Thomas Friedman caught our attention in 2005 with his now-famous book; The World is Flat. Millions of us in the middle U.S. had already started to live the reality of the book’s premise, which was that business would soon be largely global, not local. Interesting then that 15 years post-Flat, some of the smartest people we know (think tanks like Brookings; universities including MIT, Harvard, etc.) are still debating the perfect formula for global innovation success. Even more compelling is that communities aren’t waiting for think tanks to give them the answers. They’re activating change, as a matter of survival, on their own.
Providence, RI is one fantastic example. Providence, population 200,000, was founded in 1636 by an English immigrant seeking religious liberty and was one of the first cities in our country to industrialize. It was famous for textiles, and jewelry, and silver manufacturing.
Today the city’s economy, still-struggling like the rest of us with the impact of globalization, is centered around seven colleges and universities and a number of hospitals. It’s economic transformation, however, may be hastened by the visionary and innovation-centric leadership of (former venture capitalist) Governor Gina Raimondo. Providence, under several public-private partnerships, just built a new 200,000 s.f. Medical innovation center. The building houses Brown University’s Bioinformatics Center, an outpost of the Cambridge Innovation Center, Venture Cafe, and Johnson & Johnson and is being described as a “beacon for top-tier talent in Rhode Island.” It seems Friedman’s next chapter is coming not from think tanks or scholars but cities themselves, driving for economic competitiveness. Kudos, Providence, for planting the first tree of innovation success with such courage. We will be watching and cheering for your success.