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Report On Rise Of Innovation Districts Highlights St. Louis

(Courtesy Cortex)

A new report out released Monday by the Brookings Institution on "innovation districts" prominently features St. Louis' Cortex.

The Rise of the Innovation District: A New Geography of Innovation in America looks at several of these areas in both Europe and the U.S. It defines the districts as "geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators."

Co-author Julie Wagner said the report is meant to showcase what is happening in innovative centers and encourage other cities to embrace the idea. She said the growth of such districts highlights a shift following the Great Recession.

"Now is this opportunity to sort of move away from this consumption-oriented practice of focusing exclusively on retail, say Starbucks and stadiums, and really thinking about your economic strengths in a different way," Wagner said.

Part of that shift has been coming from corporations and institutions that no longer want to work in silos, she said. The "open innovation" idea is moving companies away from the idea of science parks where they were isolated to more collaborative spaces.

"Today more companies and firms are finding real advantages to work together, engage with each other in the process in idea generation, R&D, and prototyping and various stages of the innovation life cycle," Wagner said.

That’s true in Cortex, located in St. Louis' mid-town region, where various companies work side-by-side. For instance, Boeing’s startup discovery group, called Ventures, will be in the @4240 building alongside AB Mauri, a global bread and yeast company.

Credit (Brookings Institution)

Wagner and her co-author, Bruce Katz, found three distinctive types of districts:

  • Anchor Plus Model: tend to be located in the downtowns and mid-towns of central cities. Cortex fits in this category.
  • Re-imagined Urban Area: tend to be located in older industrial areas, often along waterfronts near downtown.
  • Urbanized Science Park: tend to be located in suburban and even exurban areas but create density much like in the city.

Wagner said the districts are not really competing against one another because they tend to be very distinct. For instance, Cortex focuses on the life sciences building on research from anchor institutions including Washington University and St. Louis University.
After researching districts across the world, Wagner said she is impressed with the efforts at Cortex.

"They’re working tirelessly to transform 200 acres into a true platform of innovation, and many of their efforts to date, frankly, offer lessons for other U.S. cities," she said.

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.