Converging possibilities: Oklahoma City’s innovation district (via Brookings)

Bruce Katz -

Cities rise above international competitors not just through their ability to innovate within single industries—say, auto, steel or energy—but also by identifying new points of convergence across them. Pittsburgh’s renewal, for example, has been spurred by its research in new technologies—robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics—that cut across multiple sectors and clusters ranging from transportation to health care.

Last week, Brookings and the Project for Public Spaces released “Positioned for Growth: Advancing the Oklahoma City Innovation District.” The report examined the city’s Medical District, a traditional academic medical center that is now positioned to cross-pollinate its long-term strength in life science research into industries like energy and aerospace that drive employment throughout the broader Oklahoma City economy.

Like most academic medical centers, the Oklahoma Health Center was established in the middle of the last century with the exclusive mission of health education, research, and care. To this end, state zoning greatly restricted land use in the area, prohibiting mixed-use and residential development and encouraging suburban development patterns. For decades the district kept to its health mission, based on its core institutional assets—the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, the Presbyterian Health Foundation and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF)—that conducted quality health research with commercial effects. And it did its job well: an area that only occupies .002 percent of the land mass of Oklahoma has garnered 77 percent of the NIH funding for the entire state.

Then something unexpected happened. In 2013, General Electric decided to locate a global research center focusing on oil and gas exploration in Oklahoma City. The center is one of ten globally and the only one to be dedicated to one industry. This wasn’t surprising given the presence of major companies like Devon and Chesapeake Energy. What was surprising and fortuitous was GE’s decision to build its new facility in the Medical District.

From a distance, energy and health care do not appear to have anything to do with each other. But, upon closer examination, these super-sectors depend upon several common technologies and techniques. Imaging. Sensors. Robotics. Big Data Analytics.

Read the rest of the piece at Brookings.edu.

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