Originally published in National League of Cities
By Glendowlyn Thames
Innovation districts have caught on all over the world as an effective vehicle for transforming the economic vitality of a community through public-private partnerships, attracting both new talent and a critical mass of tech start-ups and young, high-growth companies.
I personally love the idea because done right, it brings together stakeholders who may not otherwise collaborate — universities, established companies, small businesses, office users and underserved residents — to share ideas around reimagining their community in the knowledge-based economy.
But “done right” is the key. The districts have been around for long enough that they have been deeply studied by Brookings Institution, among others. For that reason, we know now why some districts sizzle while others fizzle out.
Here in Connecticut, we’re about two years into our own experiment called Innovation Places. We had the advantage of working with a couple of Brookings Fellows from the start, but we are still learning a lot.
If there is one overall message I’d impart, it is that these initiatives have to evolve from the bottom-up with the private sector and local community leading, rather than from the top-down with the public sector in the lead. These are collaborative efforts and the best ideas are going to bubble up from stakeholders, of which there are many.
Here are my five key takeaways for standing up these innovation hubs and leveraging community power to its fullest: