NP’s approach to Innovation Districts is not simply a real estate plan. For these places to reach their full potential they need to focus on keeping and attracting talent. Talent drives innovation.
Talent is attracted by a combination of opportunities and lifestyle. Opportunity equates to unique infrastructure, low cost settings, entrepreneurial support, leading edge research, opportunities for career development, and adequate employment options. Lifestyle is about place-making, the physical environment, and the vibe and activity level of an area.
Institutions can be an important catalytic source and contributor to the development of an Innovation District. Institutions, usually meds & eds, can anchor real estate projects, create spin off opportunities, and serve as a source of talent.
But innovation comes in many forms – the District should be about creating a place for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive regardless of the institution or industry. Homegrown, organic areas of innovation activity provide the basis of sustainability because they are not driven by a funding program that fades over time but the interest of the entrepreneurs and innovators. Understanding this can help shape a recruitment program targeted to filling in key gaps in the innovation ecosystem.
NP is currently working with two communities on leveraging their innovation potential. The Elm City Innovation Collaborative (New Haven, CT) is currently competing for a state Innovation Places implementation grant to support the city’s development as an Innovation Place. The Collaborative aims to attract and retain talent, support entrepreneurs and businesses, and target investment in areas best suited to serve as hubs of innovation in the City.
In Athens-Clarke County, GA NP is working with local partners to understand the potential for a district that builds on Athens unique creative culture as well as the growing research program of the University of Georgia.
With so much focus on innovation, it’s easy to lose sight of other ways communities can re-shape their economies. For instance, NP is working with the Lower Connecticut River Valley to implement its Economic Development Strategy that focused on building on the region’s lifestyle economy. Ultimately, sound economic development focuses on understanding what kinds of businesses can succeed given a place’s assets and capabilities and in light of existing conditions and emerging trends.
Photo credit: Boegh, CC By-SA 4.0