Knowledge is (Economic) Power

[T]he globalization of knowledge and knowledge creation [is] the fundamental global driver of economic outcomes in today’s information economy.
— Richard B. Freeman

The Brookings Institute, as part of its Global Cities initiative, has released a new report titled Redefining Global Cities. This follows and complements the A. T. Kearney publication  “Global Cities 2016.  For many of us, the term global city gives us a moment’s pause – just what constitutes a global city? While the titles of the two articles I reference make clear there is not universal agreement as to the precise meaning, almost all definitions reference the importance of global cities in the world economy. Presently over half of the world population lives in cities, and this accounts for their influence. The population of our cities will continue to expand.

All of this caught my eye because of my own pride in my city, state, and country.  I live in Houston, home to well over 2 million and encompassing about 600 square miles. Houston has been called a global city for years, but what struck me the most in these articles was a shift that is relevant to the life science and medical device sectors driving much innovation in Houston and other Texas cities.

Houston is a center for the energy industry, aeronautics, health care, biomedical research, and shipping. Many will easily recognize the city’s contributions to energy, thinking of its prominence in the oil industry, but they overlook its drive in the wind and solar sectors. The Texas Medical Center is a city unto itself, comprising one of the largest business districts in the US, employing over 100,000 professionals and accommodating over 150,000 visitors every day. Mention aeronautics, and who can help but think of NASA? Houston is the largest US port in terms of international commerce, and one of the 10 largest in the world.

For years, much of the discussion of global economy has focused on the largest of the global cities; London, Paris, New York, and Tokyo. As strong as the economic contributions of these cities might be, however, they were but a slice of the total global economy, and discounting their smaller sisters is not wise.  As the economy changes, new concepts of economic goods demand consideration. Major corporations, educations levels, information, cultural experiences, political engagement, personal well-being, innovation, long-term investments, GDP, and the ease of doing business are just a few of the factors measured. Centers of government and policy, such as Brussels and Washington DC, as well as capital markets, such as New York, London, and Beijing populate the upper echelons in most ranking systems, but the advantages of doing business in these centers versus smaller centers is becoming less.

Which brings us to Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, the largest of Texas’ cities, and where they fit into these ranking systems.  A. T. Kearney recognized Houston and Dallas as among the global cities with the greatest potential for growth and future competitiveness.  Houston was singled out for its category leading GDP per capita. Austin and San Antonio were just not large enough to be considered in the Kearney analysis.  

In a working paper available here, Harvard Professor of Economics Richard B. Freeman points out the role of “the globalization of knowledge and knowledge creation as the fundamental global driver of economic outcomes in today's information economy.” And this is where Texas’ largest cities demand attention.  The Brookings Institute’s ranking system included a category of global cities termed “Knowledge Capitals” due to their ability to fuel innovation.  Houston, Austin, and Dallas were included in this category, noted to be among global cities having the highest GDP per capita, and highest GDP per worker. These cities have the highest output per worker, and these workers are also innovators, which is the hallmark of this segment of our global society.  Innovation – knowledge – is the driver of tomorrow.  Knocking at the door of this international economic engine? San Antonio, ranked in the category of “American Middleweight” global cities.

All of this brings us to the heart of the matter, which is that now, perhaps more than ever, knowledge is power. High powered research involves more than just a think tank or elite university. Entire cities fuel innovation, and by recognizing this, cities thrive. Universities and scientific communities understand that Biomedical startups require nurturing, and the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, and the UH Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship are but a few of the incubators available to innovators in this area. Participating in these programs can open many doors to innovators, allowing them to work with the business and legal sectors to maximize their return on their intellectual investment and transform their dreams into reality.  


Contact the Spiers Group for assistance in translating your idea into reality. The firm works with innovators in technology and pharma to nurture their ideas and facilitate growth through incubators.