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How the Federal Government Can Support Innovation Districts

A new report by Bruce Katz of Brookings Institute discusses the federal government’s role in spurring and aiding the innovation districts found in many cities across the country today.
October 11, 2014, 1pm PDT | Maayan Dembo | @DJ_Mayjahn
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In response to the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, Bruce Katz of Brookings Institute argues, "The federal government should not attempt to lead the development of innovation districts. Successful districts do not emerge from a federal program like empowerment zones but rather from the collaborative efforts of local institutions and leaders and organic market dynamics. In addition, the emerging districts around the country differ markedly in their leadership structure, sector orientation, and existing economic, physical and networking assets—obviating any one 'one size fits all' response."

While Katz does not believe in one blanket policy to support all innovation districts, he offers three main ways the federal government can support these districts. The first is through continuing funding to basic and applied research at the major anchor institutions associated with innovation districts. For example, MIT "relies on the federal government for roughly 70 percent of its research funding—$466 million in 2013. This federally-backed research creates a platform for commercialization, which spurs job creation and entrepreneurial growth and brings technological advances to our businesses and homes."

In addition, Katz also uses the decision to locate the American Lightweight Metals Manufacturing Institute in Detroit as having "the potential to not only spur innovative commercialization and strengthen an important regional cluster but also to supercharge the revitalization of communities though the growth of housing, retail establishments and quality place-making."

The second policy recommendation Katz offers is for the federal government to "encourage a more robust school-to-work pipeline for sub-baccalaureate workers. Given the proximity of innovation districts to low-income neighborhoods… there is the demand for targeted federal efforts to underwrite STEM-oriented schools that offer apprenticeship opportunities."

Finally, Katz also strongly pushes for the federal government to support infrastructure and housing initiatives surrounding the innovation districts. As Katz writes, "the primary imperative is to reestablish the federal government as a reliable, consistent, and flexible partner in these arenas, both with regard to tax incentives… and discretionary and credit enhancement programs around housing, transportation, and sustainable development."

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Published on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 in Brookings Institution
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