An Innovation District in Killeen

Published by: Brian O'Connor | Published on: 21 Feb, 2019
An Innovation District in Killeen

This article is part of a series of continuing topics that look at development strategies and how they might influence the Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood economy. By studying best practice models with respect to Smart Cities, Bandwidth, Interstate 14 and Downtown Revitalization and others, we create learning and partnership opportunities that extend Killeen competitiveness. As the term “Innovation District” is beginning to dominate economic development parlance, we should become familiar with its meaning.   

In short, Innovation Districts are neighborhood-scale places with a concentration of tech industry. They represent the ultimate blending of entrepreneurs, educational institutions, start-ups, mixed-use development; located within an amenity-rich, digital environment.        

These districts emphasize collaborative space, open innovation, and integration of amenities to facilitate a live, work, learn environment that unites companies and individuals across disciplines to create products and launch new ventures. 

Early examples of innovation districts have been limited to large urban areas; however, many are now appearing in smaller cities like Dublin, Ohio (42,346) and Cedar Park, Texas (75,704). To date, more than 300 U.S. mayors have established innovation districts within their jurisdictions. As the 181st largest city in the US, Killeen now ranks among the cities of Syracuse, New York, and Pasadena, California surpassing Dayton, Ohio and Charleston, South Carolina in population.

Ultimately, the purpose of an Innovation district is to facilitate the commercialization of ideas to grow jobs. They build upon the intrinsic qualities of proximity, density, authenticity, and vibrancy that are found in urban centers. The density of companies doing similar work in the neighborhood and the propensity of the workforce to socialize in bars and cafes is what Elizabeth Currid (2007) describes as ‘the social life of creativi­ty’: a set of spaces where creative works get done. According to author and urbanist Jane Jacobs, innovation grows out of existing urban spaces and cannot be built from scratch. 

The landscape of innovation for the past 50 years has been dominated by isolated corporate campuses, accessible only by automobile, with no emphasis on quality of life, housing or recreation. Today, the geography of innovation is taking place where people come together, not in isolated spaces. Research shows that 47% of new product and process innovations occur through external partnerships.

Today, our most creative institutions and talent crave proximity so ideas and knowledge can be transferred quickly and seamlessly.  While labor moves within a shed of approximately 40 miles, knowledge sharing occurs at a scale of less than 1 mile (Carlino & Kerr, 2014). 

Innovation rewards collaboration, transforming how buildings and districts are designed and spatially arrayed. Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) traces how millions of us are beginning to work and live as creative types. This new lifestyle now determines how the workplace is organized and where housing, jobs and amenities intermix. Today, the Creative Class accounts for more than 30% of the workforce. 

While Innovation Districts can differ markedly in size, location and focus, they all contain economic, physical, and networking assets. These assets, when combined within a supportive, risk-taking culture, form an innovation ecosystem that accelerates ideas and commercialization. Urban living has become increasingly attractive by skilled workers with a growing preference for neighborhoods that offer choices in housing, social opportunities and amenities.

So, is Killeen ready for its own Innovation District?  Perhaps, but it is apparent that new programming and incentives are necessary to reach the critical mass of economic, physical, and networking assets to generate the vitality that these districts demand. Fortunately, taking incremental steps now will ensure the connectivity, diversity, and quality of place necessary for future innovation to thrive.

There is no doubt that Killeen has the location, population, demographics and building stock to develop its own Innovation District.    

The impacts from an Innovation District might expanded entrepreneurial activities at the university level, including an enhanced reputation for Killeen as a startup center along with increased internship and experiential learning opportunities for students and military personnel.    

However, the success of an Innovation District will depend on local leadership, the engagement of broad community interests and industry partners, and a team that will promote virtual non-stop programming to draw people to the district and create an idea-rich environment.

Killeen’s institutions of higher education and hospitals have the research capacities, talent, and environment that the Creative Class want to be a part of.  An Innovation District is a first step in securing a reputation where future breakthroughs might happen.