Skip to content
CityLab
Economy

Where To Find the Unsung Engines of Innovation and Economic Growth

Research and Development labs are even more geographically clustered than venture capital or startups
A Ph.D student at the University of Washington working on a machine that prints solar cells.
A Ph.D student at the University of Washington working on a machine that prints solar cells.Ted S. Warren/AP

It goes without saying that innovative new ideas and technologies are keys to today’s economy. But the knowledge economy is also concentrated, clustered and uneven—a huge factor in the deepening geographic and economic inequality that vexes our nation. Just the top ten metros account for 75 percent of startup venture capital funds; and the Bay Area alone makes up roughly 45 percent.

A new study published in the Journal of Urban Economics sheds additional light on the clustering and unevenness of America’s knowledge economy, looking specifically at the locations of R&D labs. R&D is the underlying foundation of the knowledge economy. There would be no Silicon Valley without the R&D that takes place at Stanford University; no Boston-Cambridge tech miracle without MIT; no Pittsburgh revival without Carnegie Mellon. In fact, it is hard to name a major tech hub around the world that does not have one or more great research university.