Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri Jul 17th 2009 at 9:45am UTC

The New Geography of American Innovation

The past couple of days, I’ve looked at the trends in overall patents and nationality of inventor. Today I turn to the regional distribution of innovation across U.S. regions.

It’s well-known that high-tech industries are concentrated and clustered in areas like Silicon Valley, Greater Boston, Seattle, Austin, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Paul Krugman won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the relationships between urbanization, trade, and economies of scale. And Michael Porter has shown how and why innovative firms cluster.

The graph below, compiled by Scott Pennington of the Martin Prosperity Institute, shows patent trends from 1976 to 2007 for the top 10 U.S. regions. The graph identifies a clear shift in the geography of patenting. The level of innovation has fallen off considerably in older industrial regions like Pittsburgh and Detroit. It has also fallen off in Sunbelt regions like Dallas with a large presence in computers and communications and Houston with its strong concentration of resource and energy industries. On the other hand, innovation has increased substantially in high-tech regions like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Seattle and also in Los Angeles. Two other large regions – New York and Chicago – more or less conform to Mandel’s thesis: Both saw dramatic growth in the late 1990s followed by precipitous drops in the 2000s which erased those gains. Overall, American innovation has become more geographically concentrated and spikier.

The decline of industrial regions as centers of invention reinforces the point made by Henry Ergas two decades ago: The U.S. innovation system is skewed heavily toward “shifting” (the creation of new breakthrough technologies and products) and away from “deepening” (the application of new inventions and technologies to the continuous, incremental upgrading of older industries). The decline of GM and Chrysler – and in particular the latter’s acquisition by Fiat to gain access to new technology – stand as testimony to that. The decline of innovation and commercialization in older industrial regions means that in certain key areas of technology, the U.S. has essentially ceded the potential to develop new industrial goods and consumer products to other countries – from established competitors Germany and Japan to emerging ones like India and China – which possess the industrial infrastructures to embed them in commercial products.

8 Responses to “The New Geography of American Innovation”

  1. AchieveAlign — the location of innovation Says:

    [...] like reading richard florida quite a bit.  his latest post at Creative Class looks at the geographies of innovation.  which means … we’re getting closer.  we are [...]

  2. Creative Class: The New Geography Of Innovation | Lies My Gantt Chart Told Me Says:

    [...] Friday, July 17, 2009 By jarie Creative Class just has the best graphs this week. Check out this one. The number of issued patents in Silicon Valley is 4x any other large metro area. What an amazing [...]

  3. Michael Wells Says:

    Wow. It’s Silicon Valley and also ran. DC & Pittsburgh, while in the top 10, barely beat the national average. If you take the thesis from Rise, then San Jose and San Francisco are one region and even larger.

    The others are scattered, although all but Austin, Rochester and Pittsburgh are coastal cities and even they are all inland in coastal states.

    This would counter the idea that somehow California is totally on the ropes, with 3 (or 2) of the top 10 innovation

    Any way to get info on other areas, like Portland?

  4. How come cheap airlines are so cheap? « thechannelc Says:

    [...] Creative Class » Blog Archive » The New Geography of American … [...]

  5. Wil Says:

    California became the most creative place in the world about seventy-five years ago. Why? Great weather for year around activities, lots of space (in the old days), plenty of fruits, nuts, flakes,from all over the world accumulated in the state, and big , fast money from the entertainment industry, and high tech. A perfect formula for a creative environment. When the California state government finally does collapse, it will create better opportunities than ever, as all of the needless regulations no longer will apply, and freedom prevails again.

  6. Reyn Bowman Says:

    I seem to remember during a creative assessment some time ago that there was difficulty in fully ascertaining the location of origin for all patents because often they were filed by patent attorneys officed in another locale? Is that still true?

  7. Photo Friday: Cake, Tech, Yogurt in the #epicenter | Ted Eytan, MD Says:

    [...] As you can see, Washington’s startup and innovation community is growing and active. Recent data supports this – Patenting activity by Metropolitan Regions, 1976 to 2007, shows that Washington, DC is #3 in the nation in patenting activity, (far) behind San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clar…. [...]

  8. David Coronado Says:

    You should think about presenting this at as an illustrated poster at the next annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in DC. Our meeting will be held April 14-18, 2010. This would probably look great as a density map.