“Vadxx Energy has gained a lot of value from being part of an active cluster of advanced energy companies and organizations. In fact, one of the big reasons our partnership with Rockwell Automation occurred was because of Vadxx’s participation in Northeast Ohio’s advanced energy cluster. Joining forces with a credible, multinational company has helped us accelerate our commercialization activities, raise additional capital, and attract new customers.”
But proximity and a burgeoning market only guarantee so much. It starts with human capital, driven by the innovators and risk-takers that comprise much of the entrepreneurial community. That’s where I see the bridge to Austin’s community, as well as its strength.
Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa amplified that point.
“A recent analysis of 1,604 companies in the five largest Norwegian cities underscores what’s missing from this prescription for a knowledge economy: people. The prerequisite for a regional innovation system is knowledgeable people who have the motivation and ability to start ventures. To succeed, these people need to be connected to one another by information-sharing networks. Basic infrastructure is always needed, but fancy science parks and big industry are just nice to have.”
Now granted, Norway (and other Scandinavian countries) isn’t the most culturally heterogeneous region by any stretch. But more importantly, its leaders are committed to maintaining global ties and welcoming new ideas and inputs — outside of their regional comfort zones. Without that, as the study concludes, regional and national clusters are mostly “irrelevant” to innovation.
Whatever the results, Austin is a classic fit for much of the positives associated with clusters. When you add in the emphasis on human capital, strong industry segments, and access to a top-tier university, it’s hard to see how doubling down on the idea doesn’t make sense.
NYT had a recent piece on manufacturing, but I was more interested in this stat on where most of the R&D activity in the US takes place.
“American multinational companies that account for about 84 percent of all private-sector (non-bank) business R.&D. in the United States still place about 84 percent of their R.&D. activities in the United States, often in clusters around research universities..”
Again, manufacturing aside, that’s a big percentage of spending that hovers around clusters. And Austin’s familiar with the scenario, especially with Austin Technology Incubator’s alignment with the University of Texas and the fact that accelerators are moving closer to downtown hotbeds of startup activity. And that R&D spending? It’s companies like Dell, Facebook, Samsung and others spending those dollars.
So whether or not you buy into the cluster concept, here’s an excerpt from a recent ITIF report on cities and innovation I’ll leave you with.
“One reason why technology industries drive income growth is that average wages in high-tech clusters are $63,970 versus $43,180 in non-high tech traded clusters. One key factor that appears to drive higher incomes in a region is a higher share of employment in knowledge-based industries.States with higher concentrations of knowledge-based industries, including professional services and high-tech manufacturing, have higher incomes.”