The U.S federal government’s willingness to embrace hawkish industrial policy is at least providing a chance to rethink the role the state plays in innovation. “It’s not just an opportunity—it’s a necessity,” says Dan Breznitz, the Peter J. Munk professor of Innovation Studies at the University of Toronto and co-director of its Innovation Policy Lab. After decades, he says, it’s time the US government got back in the game of “understanding the importance of merging innovation strategy with industrial policy.”
Though federal legislation has kick-started the discussion about industrial policy and innovation strategies, any real change will have to happen through efforts by cities and states. Each city, says Breznitz of the University of Toronto, will need to figure things out for itself, creating innovation strategies that work for its people on the basis of its industrial base, educational resources, and type of workforce. And, he admonishes, cities need to stop pinning their hopes on an elusive high-tech strategy modeled on Silicon Valley.
“Two hundred cities in the US are all trying to look like Silicon Valley,” Breznitz says, adding, “I don’t know why. Maybe they’ve never been to Silicon Valley?”
A key, he says, is recognizing that inventions are just one stage of innovation. Local governments need to support what he calls continuous innovation by helping local companies and industries offer improved and cheaper products and services. It might not be as glamorous as coming up with a novel idea for a radical new business, but it’s how most companies and regions become more productive and localities prosper.