“You miss 100% of the shots you never take” – Wayne Gretzky
Innovation Districts are the current rage in urban regeneration and economic development. How a particular community develops its own innovation sector varies based on that community’s existing industry strengths, talent pipeline and available economic infrastructure. Many hope to become the next Silicon Valley but few realize the building blocks that need to be put in place and the length of time it takes to really get to scale to impact the trajectory of a local economy. Frankly, some of these efforts are economic development “me-tooism” with little hope of creating momentum. However, others are based on real opportunities that keep taking steps down an evolutionary path. Two of NP’s recent clients have taken great strides towards growing their innovation capacity – Newport, RI and New Haven, CT.
Creating a Hub
Newport RI, the city by the sea, has long been known for its elegant mansions, sailing history and its US Navy presence going back to colonial times. Its beautiful coastal setting, walkability, and ample cultural, outdoor, and social opportunities make it a lifestyle destination community. Newport and Middletown (its closest “suburb”) have always had elements of the creative economy because of their lifestyle advantages. And the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) has always supported a series of software and engineering support companies to advance its mission.
Recently, there has been substantial effort to build on Newport’s nascent creative and tech community. One of the missing pieces was a physical hub that could serve multiple functions for the creative and tech communities. This April, Newport RI leaders gathered to break ground on the redevelopment of the former Sheffield School, which is being re-purposed as a business incubator and co-workspace in Newport, RI. The 34,000 square foot building will be focused on supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses working in the defense, maritime and technology industries – industries that are active in Newport but need additional support to gain scale.
NP worked with the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, who will be serving as program manager, to develop the service model for the Hub as well as reorient the Chamber’s programs to better serve the growing entrepreneurial sector of the Newport economy. Additionally, Kevin Hively of NP served on the board of the Economic Development Foundation of RI – the nonprofit development entity hired by the city to re-purpose the Sheffield School into the InnovateNewport Hub.
Making a City an “Innovation Place” Requires Many Complementary Efforts
In some cases, like in Newport, a physical hub is required to serve as an organizing force and provide visual evidence of activity. In other communities, it's more about weaving together a patchwork of activities under a single framework. New Haven, CT has an active, growing creative and innovation economy but more needed to be done to encourage growth, connection, livability, and opportunities for ALL of its citizens.
In 2016, CTNext initiated a challenge grant program called “Innovation Places”. In response, New Haven's Elm City Innovation Collaborative (ECIC) put together a strategic plan that called for actions in four key areas:
Since being selected as an Innovation Place by CTNext in 2017, the Collaborative has been taking great strides to implement its Strategic Plan. Recent progress includes:
One of the great aspects of the New Haven approach to building an Innovation Place is how it includes aspects to help the broad community engage in the innovation activity. It’s truly a community focused effort.