Investing in New Tech Hubs

Today, I attended a Capitol Hill briefing on a new Brookings/ITIF report on The Case for Growth Centers:  How to Spread Tech Innovation across America.   The report and its recommendations build on the uncomfortable fact that America’s innovation and technology economy is highly concentrated, with most activity centered in a few states and metro areas.  In fact, only five metro areas account for 90% of America’s innovation sector growth since 2005. If you’re in Seattle, Boston, or the Bay Area, you’re reaping the benefits of major technology investments.  If you live elsewhere, you might see some limited trickle down impacts.   The report recommends a series of new investments in regional growth centers (in mid-sized to larger cities like Birmingham, Boise, Indianapolis, or Pittsburgh), with an emphasis on strong innovation inputs—in the form of R&D funds, workforce training dollars, and other incentives.   In many ways, this proposal echoes similar efforts such as the Economic Development Administration’s I6 program or the WIRED program of the 1990s.  (As we noted in our recent newsletter, the new book, Jumpstarting America, includes a similar proposal.)  The difference here is that this plan calls for real money–$100 billion over ten years—and the funds are targeted to high-potential larger metros (over 500,000 in population) that have many of the essential innovation building blocks already in place.   Not surprisingly, I like this basic concept as I strongly believe that we have been underfunding place-based economic development for decades.  I can quibble with some parts of the plan.  For example, it may place too much emphasis on innovation and technology inputs and not enough attention on talent development. I’d also like to see a similar focus on smaller metro areas as well.   But, it’s a good start and a good place to begin a much-needed debate, and hopefully conclude with some equally much-needed new policy directions too.