Monday, August 06, 2012

Innovation Convergence In The UK

All the initiatives aimed at being the next Silicon Valley may be bearing fruit. That's not to say any place is approaching the size and scope of the San Jose-San Francisco Innovation Economy. Creative work is converging, often setting up shop in postindustrial greenfields:

Birmingham is already drawing on a rich heritage. The most populous British city outside London, the city was prominent as part of the Industrial Revolution, which saw the city at the forefront of worldwide developments in science, technology and the kinds of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society.

And the modern foundation stones for its future are today being re-laid. The UK government has marked the city out as an Enterprise Zone with simplified planning rules, super-fast broadband and over £150 million in tax breaks for new businesses over the next 4 years. A planned high-speed train link to London will cut the journey time from 1 hr 14 minutes to 49 minutes (although that won’t arrive until 2026).

But crucially, it’s the people that are starting out today to make Birmingham into a new UK tech hub. ...

... [In] its favour Birmingham has potentially costs and a better standard of living for its talent, outside the cost vortex that is London.

So far at least, Birmingham’s tech scene is not about to wait for high speed trains to arrive. It’s getting on with the job of building its own tech startup scene amid the clashing architecture of its industrial past, the 60s and the new century to come.

Legacy cities are well-positioned to take advantage of the diffusion of innovation from global cities such as London. The divergence of talent production is an asset for Birmingham:

Data published for the first time shows that more than half of students with the best A-level grades are currently concentrated in just 12 elite institutions.

Some 26,121 out of 50,712 students who gained at least two As and a B took up places at a dozen of the country’s top universities, including Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham. ...

... Data from Hefce shows the number and proportion of top students admitted to each university in 2009/10.

It shows that the highest number of AAB students attend Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leeds, Exeter, Bristol, Warwick, Birmingham, Sheffield and Southampton.

Figures also show 99 per cent of Oxford and Cambridge's UK students in 2009/10 achieved at least AAB – the highest rate in the country.

Emphasis added. As in the United Kingdom, elite talent production in the United States is concentrated in the Rust Belt. The Sun Belt is way behind. Most of the money and people are still in the postindustrial areas. Top-10 states for attracting out-of-state freshmen:

  1. Pennsylvania
  2. New York
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Virginia
  5. Indiana
  6. North Carolina
  7. Ohio
  8. California
  9. Illinois
  10. Wisconsin

Proximity explains a lot of the rankings. High school graduates often end up in neighboring states. There's a tremendous amount of talent churn within the Frost Belt. But the Sun Belt population boom gets all the headlines because it supports the poorly reasoned benefits from lower taxes and right to work legislation. The other factor is that the bulk of the elite colleges and universities are located in states such as Pennsylvania. I would like to see a similar analysis of metros.

Michigan is a remarkable exception. Its post secondary system is downright parochial compared to other Frost Belt states. The state is ranked 27th in the number of freshmen from out-of-state. The Midwest is strong in talent production. However, divergence favors Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. The Talent Economy is spiky.


Matthew Hall said...

Define "legacy city".

Jim Russell said...


Legacy—a word that invokes thoughts of both extraordinary inheritances and obsolete relics—is a suitable descriptor for a group of American cities that have rich histories and assets, and yet have struggled to stay relevant in an ever-changing global economy. This American Assembly report discusses both facets of these cities and describes how they can build on the best legacies of the past to reinvent themselves for a productive and sustainable future.