we need to encourage the right kind of risk-taking—the type of risk-taking that allows successful entrepreneurs to build companies and discover breakthrough technologies that allow people around the world to live wealthier, healthier, and more productive lives.”
Companies that have solid foundations and a lot of growth potential are known as “gazelles,” Mr. Locke noted. “Gazelles” can thrive in science and technology parks, laboratories, and business incubators. These are “places where entrepreneurs, scientists, product developers, and venture capitalists are clustered together and can work together.” They are places where innovations are developed and brought to market, and where new businesses have a chance to grow. They are places, he said, “where entrepreneurs—even the ones who at first don’t succeed—have a chance to try, try, and try again.” They also are places where workers have the security of knowing that if one employer closes its doors, another will emerge to take its place.
These dynamics already are at work not only in well-known innovation clusters such as Silicon Valley and Research Triangle. Despite the difficult job picture, Mr. Locke said, these approaches also are working in places like the New Mexico Technology Corridor, the Arizona Bioscience Park in Tucson, Virginia Tech University’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, and many other places around the United States. “For all the missed opportunities of the past decade, and for all the challenges of the present moment, there are great American success stories to tell,” he said. “And every one of these success stories has a common theme: place matters.”
Innovation clusters yield results because entrepreneurs, researchers, and innovators want to be around each other, Mr. Locke said. “They want to feed off the shared creative energy. They want access to a shared talent pool. They want to build relationships.” If a local community can create the climate for innovation and build critical mass, then private investment will follow, he said. So will innovation and jobs.
Mr. Locke said there are numerous examples of innovation hotbeds, such as Rochester, New York; Dubuque, Iowa; Saginaw, Michigan; and San Jose, California. But clusters should not only be seen as belonging to a single city. Iconic zones like Research Triangle and Silicon Valley are regions, he noted. That is why Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter began calling them “regional innovation clusters.” In such regions, he noted, groups of companies, educational institutions, municipalities, and even state agencies work together to create the best possible business climate. “They work together because they are stronger that way,” he said.
One problem is that most of the United States remains outside the borders of clusters. If one took a map of the United States and colored in all the established regional clusters, Mr. Locke observed, the clusters would be dispersed across the nation. But most of the U.S. map would remain white space. “These regional clusters aren’t quite exceptions,” Mr. Locke said. “But they’re certainly not the rule.”