In 2020, as the pandemic spread from Asia and Europe to the Americas, The Global Institute analyzed nine innovation districts in six countries and across five continents. Our analysis of this group of districts—our Steering Committee—set out to better understand the advantages of districts as vehicles for heightened growth and prosperity. Later that same year, in an effort to support a greater number of districts, The Global Institute also created a Global Network.
The Global Institute’s analysis finds that districts are powerhouses of research and innovation for their local and national economies. In this map, each district’s bubble conveys the combined average annual R&D spending of its anchor institutions and “R&D magnet organizations”—institutes or centers that perform applied R&D attractive to corporations and start-ups. The districts’ R&D spending is significant. For example, the Melbourne Innovation District represents one-sixth of Australian national government’s spending on R&D. The Pittsburgh Innovation District represents one of the top 10 largest concentrations of this type of R&D spending in the United States.
An analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles published from each district from 2001 to 2020 reveals that all the nine districts boast higher degrees of specialization compared to the national average in at least one field of science. This map shows each district’s top three R&D specializations by field of science, indicating the types of R&D activity that are most concentrated in each district. Biomedical and health sciences is the most specialized field for R&D activity in six districts. Physical sciences and engineering is the most specialized field for R&D activity in Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District and the Medellín Innovation District, and ranks in the top three in several other districts.
The Global Institute’s analysis also finds strong industry-led research and innovation in these nine districts. This map shows the critical mass of jobs at what The Global Institute calls “knowledge-intensive companies”, which are companies that belong to industries that spend above-average amounts on R&D. Each district’s bubble conveys the total number of people employed at knowledge-intensive companies relative to the other districts.
Knowledge-intensive companies perform R&D in every field of science, reflecting diversity and opportunities for convergence. This map shows the breakout of knowledge-intensive jobs by field of science. The stacked bar for each district conveys the top three largest fields of science by share of jobs at knowledge-intensive companies. The specializations reflect industry concentrations in a diversity of areas, reflecting the spectrum of industries and expertise that are attracted to these vibrant geographies.
The Global Institute has also conducted qualitative research on the 12 districts participating in its inaugural Global Network to assess their individual and collective competitive propositions as global problem solvers. This research finds that, collectively, these districts possess notable strengths in all of the five fields of sciences, in either their institutions, companies, or both. This map shows the fields of science each district is most focused on. Each district’s chart conveys the top three fields as retrieved from secondary data.
In response to the pandemic, innovation districts have pivoted: organizing their leadership across actors to enable progress, harnessing talent and public spaces in new ways, and engaging with communities through new approaches. Districts have also played a pivotal role in helping to combat COVID-19.
Districts have also played a pivotal role in helping to combat COVID-19. Using their R&D capacities and networks, innovation districts have led in vaccine development, designed crucial medical equipment, and developed new technologies and therapeutics.