While smaller communities may not have a major university or medical center to anchor an innovation district, they can still successfully create a space to foster innovation and collaboration.
In December 2013, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute discussed the “remarkable shift” in the “spatial geography of innovation” from suburban corporate campuses to urban innovation districts in his blog post Goodbye Silicon Valley, Hello Silicon Cities for LinkedIn’s “Big Ideas of 2014” series. In June 2014, Bruce further explored this subject in a Brookings Institute report on The Rise of Innovation Districts, co-authored with Julie Wagner. Many major cities have created innovation districts to respond to the desires of both workers and companies for dense urban space that brings together advanced institutions (e.g. universities or medical centers), cutting-edge firms, supportive and spinoff companies, and business incubators in walkable and bikeable communities with urban amenities (mixed residential, transportation infrastructure, retail, restaurants, and recreation opportunities). These districts are designed to cluster innovative businesses and entrepreneurs into a small geographic location to increase collaboration and innovation and create opportunities for the cross-pollination of ideas.
While this blog post and subsequent report focus on innovation districts in major cities, rural communities and small towns should also understand and capitalize on the trends that are encouraging the growth of these districts. While smaller communities may not have a major university or medical center to anchor an innovation district, they can still successfully create a space to foster innovation and collaboration. For example, a community could convert vacant space in a small downtown area into a district of offices with collaborative space, business resources, and mentorship opportunities from experienced business owners. The district could host networking events, pitch competitions, and lectures —anything to encourage the sharing of ideas and entrepreneurship. A great example of a small community encouraging business innovation can be found in the Schodack Central School District, where extra space at a middle school is rented to startup companies. The presence of the startups has led to partnerships with teachers and classrooms, and opportunities for students to work or intern.
Innovation districts are a physical representation of some major trends in economic development: communities leveraging entrepreneurship and business retention to create new economic opportunities and businesses relying on innovation and collaboration to grow. Large or small, communities will need to foster spaces that encourage collaboration among local innovators to attract and retain companies and talent and provide a hospitable environment for sustainable economic success.
“Goodbye Silicon Valley, Hello Silicon Cities” by Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute