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White House Innovation Strategy: Welcome but Placeless

The White House’s recent update of its 2009 “Strategy for American Innovation” improves on the first edition.

The new document seems more forceful in making the case that innovation is essential to “winning the future.” And it does a firmer, brisker job of establishing that although the private sector is “America’s innovation engine” government must serve as an “innovation facilitator” given the presence of a series of critical “market failures” surrounding the conduct of basic scientific research, commercial innovation, and the deployment of new technologies.

Such arguments provide a cogent framing of the ongoing and new innovation agendas rolling out in this week’s FY 2012 budget, including expanded initiatives to support local innovation clusters and innovation hubs--two pet agendas of the Metro Program first conceptualized here and here.

And yet, here is one complaint: The critical role of regions and places in mediating innovation and accelerating economic activity is still underplayed in the new document. To be sure, plenty of the right policy agendas are laid out, ranging from the Department of Energy’s Energy Regional Innovation Cluster innovation hub on building sciences to the Small Business Administration’s Regional Cluster Initiative to the Economic Development Administration’s regional innovation clusters and i6 programs to the Agriculture Department’s Regional Innovation Initiative. 

However, the fundamental regional nature of the economy as we have described it here and here, and as National Economic Council deputy director Jason Furman affirmed it at a Metro Program event on regional industry clusters, is still missing from the core theoretical justification for the individual programs. Perhaps the next edition of the White House’s framework will move the central role of places and regions into its rightful place in the inner sanctum of U.S. economic strategy.