We realized about a year and a half ago that something in Rochester’s downtown was changing organically. A wide variety of innovation and creative class enterprises had quietly been moving in. So much so, that a real time district was emerging when we mapped them. We pulled a group of these iconic company CEOs into a room and asked them why.
Apparently, downtowns are highly kinetic, frictional and dynamic places. They offer iconic neighborhoods, activated public spaces, and walkability. Buildings are packed with lofts and non-traditional work spaces. This creates the proximity that innovators crave to transfer ideas and knowledge quickly and seamlessly. And the rate of change in American downtowns is accelerating.
The Brookings Institution defines an innovation district as a “Geographic area where anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with small firms, start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically wired, they offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.”
Enter the Millennial generation. There is a growing preference by young talented workers to choose vibrant neighborhoods with a variety of choices for housing, transportation, and amenities. This has made downtowns and other urban areas increasingly attractive.
“Innovation – the heart of the knowledge economy – is fundamentally social.” -Malcolm Gladwell
Downtown’s business community features dozens of innovation companies and creative class enterprises. Three big incubators have either just opened or are under development downtown – NextCorps, an affiliate of the University of Rochester, RIT’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship (CUE), and the AIM Photonics Incubator. These new centers of economic gravity will create a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and a high level of energy downtown. From architects and artists, to mobile gaming and app designers – Rochester’s Downtown Innovation Zone is bringing our best and brightest together to create the region’s most central hub of innovation and collaboration.
Rochester’s creative spirit goes way back. We’re a city built on entrepreneurs like George Eastman and John Jacob Bausch and disruptors of the status quo like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. We’re used to saying “why not?”, and then changing the game. Now a century later, we’re capturing this same spirit in the Downtown Innovation Zone in the heart of the city.