As the global economy evolves, sustainable and resilient growth increasingly depends on metropolitan Chicago’s capacity to convert new ideas into higher productivity and greater competitiveness. Public strategies can create the conditions for such innovation to fuel longer, more sustained, and inclusive economic growth. Despite its many economic assets, key ON TO 2050 indicators like patenting and venture capital activity suggest that the region lags behind peers in terms of research, commercial development, and entrepreneurial activity.
Innovation can take many forms and occurs throughout the economy. Rapid technological changes are often the most prominent examples, such as recent advances in artificial intelligence, advanced materials, and the digitalization of services. New, unforeseeable industries can arise as these breakthroughs find applications throughout the economy. However, other forms of innovation can also generate important economic benefits, such as better ways of operating a business. More subtle process innovations can help businesses reduce errors or costs, increase output, and improve quality, speed, and functionality. For example, advances in data analytics have allowed businesses to reorganize production and distribution, finding new efficiencies. Based on recommendations of the GO TO 2040 plan and subsequent analysis, CMAP’s policy and planning work aims to support the full range of innovative and entrepreneurial activities that contribute to economic vitality.
Innovation necessarily begins with strong investments in human capital, which will always be the region’s source of next-generation ideas and its strongest competitive advantage. An inclusive, high quality labor force spurs innovation in two ways: by developing more innovative ideas and by implementing those ideas more readily. Innovation from the region stands to benefit from diversifying the voices contributing to their development. At the same time, the diffusion of new technologies and processes requires mobilizing our full inventive talent at all skill levels. As new innovations find uses throughout the economy, workers in most occupations and at all skill levels will need to be equipped to use them to accomplish a wide range of creative and problem-solving tasks.
Because the private sector is a key driver of innovation and commercialization, the role of the public sector is to find ways to help spur innovation by supporting institutions, relationships, and the essential components of a modern economy. Policies and programs should focus primarily on supporting dense, dynamic economic activity in the Chicago region and ensuring that different, diverse parts of the region can participate. ON TO 2050 emphasizes entrepreneurial growth and the adoption of innovations among incumbent businesses, while acknowledging the vital role and importance of new idea generation and development. CMAP continues to support the work of other organizations striving to improve our region’s position at the cutting edge of scientific, technological, and commercial breakthroughs.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustration of metropolitan Chicago’s deep assets in higher education and research.]
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.