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  December 27th, 2016 | Written by

Innovation Economy Not Limited to Coastal Blue States

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  • The drivers of high-tech innovation are widely diffused in the U.S.
  • The myopic view that the high-tech economy limited to a few bright spots is flat wrong.
  • Agriculture, mining, and manufacturing are evolving into tech-enabled industries.

While policy discussions about technology and innovation issues often focus narrowly on iconic places like Silicon Valley or Boston’s Route 128 corridor, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) reported today in a new study that high-tech innovation plays a critical role in the economy in all 435 U.S. congressional districts.

ITIF, the leading U.S. science and tech policy think tank, examined 20 indicators of the innovation-driven high-tech economy—both traditional economic data such as technology exports and newer metrics such as broadband deployment—to paint statistical portraits of all 435 U.S. congressional districts, 50 states, and the District of Columbia. What it found was a nation in which the drivers of high-tech innovation are widely diffused.

“The myopic view that the high-tech economy is only Silicon Valley and a few other bright spots like Boston or North Carolina’s Research Triangle is flat wrong,” said Robert D. Atkinson, ITIF’s president. “Even worse, that misconception undermines support for broad-based, bipartisan policies to spur further innovation and growth across the nation. Indeed, all districts have some kind of tech-driven activity occurring locally. In some places, it’s because long-established industries such as agriculture, mining, or manufacturing are rapidly evolving into tech-enabled industries. In others, it’s because new developments such as cloud computing and ubiquitous access to internet service allow innovators to create new, IT-enabled enterprises in any small town or rural area they may choose. But either way, this serves as a signal to every Member of Congress that tech matters to their state and district.”

The new ITIF report includes statistical profiles of each state and congressional district, as well as specific examples of companies, universities, and other organizations driving innovation locally.

The report found that the high-tech sector employs nearly 30,000 people per congressional district, on average, totaling just under 13 million people nationwide. There is no district in the country without at least a few dozen tinkerers and innovators who have filed patent applications in recent years—and three-quarters of all districts have had 1,000 or more of these patent filers. More than half of all congressional districts received at least $50 million in federal research funding in the last two fiscal years.

In more than half of all congressional districts, the report found, every household has access to broadband internet service with speeds in excess of 10 Mbps, and there are no congressional districts in which fewer than 80 percent of households have access to that level of service. There is little correlation between strength in exporting high-tech manufactured products and strength in exporting either IT services or intellectual property-based services. In other words, a congressional district can very easily be strong in one area, but not necessarily in the others, underscoring how IT is transforming every sector of the economy.

There is a very strong correlation between high-tech employment and IT service exports, demonstrating how high-skill, high-wage jobs depend on access to global markets, the report also concluded. There is a strong correlation between the number of highly skilled immigrants in a district and the value of its IT service exports.

“The country’s innovation-driven, high-tech economy really is much more widely diffused than most people imagine,” said Atkinson. “We urge members of Congress and other policymakers to find common cause in advancing an agenda that continues to build up the foundations of an innovation-driven economy, including a highly skilled workforce, robust research and development spending, digital-age infrastructure, and globally competitive tech-driven industries. It’s the surest way to raise productivity, bolster competitiveness, and boost wages.”