Unicorn chasing in economic development
If you've been around real estate or development very long, you've seen the "it" cycles come and go. From shopping malls to industrial parks to corporate office parks to high-tech to biotech - every few years there's a new trend that has cities and regions scrambling. One city will have success with high-tech, so everyone rushes out to try and replicate the formula. It seems every city I've visited in the last decade claims to be a hub for health care and biotech. Can that really be true?
Derek Thompson dives into the subject with a fascinating piece called 'Why the 'next Silicon Valley' is always Silicon Valley." You can guess the outcome from the title, but one key takeaway for me is again the importance of people, talent and leadership. Magic wands don't remake cities from their essential nature - people taking action do it, but building from strength (and slowly). From the piece:
...the idea of a single person or company catalyzing a city's economic development is historically apt. Great cities take time to become great, but one person or organization can be an inflection point. Vegas has Zappos. Seattle has Gates and Bezos. Boston has Harvard and MIT. Palo Alto has Stanford and Xerox PARC. Software-based entrepreneurship can technically be done anywhere, and yet it tends to cluster in areas like the Flatiron District and Palo Alto, because people who consider themselves talented apparently want to be where they think other talented people are.
A new paper "Why Stars Matter" on the effect of star researchers who join university departments finds that wildly productive people actually don't make all of their new colleagues more productive. Instead, their most important contribution to the school is to help recruit more talented colleagues in the future. "Hiring a star does not increase overall incumbent productivity," the researchers sum up in the abstract (full paper here), but "the primary impact comes from an increase in the average quality of subsequent recruits."