Innovation Districts: A New Opportunity for Cities

Innovation districts drive economic growth by bringing together innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs.

For the last 50 years, innovation has been concentrated in areas like California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128. Now, a new model is emerging: urban innovation districts. According to the Brookings Institution, innovation districts are “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.” 

The essential qualities of innovation districts are:

  • Presence of an anchor – universities, existing industry, or cultural attractions
  • Defined area – usually around a quarter mile in radius
  • Cluster of established firms, startups, and nonprofits

Universities and companies play a vital role in the success of innovation districts. Specifically, universities and institutions attract academic talent and promote innovation through programs and research and development. Highly skilled university graduates are in demand to fill open roles at tech companies, driving them to expand and relocate in innovation districts centered around universities. Companies aren’t limited to locating in traditional tech hubs with new technologies making it easier than ever to work remotely and collaborate across distance. Tech giants like Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and Apple are expanding to open new offices in cities all around the United States, creating economic growth and spawning startup activity in the 100+ districts emerging globally. By transforming industrial-based economies into technology-driven ones, innovation districts provide great employment and educational opportunities, resulting in strong economic growth. 

With the University of Arizona and numerous established and successful companies headquartered in Tucson, the Old Pueblo is evolving into an innovation district. The University of Arizona is encouraging startup activities and innovation through the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship and programs like Tech Launch Arizona. Arizona Forge, a University of Arizona startup incubator and workspace for industry partners is expected to open downtown later this year. This building will be the new home of Startup Tucson and a great community resource. Since 2015, companies like Caterpillar have moved or expanded to Tucson resulting in the addition of 13,770 direct jobs, more than $1.5 billion in capital investment and 19.2 billion in economic impact over the next five years, according to an article in AZ Big Media.

On October 11, join the conversation between Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and former Mayors Tom Murphy, Mick Cornett, and Frances Slay from Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Oklahoma City as they dive into the topic of Innovation Districts and how they can provide cities with economic growth and prosperous communities at TENWEST Festival. 
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