The Geographic Context of Emerging Industries
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There is great academic and policy interest in identifying and tracking emerging technologies and industries. New industries, which combine knowledge in new and novel ways, are associated with innovation and entrepreneurial activities. Most importantly, emerging industries provide the platform for future economic growth. The gales of innovation and technological change which Schumpeter so colorfully described as driving economic growth are due, in large part, to the emergence of new technology and the evolution of industrial activities. Most notably, emerging industries tend to cluster spatially as advantages accrue to those at the locus of creative activity and opportunity. Emerging industries, however, by their very nature do not fit neatly into existing classification schemes. We are constantly looking at categories that described past activity while trying to predict and anticipate the future. With existing data there is simply no good way to identify emerging industries. Thus, our ideas of emerging industries amount to the usual suspects favored with extensive media coverage: biotechnology, nanotechnology and dot-com firms. Although consequential, these industries are likely atypical, and our understanding of technological change -- specifically how new industries emerge and their relationship to existing activity -- would be greatly enhanced if we were to have systematic quantitative methods of identifying groups of firms engaged in similar new technologies or process or using new business models. Moreover, there is little theory to assist places as they attempt to anchor new industries and harness their economic potential. The purpose of this paper is to provide a new look at the geographic and industrial anatomy of an emerging science-based industry. We use the example of the industrial applications of optical science, which arguably has characteristics of a general purpose technology. Optics is the study of light and the ways that light interacts with matter. Although its origins coincide with the earliest scientific inquiry, modern optical science is an enabling technology applied to a variety of intermediate markets -- telecommunication equipment, medical devices, scientific instruments, semiconductors, imaging and reproduction, defense and security, and retail logistics. Known by various names including opto-electronics, and photonics, which may reflect the developmental stages of the technology, optical science is arguably a platform technology that is transformative in its economic effect, with a growth rate 3.5 times faster than other major technologies (International Society for Optical Engineering, 2006). One hundred and fifteen degree-granting academic programs in the U.S. are dedicated to optical science and there are a large number of interdisciplinary institutes or focus areas in traditional academic departments. The optics industry is noted to cluster spatially, especially around academic centers of excellence (Holton, 2000). And there are case studies that provide the genesis of individual optics clusters (Hendry et al., 2000; Sydow et al., 2007; Waits, 2000). There is little empirical work, however, that examines the range of optical science applications and its geographic distribution. Moreover, there are many places that are attempting to develop clusters related to optics while there is a limited understanding of what contributes to the vibrancy of existing geographic concentration for this specific industry. The paper is organized as follows. The next section provides a discussion of the theory related to the geographic clustering of economic activity, especially the reasons associated with the geographic clustering of inventive activity. So much has been written about industrial clusters over the past ten years that it is perhaps more instructive to consider omissions in the literature, such as the lack of attention to how spatial concentrations of firms are differentiated and the relative paucity of understanding about how existing industry structure influences the adaption and potential to further innovate incorporating breakthrough technology. Section III presents the case for studying optical science as an emerging industry and introduces a new methodology to define an emerging industry. Section IV examines the geographic distribution of optical science, finding strong evidence of geographic concentrations of inventive activity with significant variation in place-specific industrial activity. Section V provides a specific focus on what we define as self-designated clusters â those places that are trying to define an identity and economic development strategy around the optics industry. Section VII summarizes and concludes.