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  October 2nd, 2015 | Written by

Most Innovative

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Population: 198,100
Unemployment: 5.0 percent
Top University: University of Akron

“Rubber City” has remade itself into “Polymer Valley.” Polymers, critical in the manufacture of computers and mobile phones, are not only produced by more than 400 companies in the region but taught at the University of Akron’s College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. In 2010, the National Polymer Innovation Center was opened on campus. The city, which features a free downtown Wi-Fi corridor, also is known for the BioInnovation Institute, which develops biomedical devices.

BOULDER, Colorado
Population: 103,166
Unemployment: 3.8 percent
Top University: University of Colorado

Home to TechStars, a business incubator similar to Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, Boulder has become one of the nation’s hotbeds of innovative startups. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, the city is home to the likes of the Geological Society of America and the Space Science Institute and nearly 59 percent of Boulder residents have attained at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest figure in the nation and twice the national average.

Population: 42,284
Unemployment: 2.9 percent
Top University: University of Vermont

About a quarter of the city’s residents are students at the University of Vermont but despite that, or because of it, Burlington has one of the nation’s highest ratios of tech-related patents, per thousand residents. Having been the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, which began here in a renovated gas station, the area also produces an impressive amount of tech startups and is leading a statewide push toward running completely on renewable resources by 2050.

DETROIT, Michigan
Population: 688,701
Unemployment: 7.7 percent
Top University: Wayne State University

Many residents say they haven’t seen this kind of energy in Detroit for decades. TechTown is an internationally recognized urban research and tech business park that brings together entrepreneurs with investors and service providers. The city’s first “innovation district” allows leading-edge institutions and companies to cluster and connect with start-up talent and numerous incubators and accelerators. That energy has attracted businesses such as Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures back into downtown while drawing manufacturing interests into midtown.

HESPERIA, California
Population: 92,147
Unemployment: 8.7 percent
Top University: University of California, Riverside

Sometimes the biggest innovation local governments can do is cooperation. Hesperia and four neighboring desert cities (Adelanto, Apple Valley, Barstow and Victorville), still recovering from the recession, pooled their talents and resources to form Opportunity High Desert, which has been key to attracting new businesses such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Dollar General. OPH has had an even better effect on local residents; Hesperia’s unemployment rate, which was more than 11 percent last year, is now under 9 percent.

LONG BEACH, California
Population: 469,428
Unemployment: 7.3 percent
Top University: Cal State Long Beach

Home to one of the world’s great, and busiest, ports, Long Beach was one of 14 cities from around the world chosen to receive a grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies to form an “Innovation Team” that will design and implement solutions in the area of economic development, advising the city on the best methods to stimulate growth, create jobs and utilize resources. The city showed it was serious about innovation, matching the $3 million grant with another $1 million of its own.

Population: 609,456
Unemployment: 5.4 percent
Top University: Portland State University

Rip City discovered long ago the benefits of going its own way: In the ’70s it created a bicycle plan and converted a freeway into a riverfront park and now has the highest percentage of bike commuters in the country and one of its best park systems. Through public-private partnerships numerous green “eco districts,” encouraging walkability and benefitting small business, have been created in the city. The program has been so successful that Portland firms have signed on to create similar districts in Japan.

RALEIGH, North Carolina
Population: 431,746
Unemployment: 5.1 percent
Top University: North Carolina State University

Having the distinction of being one of the country’s first planned cities, innovation pretty much seeps from this city’s bricks. For an example, look no farther than its Research Triangle Park (RTP), the nation’s largest research park and one of its most successful with more than 1,800 start-ups created since 1970. About 170 companies such as IBM, GlaxoSmithKline and BASF employ nearly 40,000 at the park. Cisco Systems, which already employees 4,600 at RTP, recently announced plans to add another 550.

SAN DIEGO, California
Population: 3,263,431
Unemployment: 5.0 percent
Top University: University of California, San Diego

Operating smarter is a civic obsession. A few examples: a national leader in electric vehicles, San Diego installed solar-to-electric charging stations around town; it also replaced thousands of street lights with LED bulbs that will save taxpayers millions; and The Port of San Diego is the first demonstration site for smart building systems that translate energy consumption into real-time data that will provide energy more efficiently and economically. A recent National Geographic documentary series called Smart Cities featured one American entry: San Diego.

TAMPA, Florida
Population: 352,957
Unemployment: 5.3 percent
Top University: University of South Florida

USF not only has one of the largest enrollments in the country but its 104 patents awarded ranked 10th in the nation—besting the likes of Harvard and Penn—aided by numerous incubators such as the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, Tampa Bay Technology Forum and USF Connect. The city’s school system received a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to implement reform initiatives that will be a model for the rest of the country.

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