The World’s Most Innovative City

2/2/11Follow @rowe

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The Continental Army, which became the U.S. Army, was founded in Cambridge. General George Washington took command here and led the fight for American independence. A century later, the first volunteer company to fight in the U.S. civil war formed here. This war took the nation a giant leap toward racial equality. Just over a century after that, the first legal applications in America for same-sex marriage licenses were issued at Cambridge City Hall, a watershed in the gay rights movement.

In the Vertex case, the press has focused on the competition between Cambridge and Boston. That’s a good thing. Competition sharpens our wits and pushes us to be more competitive. According to economic development theorists, intense local competition is required to make a region become a global powerhouse. We should encourage it. If Boston has made itself more attractive to businesses, then Cambridge should too. This said, to the extent that points are being tallied for regional economic wins, let’s give the greatest credit to those who bring companies into the region, as Cambridge did with Novartis. I will cheer for Boston when it announces that it has brought a million-square-foot technology tenant into the region.

We all know the real threat to our region is places like Shanghai and Dallas. At the recent first-ever joint session of the Cambridge and Boston City Councils, the good folks at Monitor Group and Harvard presented data showing that Massachusetts is losing market share in the fields we are most competitive in. What’s up with that? Let’s get our act together, guys!

We invite innovators and entrepreneurs to come to Cambridge, MA, to collaborate with us to create the innovations that will shape the next century. We are the world’s most innovative city, and we want you to be part of that.

Xconomist Tim Rowe is Founder and CEO of Cambridge Innovation Center. Follow @rowe

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  • Nan Doyle

    Right. Coincidentally, Pfizer is looking for expansion space… Also: see the new “MIT 150th” exhibit at the MIT Museum for more on Cambridge innovation.

  • http://www.cictr.com Tim Rowe

    Folks –

    As an update to the above, it appears that there may be more in the works on the Vertex story. See the BBJ’s piece saying Vertex’s move to Boston is no sure thing:

    “http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/print-edition/2011/02/04/vertexs-boston-move-is-no-sure-thing.html”

  • Startup Veteran

    I think people are reading too much into things here – real estae / rent is the second largest expense for a company after payroll and benefits. Long term occupancy leases can reduce your cost quite a bit, and for a company that needs lots of capital for R+D, it makes sense if that is the case.

    We can be all flowery and touchy feely and rara Cambridge, or we can look at the fact that innovations occur out in places like Wakfield or Burlington where you can get office space for $12 a square foot.

    Considering some of the prices the landlords in Kendall charge, the biggest draw is that many of the tech staff need public transit and live in the city which is why startups end up paying for overpriced office space vs saving that capital and going further out.

    I am not trying to start a flame war, but anyone who is familiar with the real estate and rental market in Kendall knows exactly what I mean, and knows exactly who cranks the rents up.

  • Guest

    This is the typical pattern:

    1.) Step 1 – Startup in Cambridge (or similar pricey locales), attract top talent and university IP and develop an amazing product.
    2.) Step 2 – Product takes off and you go into production mode.
    3.) Step 3 – Company gets complacent and turns it’s focus away from developing new product and towards cost cutting (it is quicker and lower risk to cut costs than it is to develop a new revenue boosting product).
    4.) Step 4 – As part of the cost cutting strategy company moves into the suburbs or exurbs or to a state with poor regulations and low taxes.
    5.) Step 5 – Company begins to run out of cost cutting ideas, patents begin to expire, talent leaves to work for new start ups rather than commute to the suburbs for a struggling company.
    6.) Step 6 – Company looks to acquire start ups if it can afford to.

    So what’s the lesson to be learned, companies need to work with cities like Cambridge so that they can stay in the region for the long term and continue an R & D culture indefinitely. Space only becomes expensive when a real estate cartel holds down supply, space can be created by building skyscrapers. Clearing spotty forests further out to build single story facilities is not the only option.

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  • Enrique Martinez Lozano

    Hey Tim, great article and thread of comments… Here is another link to one of my favorite sites including a solid reports that explains the correlation between Innovation and Boston (MIT):

    http://www.kauffman.org/newsroom/mit-entrepreneurs.aspx

    Greetings, Enrique.