The Importance of Innovation Districts

Posted: Updated:

In today's technology driven world, innovation districts are growing in their importance. Some public policy leaders believe that innovation districts are only for life sciences or information technology companies, but this could not be further from the truth. Innovation districts are attractive to many types of businesses because it allows them to access talent, collaborate with higher educational institutions and partner with other private sector companies.

Innovation districts are rapidly emerging throughout North America and the world. So you might ask, what exactly is an innovation district? While definitions might differ from person to person, they generally embody many similarities.

  • Proximity to higher educational research assets (university, college, hospital, etc.)
  • Presence of research based organizations (non-profit and/or for profit)
  • Location of technology enabled company facilities
  • Magnets (quality of place assets) for talent
  • Available real estate for development
  • Access to the different forms of transportation    
  • Co-working space for researchers
  • Retail services to support people working in the area

Many communities and states are encouraging the development of innovation districts throughout the United States. Innovation districts can develop in urban, suburban or smaller communities (ones with research universities), if they possess most attributes required to support research activities.  Government, higher education, foundations, non-profit organizations and the private sector all play a role in stimulating the development of innovation districts. 

  • Assembling real estate
  • Funding infrastructure improvements
  • Investing in the development of co-working space
  • Creating public gathering places to encourage collaboration
  • Supporting workforce development activities
  • Conducting research activities
  • Encouraging technology transfer and licensing activities
  • Mentoring services for entrepreneurs

There are a number of examples of well-established innovation districts in United States. Many started with the assistance of higher educational institutions, while others were driven by businesses or foundations. Please find below some of the more mature innovation districts.

  • The Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor
  • Kendall Square in Cambridge
  • University City in Philadelphia
  • Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham
  • Medical Alley in Rochester
  • University Research Park in Madison
  • Research Park in Salt Lake City
  • South Lake Union in Seattle

Several communities in the United States are earlier in the process of developing innovation districts. Some are in urban areas, while others are in smaller communities. Please find below a list of innovation districts that are showing significant momentum and progress.

  • 16 Tech in Indianapolis
  • Cortex in St. Louis
  • Future City in Detroit
  • Akron Innovation District
  • Syracuse Innovation Zone
  • The Innovation District of Chattanooga
  • University Research Park in Ames
  • Yanke Research Park in Boise

It is important for public policy leaders from all walks of life to come together to foster technology and economic growth in their communities. There are several legs to the innovation stool and it is encouraging to see so many locations placing a high value on this form of economic development. As a site selection firm, we are asked to examine many issues that impact corporate location decisions. Our clients are placing a higher value on real estate solutions that have proximity to locations where collaborative research activities are taking place and where investments are being made in quality of place initiatives. Communities, regions and states would be well served to consider these items as they look to invest funds in projects in their areas.

Larry Gigerich serves as Executive Managing Director of Ginovus and a member of the Site Selectors Guild. 

  • Perspectives

    • Chris Watts is president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.

      Revenue Forecast Shapes State Spending – And Surplus - Negotiations

      This week, the State Budget Committee heard an updated revenue forecast that could best be described as overcast but not stormy – yet.  Sales taxes, the largest source of state revenue, fared well from the December forecast – down a modest $15 million over the 2020-21 budget (and likely to be buoyed by new policies for online hotel and retail sales taxes moving through the legislature).  Individual income taxes showed a more dramatic decline, continuing a...



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Eli Lilly and Co. made the America’s Best Employers List

      Hoosier Companies Among 'America’s Best Employers'

      Forbes has released its list of America’s Best Employers for 2019. The Hoosier state was represented on the list by 12 companies, including Eli Lilly and Co., Cook Medical and NiSource among others.

    • The Vogue opened as a movie house in 1938, then reopened as a nightclub in 1977. (Picture Courtesy: The Vogue)

      Tech Vets Purchase Popular Indy Nightclub

      A group of Indianapolis tech entrepreneurs has bought a popular nightclub in the city's Broad Ripple neighborhood. High Alpha co-founder Eric Tobias and former MOBI executives Scott Kraege and Andrew Davis say they will retain the Vogue's current staff to manage the venue's day-to-day operations. The new owners say they will detail plans to reinvigorate the Vogue through enhanced fan experience and engagement in the coming months. Tobias, Kraege and Davis purchased the Vogue...

    • (rendering courtesy of the city of Fishers)

      Fishers Test Kitchen Looking For Applicants

      The city of Fishers has begun searching for chefs to take part in the first cohort at the Fishers Test Kitchen restaurant accelerator. Three participants will be selected for the accelerator, which aims to provide a space for them to grow, try new concepts and ultimately open their own restaurants. The accelerator, which the city says will be the first of its kind in the state, will open this fall inside the Sun King Brewing location in The Yard at Fishers District.

    • $9 Million Microscope to be Installed at Purdue

      Purdue University, the Indiana University School of Medicine, IU Bloomington, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Eli Lilly and Co. and the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute have collaborated to bring the latest version of a cryo-electron microscope to Indiana. The nearly $9 million machine will be housed in Purdue's Discovery Park. 

    • Picture Courtesy: Becknell Industrial

      Becknell Industrial Planning $20M Project

      Carmel-based real estate firm Becknell Industrial is planning to invest nearly $20 million in a speculative facility in Merrillville. Our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana report the move comes after the company found a tenant for another property it has in the Lake County city. The publication reports Becknell has an industrial building to the north of the new proposed site. That property is now being leased by Schilli Distribution. Becknell received a 10-year...