The Importance of Innovation Districts


n today’s technology driven world, innovation districts are growing in their importance.  Some public policy leaders believe that innovation districts are only for life sciences or information technology companies, but this could not be further from the truth.  Innovation districts are attractive to many types of businesses because it allows them to access talent, collaborate with higher educational institutions and partner with other private sector companies.

Innovation districts are rapidly emerging throughout North America and the world.  So you might ask, what exactly is an innovation district?  While definitions might differ from person to person, they generally embody many similarities.

  • Proximity to higher educational research assets (university, college, hospital, etc.)
  • Presence of research based organizations (non-profit and/or for profit)
  • Location of technology enabled company facilities
  • Magnets (quality of place assets) for talent
  • Available real estate for development
  • Access to the different forms of transportation
  • Co-working space for researchers
  • Retail services to support people working in the area

Many communities and states are encouraging the development of innovation districts throughout the United States.  Innovation districts can develop in urban, suburban or smaller communities (ones with research universities), if they possess most attributes required to support research activities.  Government, higher education, foundations, non-profit organizations and the private sector all play a role in stimulating the development of innovation districts.

  • Assembling real estate
  • Funding infrastructure improvements
  • Investing in the development of co-working space
  • Creating public gathering places to encourage collaboration
  • Supporting workforce development activities
  • Conducting research activities
  • Encouraging technology transfer and licensing activities
  • Mentoring services for entrepreneurs

There are a number of examples of well-established innovation districts in United States.  Many started with the assistance of higher educational institutions, while others were driven by businesses or foundations.  Please find below some of the more mature innovation districts.

  • The Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor
  • Kendall Square in Cambridge
  • University City in Philadelphia
  • Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham
  • Medical Alley in Rochester
  • University Research Park in Madison
  • Research Park in Salt Lake City
  • South Lake Union in Seattle

Several communities in the United States are earlier in the process of developing innovation districts.  Some are in urban areas, while others are in smaller communities.  Please find below a list of innovation districts that are showing significant momentum and progress.

  • Cortex in St. Louis
  • 16 Tech in Indianapolis
  • Future City in Detroit
  • Akron Innovation District
  • Syracuse Innovation Zone
  • The Innovation District of Chattanooga
  • University Research Park in Ames
  • Yanke Research Park in Boise

It is important for public policy leaders from all walks of life to come together to foster technology and economic growth in their communities.  There are several legs to the innovation stool and it is encouraging to see so many locations placing a high value on this form of economic development.  As a site selection firm, we are asked to examine many issues that impact corporate location decisions.  Our clients are placing a higher value on real estate solutions that have proximity to locations where collaborative research activities are taking place and where investments are being made in quality of place initiatives.  Communities, regions and states would be well served to consider these items as they look to invest funds in projects in their areas.

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