continuous, evolutionary, and inclusive. “It’s not just about invention,” she said, “but about dispersing those inventions into the world.”
While universities can be at the heart of innovation clusters, she said, so too can private firms, which bring the dual approaches of fierce competition and collaboration. “We’ve seen that the success of Silicon Valley has a lot to do with the easy flow of information and people between and among firms. Cooperative attitudes can allow these informal networks to emerge.” The cooperation among firms and universities creates knowledge spillover, which is essential to economic engines. It allows “iterations and repeated modifications so that nothing is stuck. This is again biological, very dynamic, moving constantly.”
She said that it is easier to describe successful clusters after they happen than to predict or create them. Silicon Valley, she notes, is exhaustively studied—the quality of its elements and how they work together. But such analyses are of little help in showing the federal government how it can best facilitate the next Silicon Valley.
Coordinating Regional and Federal Initiatives
She then made a suggestion, and asked the participants’ help. She said that more than 200 programs across the federal government are involved to varying degrees with local and regional economic development. A challenge, she said, is to make the best use of these scattered programs. She proposed selecting two or three elements of those programs to create a one-stop shop, or “mall of programs,” to help clusters move through their life cycle. This was not a suggestion to create another federal agency, but might only require “the work of a few purposeful people with White House assistance in coordination.” Such a plan, she said, might make funding strategic, targeted, and effective. Regional programs would know where to direct queries and how to reach out for funding. The question she posed was how to select the most appropriate candidate for a pilot effort. “No one wants to see centralized control of all 200+ programs,” she said. “The whole system would come to its knees.” She said that a handful of programs “could be drawn into this easy availability for regions that have their act together and are looking for better interaction with government.”
She noted that her suggestion reflected the administration’s priority to improve the interface between government and its constituents. “The effort is on transparency,” she said, “so people see how government works and can gain access to it.”
She added that cluster policy should mimic the qualities of clusters themselves—for example, the policy should gain efficiency by targeting efforts, breaking down silos, and combining elements of agencies that overlap. Another crucial element of policy, she said, is to recognize the balance between top-down decree and bottom-up leadership. “It’s so