number of economically innovative ways must be part of the new administration’s economic stimulus program.
Science Progress Advisory Board member Thomas Kalil, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, outlined a variety of ways in which the federal government can work with universities and state and local governments to foster regional centers of innovation in his report, “A National Innovation Agenda: Progressive Policies for Economic Growth and Opportunity Through Science and Innovation.” And Rob Atkinson, a member of Science Progress’ Taskforce on Regional Centers of Innovation and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, presents his proposal for a National Innovation Foundation as one fruitful approach to distributing these funds in the latest edition of Science Progress.
A long-term sustainable increase in U.S. economic growth depends upon a continual stream of new ideas, products, and processes. It is these innovations that will fuel improvements in productivity across the entire economy and raise living standards for all.
To learn more, read the reports from the Taskforce on Regional Centers of Innovation:
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