Brookings: Positioned for growth: Advancing the Oklahoma City innovation district

In today’s global economy, cities rise above international competitors—or not—based on their ability to innovate not within single industries—autos, steel, energy—but rather by finding new points of convergence across them. 

The implications of this new competitive landscape for Oklahoma City are significant. Two of the region’s largest economic clusters—energy and health care—are undergoing substantial disruption.  The expansion of North American natural gas has opened the energy economy to new players. In health care, life science breakthroughs are coupling with information technology in areas like personalized medicine and health IT to redefine the care continuum, creating wide openings for technology and life science capitals like Austin, Texas; Boston; and San Francisco.

Yet as crosscutting technologies—from “big data” to sensing—expand the competitive playing field in industries critical to Oklahoma City, they also create unprecedented opportunity for the region to vault ahead of its peers.

This great leap will not happen spontaneously, however.  To leverage advantages in health, energy, and other sectors, Oklahoma City’s public and private leaders need to take action to improve joint industry-relevant research; grow, attract, and retain new technology companies; and ensure that the workforce is prepared for future jobs.  They need to invest in creating dynamic, high-quality places where research institutions, firms, and talent concentrate and connect.  And they need to nurture the talents and potential of low-income residents, who, if history is any lesson, will otherwise remain disconnected from the innovation economy’s growth.

The Oklahoma City metropolitan area has long-standing industry strengths and assets on which to build a new convergence economy. The region dominates in oil and gas extraction, and it is becoming a global center for advanced energy technology, evidenced by the recent opening of the General Electric (GE) Global Research Oil & Gas Technology Center.  Outside of energy, the region has economic strengths in aerospace engineering, led by Tinker Air Force Base, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, and in health care, driven by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC), the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), and several private-sector firms, including COARE Biotechnology, Charlesson, and Selexys.

The new GE facility and these health care assets largely concentrate in Oklahoma City’s emerging innovation district.  Bounded roughly by Robinson and Lottie Avenues to the west and east and 4th and 13th Streets to the south and north, this 1.3-square-mile area encompasses both the Oklahoma Health Center and the vibrant commercial corridor of Automobile Alley.  A significant center of job growth, the district reflects the shifting geography of the global economy and the emergence of dense hubs of economic activity where innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and placemaking intersect.

With the right investments, the Oklahoma City innovation district has the potential to become a major center of gravity for innovation and economic development in Oklahoma City.

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