Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Competitor Regions Are Focusing on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

A growing number of mid-sized regions around the country are making Innovation and Entrepreneurship a central part of their regional economic development strategies.

At the end of May, the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association (RCGA) announced the creation of "Innovate St. Louis" in order to enhance the region's entrepreneurial environment and to encourage innovation. Two key initiatives will be:

  • Establishing new technology-specific coalitions in areas such as information technology and telecommunications, in addition to the existing Coalition for Plant and Life Science, in order to promote innovation and commercialization of new technologies.
  • Creating a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to help entrepreneurs get technical assistance and capital.

Innovate St. Louis is being led by key corporate and university leaders on the board of RCGA, which is the region's corporate leadership and economic development organization.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership has made "Innovation, Technology, and High-Growth Businesses" the first of its four priorities for supporting job creation and increasing economic vitality in the Northeast Ohio Region. The Greater Cleveland Partnership works through its affiliate organization, NorTech, to develop and implement a Regional Technology Strategy for Northeast Ohio. Again, this is an effort being spearheaded by the region's top civic leadership.

Milwaukee 7, the economic development strategy for the seven-county Wilwaukee Region, includes business starts and technology transfer as one of its key initiatives, and regional leaders there are currently discussing a series of bold new initiatives to position the region as a more powerful technology hub.

Even regions seen nationally as leaders in creation of technology companies and jobs, like Austin, are creating focused strategies for maintaining and strengthening their leadership positions in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Region already has several initiatives similar to some of the things these other regions are creating, such as The Technology Collaborative, Innovation Works, and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, not to mention a strong base of both university and corporate R&D.

But unfortunately, these efforts are fragmented and not well understood by most people in the region, and they are continually threatened by state budget cuts. Moreover, there are not similarly well-organized efforts to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and business growth in other key areas of regional strength, such as advanced materials (e.g., specialty chemicals and specialty metals).

Why? The most fundamental problem is that the Pittsburgh Region has no overall strategy for increasing innovation and entrepreneurship that is supported by the region's top public and private leadership. Although a study is reportedly underway that could produce such a strategy, it is not yet clear whether it will truly become a priority element of the region's overall economic development strategy, with a strong commitment to implementation by the region's top leaders and by all of the affected organizations.

If the Pittsburgh Region is going to increase its rate of job growth, it needs to increase the rate at which it creates and grows new companies, and to do that, it needs to develop and implement an aggressive strategy for supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.


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