A Silicon Valley in every pot

The Millken Institute has issued a league table of the top “tech poles” (are they related to tent poles?) in the US. The results confirm the dominance of the Bay Area for high-tech:

  1. San Jose — Sunnyvale — Santa Clara, CA (100.0)
  2. Seattle — Bellevue — Everett, WA (46.4)
  3. Cambridge — Newton — Framingham, MA (45.2)
  4. Washington — Arlington — Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV (41.8)
  5. Los Angeles — Long Beach — Glendale, CA (40.2)
  6. Dallas — Plano — Irving, TX (21.8)
  7. San Diego — Carlsbad — San Marcos, CA (19.3)
  8. Santa Ana — Anaheim — Irvine, CA (17.7)
  9. New York — White Plains — Wayne, NY-NJ (16.8)
  10. San Francisco — San Mateo — Redwood City, CA (16.1)

If I extended beyond the top 10, Oakland — Fremont — Hayward places 16th, so if the Bay Area is taken as a whole, it really dominates the list, with the first, tenth and 16th positions. That’s nice, but I’m skeptical that the methodology really provides much of a clue as to where high-tech innovation will thrive in coming years. Dallas? I don’t think so.

There’s no room for anything like cleantech in the industry classifications used for the study. More importantly, the methodology skews the index away from some of the key trends in technology. It uses employment or wages and the concentration of high tech in a region as the basis for the analysis. Reckoning that tech heft matters ignores today’s reality. 

Some of the more influential tech companies don’t actually employ many people. Craigslist has less than 50 employees, but it’s probably one of the main reasons why American newspapers are in desperate shape. Twitter also is still under 50 employees, but it’s defining a new mode of real-time communication and mind-sharing that will surely spawn imitators and other new services. Both are based in tenth-place San Francisco. San Francisco also has a high concentration of biotech, grouped around Genentech. A lot of biotech is heavy on intellectual property, not employees or aggregate wages.

During the dotcom boom every economic development agency in the world was determined to create their own Silicon Valley (it hasn’t been updated in years, but Keith Dawson’s Siliconia still should provoke a smile). There are many paths to innovation hot spots, and lessons can certainly be learned from Silicon Valley. But the original isn’t really replicable. The evidence, however, is in and there’s still only one Silicon Valley.

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