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Skyscrapers Not Needed: Research Shows High Potential For Innovation In Rural Mountain West Counties

New research highlights the potential for innovation in rural counties.
Devon Meadowcroft
Penn State
New research highlights the potential for innovation in rural counties.

New research shows that you don’t need a big population to foster innovation.


Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development researchers looked at innovation in a new way: instead of just counting patents and adding up research funding, they looked at innovations that crop up from businesses communicating and building on each others ideas.

The group, based at Pennsylvania State University, adjusted for things like population and education, and still found that areas with good cross-fertilization of ideas (or “knowledge spillover”) had more job growth and higher incomes.

And that’s not just happening in high tech meccas like Seattle and San Francisco.

“There’s plenty of innovation that’s happening outside these big innovation hubs,” said Stephan Goetz, who led the study. “And it seems to be important to be aware of that at least so that we don’t... put all our eggs in one basket and think about maybe encouraging this kind of innovation.”

In the Mountain West, counties like Washington County in Idaho and Rich County in Utah are top innovators, even though they’re rural.

However, there were plenty of counties across the region that the study didn’t expect to be as innovative. For those areas, Goetz said local leaders should try attracting certain kinds of businesses that compliment each other.

“For example, something in the computer electronic and electrical products industry, and then maybe something in metals and nonmetallic mineral products,” he said. “The challenge would be to bring in industries that relate to each other but they’re still very different, because that’s where you’d have the most opportunity for these kind of spillovers to occur.”

To look at the full results, check out the full study here .

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter  @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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