This piece by Contact Reporter Mara Lee originally appeared in The Hartford Courant September 29, 2016.
A new report from the Brookings Institution classifies Hartford as a “knowledge capital,” putting it in the same company as cities that this region’s leaders look to with envy—Austin, Texas, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Atlanta.
The report from the Washington, D.C., think tank found that Hartford surpasses bigger cities around the country in the value of what its workers create and the number of patents they’re awarded. Greater Hartford is also ninth in the country for the proportion of its population with PhDs.
Hartford is the smallest urban area of the 17 U.S. knowledge capitals and the two European cities, Zurich and Stockholm, in this category.
The average size of knowledge capitals is four times that of Greater Hartford, so its total gross domestic product and total airport passengers is the lowest of the 19 regions. However, Hartford’s GDP per capita of $84,029 sets the region apart.
Only the Silicon Valley has a higher GDP per capita than Greater Hartford. The value of what workers produce—comparing GDP per worker—is still a very favorable comparison for Hartford. It’s fourth, behind the Silicon Valley, Houston and San Francisco. The average value produced per worker in the Hartford region is $158,428.
Significantly, Brookings noted that Hartford has achieved this distinction without a world-class university like Stanford, Harvard, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Brookings report says: “Elite research universities anchor these metro economies’ distinct positions in science and technology. Universities in this group boast the largest share of highly cited scientific publications. Of the 100 most scientifically impactful universities in the world, 20 are located in these cities.”
Joseph Parilla, co-author of the report, said it’s particularly notable that Hartford has been able to be so innovative in aerospace engine design without being next to a Georgia Tech or the University of Michigan.
“Looking at your educational attainment numbers, they’re incredibly significant,” he said. “It would be interesting to see what share are produced locally or in the state of Connecticut.”
Parilla said Hartford’s inclusion on the knowledge center list “really is this acknowledgment that a small place, but with a couple of very significant specializations”—namely, insurance and aerospace engines—can be a significant player on the world stage.
“I think this is the result of a couple of very high-value sectors, and some world-class companies that are creating a lot of new products,” he said.
Brookings says that metro areas like Hartford need to develop strategies that ensure the competitiveness of its key industries, such as “better coordinating the education and training system with employer needs; engaging universities and research institutions in technology commercialization, especially in small and mid-sized firms; and aligning state and federal resources and institutions, including federal labs, with local industries.”
Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has invested millions of dollars in many of these priorities over the last six years.
Brookings says that globally engaged firms, such as United Technologies Corp., are critical drivers of prosperity and competitiveness. The reason that Charlotte, N.C., a city that Hartford has repeatedly lost jobs to, is only considered a “middleweight,” and not a knowledge capital, is because more of its economy serves its own local region. The Hartford region exports more of its products, whether insurance or aircraft engines, outside Connecticut.
Hartford is weak in foreign investment and venture capital—it’s last in each—as well as GDP growth, where it’s above only Chicago. But part of the problem with the last measure is that the region is not attracting people, so its overall GDP growth is going to be slow.