How Do Local Tech Economies Affect University Research Output?

October 17, 2013

In tech-based economic development circles, universities are frequently thought of as engines for regional economic growth, engines whose effectiveness is determined by the volume of research conducted and the ability of faculty and staff to turn discoveries into commercially available goods and services. The authors of two recent academic articles suggest that regional economies are also a key determinant of university success. Steven Casper’s research suggests that social linkages between research faculty and local tech professionals improve university commercialization, while Friedrich Dornbusch and Thomas Brenner find that alignment between local tech industries and university research priorities increases the prevalence of successful university-private partnerships.

The Casper paper constructs a mirror-image model of the university commercialization. Instead of examining how universities drive regional tech economies, Casper argues that the quality of a university’s regional environment can significantly impact its success in commercializing discoveries. He uses social network analysis and biotechnology-related university patents from major research institutions between 1980-2005 to illuminate the size, connectedness and composition of inventor networks. He focuses specifically on the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Los Angeles area, including Orange County.  Those two regions were chosen because they share many structural similarities, but with San Francisco having a thriving biotechnology cluster and Los Angeles having less of a biotech orientation.

His work confirms that San Francisco has a dramatically larger and more cohesive biotech inventor network than Los Angeles, which in turn has improved commercialization outcomes for its universities. San Francisco institutions obtained more than twice as many biotechnology patents and helped launch three times as many businesses, after controlling for other factors. Casper suggests that policymakers consider the state of regional economies when evaluating the effectiveness of university research and commercialization activities. The conclusions also suggest that the conventional images of university knowledge generation “spilling over” into the regional economy may be flawed, and universities should more properly be thought of as key members in a mutually beneficial network of regional players

Purchase The spill-over theory reversed: The impact of regional economies on the commercialization of university science by Steven Casper at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048733313000826.

The Dornbusch and Brenner article poses a similar hypothesis. The authors examined German university patenting and publication activity in 2007 to find if similarities between the tech industry orientation of the local economy and the research orientation of universities led to increased cooperative activity. They found clear evidence that a technological fit between a university’s scientific priorities and the needs of local industry led to a greater number of research partnerships. Universities that produced research relevant to local industries were more likely to be able to serve as knowledge factories and contribute to the regional economy.

Download Universities as local knowledge hubs under different technology regimes - New evidence from academic patenting by Friedrich Dornbusch and Thomas Brenner at: http://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/74483/1/747216045.pdf.

Together the papers suggest that university output cannot be considered in isolation from the economic conditions in the surrounding region. Alignment between university research priorities and local industries creates an environment conducive to commercialization and regional economic development.

recent research, regionalism, higher ed, r&d