Advancing Advanced Industries

Pristine clean rooms, gleaming components, jaw-dropping technical exploits: America’s advanced industries (AI) sector is the focus in Denver today as the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program delivers a new competitiveness strategy for the Colorado space industry at a dynamic forum with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Our key point: Engineering- and R&D-intensive advanced industries like the Colorado space cluster are prime movers of U.S. prosperity and merit special attention as regions, states, and the nation seek to reignite growth through innovation after the Great Recession.

Building on insights provided by colleagues at the McKinsey & Company Advanced Industries Practice, we at Brookings see a critical need for states and regions to focus on their advanced industries, which have enabled a steady stream of life-transforming innovations ranging from spaceflight to LASIK, MRIs to clean energy. These high-value industries are crucial drivers of local and national innovation, productivity, and exports—generating 10 percent of the nation’s output, 46 percent of U.S. goods exported, and over 8 million skilled jobs.

In Colorado today we’ll unveil work we undertook in conjunction with Hickenlooper’s Colorado Blueprint process. Our report drills down on one particularly significant AI and the decisive moves that will be needed to maintain and extend it.

Brookings’ fine-grained, establishment-level analysis brings Colorado’s space cluster into focus as a true “crown jewel” advanced industry that pervades and enables the state’s broader economy. When it comes to innovation, the state’s space economy is literally extending the envelope of human capacity and making life better. Take satellites: Colorado companies are building and operating the satellites that deliver real-time GPS signals, weather data, television broadcasts, and mobile communications to billions across the globe. Colorado’s DigitalGlobe, for example, provides millions of square kilometers of the high-resolution satellite imagery that make Google Earth and Google Maps possible.

How does all this translate into economic value? Hugely: As depicted in our analysis, the Colorado space industry contributes inordinately to Colorado’s, and the nation’s, economic well-being. Just in terms of its top-line numbers, the cluster now encompasses more than 500 private establishments that directly employ over 66,000 workers across the military, civil, and private sectors. This $16 billion economy has been a steady contributor to high-pay job growth in Colorado, even through the Great Recession. In short, Colorado’s space economy exemplifies the kind of high-value AIs that the nation and its regions must defend and expand as they seek to refocus the nation’s drifting economy on higher-value traded-sector growth.

However, maintaining the nation’s AI prowess will require increased focus and collaborative action in the years ahead. Disruptive forces at work in the global marketplace now require industry and government to work together to master change and innovate.

In view of that, our report challenges the state of Colorado to “become the center of innovation for the global space economy.” By consolidating the state’s current position in the space economy, seizing new opportunities as they emerge, committing to innovation, improving access to risk capital, bolstering the workforce pipeline, and intensifying cluster dynamics, industry and state government will need to work together to make Colorado’s space economy one of the foremost AI clusters in the nation—and the world.

AIs matter vitally, and to defend and expand them, regions and states need to act in concert—and Washington needs to help them.