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date: 14 November 2018

Geographic Proximity and Science Parks

Summary and Keywords

Science parks, also called research parks, technology parks, or technopolis infrastructures, have increased rapidly in number as many countries have adopted the approach of bringing research-based organizations together in a park. A science park’s cluster of research and technology-based organizations is often located on or near a university campus. The juxtaposition of ongoing research of both the university and the park tenants creates a two-way flow of knowledge; knowledge is transferred between the university and firms, and all parties develop knowledge more effectively because of their symbiotic relationship.

Theory and evidence support the belief that the geographic proximity provided to the participating organizations by a science park creates a dynamic cluster that accelerates economic growth and international competitiveness through the innovation-enabling exchanges of knowledge and the transfer of technologies. The process of creating innovations is more efficient because of the agglomeration of research and technology-based firms on or near a university campus. The proximity of a park to multiple sources of knowledge provides greater opportunities for the creation and acquisition of knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, and the geographic proximity therefore reduces the search and acquisition costs for that knowledge.

The clustering of multiple research and technology-based organizations within a park enables knowledge spillovers, and with greater productivity from research resources and lower costs, prices for new technologies can be lower, stimulating their use and regional development and growth. In addition to the clustering of the organizations within a park, the geographic proximity of universities affiliated with a park matters too. Evidence shows that a park’s employment growth is greater, other things being the same, when its affiliated university is geographically closer, although evidence suggests that effect has lessened in the 21st century because of the information and communications technology revolution. Further stimulating regional growth, university spin-off companies are more prevalent in a park when it is geographically closer to the affiliated university. The two-way flow of knowledge enabled by clusters of research and technology-based firms in science parks benefits firms located on the park and the affiliated universities.

Understanding the mechanisms by which the innovative performance of research and technology-based organizations is increased by their geographic proximity in a science park is important for formulating public and private sector policies toward park formations because successful national innovation systems require the two-way knowledge flow, among firms in a park and between firms and universities, that is fostered by the science park infrastructure.

Keywords: science park, research park, technology park, geographic proximity, technology transfer, clusters, innovation, knowledge spillovers, patents, regional growth and development

Introduction

Science parks, also called research parks, technology parks, or technopolis infrastructures (hereafter, science parks), provide benefits from gathering in close geographic proximity to a group of research, science, and technology-based organizations. The cluster of such organizations is often located on or near a university campus. The juxtaposition of ongoing research of both the university and the park tenants creates a two-way flow of knowledge. Knowledge is transferred between the university and firms in the park; moreover, there can be knowledge spillovers among the park tenants themselves, and they and universities associated with the park develop knowledge more effectively because of their symbiotic relationship.

Science parks have increased rapidly in number as many countries have adopted the approach of bringing research-based organizations together in a park. Park formations took off in in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Link & Scott, 2007, p. 663) as the infrastructural innovations of science parks was adopted over time, creating the typical S-shaped diffusion curves, just as when product and process innovations diffuse throughout a market (Link & Scott, 2003a, 2003b). The literature about science parks has followed. Smoothing the data by aggregating publications into three-year periods, Hobbs et al. (2017a) find that academic publications about global science parks grew at 17% per three-year period over the three decades starting in the mid-1980s. Time series data for research park formations in the United States is provided in Link and Scott (2003b, 2006) and Hobbs et al. (2017b). From an organizational perspective, the UK Science Park Association (UKSPA, 2018) reports on the science parks in the United Kingdom; from an academic perspective, Lindelöf and Löfsten (2003) document science parks in Sweden, and Phan et al. (2005) identify science parks throughout Asia. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2017) identifies, but offers no details about, the many science parks around the world.

The article first provides additional sources of descriptions of the populations of parks in specific countries, and it describes some important aspects of the variability in the science parks across countries. It then describes the benefits expected because of agglomerations of research-oriented organizations in science parks. Next, it provides an overview of the evidence about the extent to which those expected benefits, from the geographic proximity of the organizations, have been realized. Finally, it concludes with outstanding questions and challenges for future research.

Variability in Science Parks

There is important diversity in science parks, both within and across various regions, and as a result, professional associations (see AURRP, 1998; IASP, 2018; UKSPA, 2018; UNESCO, 2006, 2017) and individual parks have promulgated a variety of definitions for science parks (Hobbs et al., 2017a; Link & Scott, 2006). In general, a park is a cluster of research-oriented organizations, often near an affiliated university, stimulating regional economic development by creating innovation-enhancing knowledge flows among the firms and between the firms and affiliated universities.

The rich variety of parks is well illustrated in the many institutional histories of parks. Case studies of the parks in Europe, Asia, and the United States—parks that are respectively in each of these areas, typically termed science, technology, and research parks—show that the clusters of research-oriented firms have characteristics that vary importantly across the broad regions of the world and from one cluster to another within a country. For example, in the United States, public sector involvement with research parks is often indirect, with the goal of leveraging publicly funded research performed at universities and also leveraging the private sector’s research and development (R&D) investments. Link and Link (2009) provide a conceptual framework and a description of such public–private partnerships. In contrast, the institutional histories of parks in these case studies show that in the parks in many Asian countries, government involvement is quite direct. For another example of diversity across regions, the science parks in the United Kingdom are located on or near university campuses, while the distances between U.S. research parks and their affiliated universities are quite variable because suitable land near university campuses has not always been available (Link & Scott, 2006).

Case studies have documented the institutional history of a number of science parks, university affiliated or not, and as a whole, these studies provide a rich description of the important differences in parks across and within regions. Castells and Hall (1994) and Wonglimpiyarat (2010), for example, describe the clusters of high-technology firms in California’s Silicon Valley and on Route 128 around Boston, Massachusetts. Luger and Goldstein (1991), Link (1995, 2002), and Link and Scott (2003a) provide the history of Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Link and Link (2003) describe the types of U.S. research parks and provide a taxonomy for the variety of parks. Gibb (1985), Grayson (1993), Guy (1996a, 1996b), and Vedovello (1997) describe the United Kingdom’s science parks. Gibb (1985) describes science parks in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and selected Asian countries. Descriptions of a country’s science, research, and technology parks are also provided by other scholars such as Chordà (1996) for France; Phillimore (1999) for Australia; Sternberg (2004) for Germany; Bakouros et al. (2002) and Sofouli and Vonortas (2007) for Greece; Hu (2007) for China; Vaidyanathan (2008) for India; Salvador (2011) for Italy; and Alshumaimri et al. (2010) for Saudi Arabia. Hobbs et al. (2017a) provide a very complete list of published case studies of science, technology, and research parks throughout the world.

Agglomeration Benefits in Theory

The economic benefits of clustering have long been known to economists. This concept traces at least to Alfred Marshall. Whereas Marshall (1919, p. 599) wrote in Industry and Trade about the competitive benefits of cooperation among industrial firms geographically close to each other, the park concept of sharing knowledge, often specialized knowledge, among research-based firms and with universities through proximity brings about the competitive benefits associated with ideas and even research directions. Marshall (1919, p. 599) wrote:

The broadest and in some respects most efficient forms of cooperation are seen in a great industrial district where numerous specialized branches of industry have been welded almost automatically into an organic whole.

Economic theory also more specifically supports the belief that the geographic proximity that a science park provides for the participating organizations creates a dynamic cluster that accelerates economic growth and international competitiveness through the innovation-enabling exchanges of knowledge and the transfer of technologies. Theoretically, the process of creating innovations is more efficient because of knowledge spillovers, enhanced benefits, and lower costs that result from the agglomeration of research and technology-based firms near a university. The proximity in a park of multiple sources of knowledge, tacit as well as codified, provides greater opportunities for the creation and acquisition of knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, by those benefiting from the knowledge spillovers (externalities) among the park’s organizations, and the geographic proximity therefore reduces the search and acquisition costs for that knowledge. Swann (1998) explains the gains expected with the clustering of high-technology firms, and Henderson (1986) and Krugman (1991) emphasize the importance of location, conceptually and empirically, for knowledge spillovers.

Cluster and location theory, as reviewed by Goldstein and Luger (1992) and Westhead and Batstone (1998), reveal both demand and supply influences that explain the clustering of research firms near universities (Baptista, 1998). Not only are the search and acquisition costs for knowledge reduced, but also the search costs for finding users of developed technologies can be reduced given the cluster of potential industrial users; universities are more likely to find opportunities for licensing inventions originated by university faculty. This benefit from clustering harkens back to Marshall’s perception of industrial districts discussed previously. The costs of research inputs are less, the graduate students and consulting faculty at universities involved with park tenants constitute a source of specialized labor, and laboratory facilities and equipment are more readily available and less costly.

The economics theory of technology lock-in and, more generally, path dependency provides an additional possible reason for the success of science parks in promoting innovation and growth. Arrow (2000) discusses the early origins of the concept of path dependency. Hébert and Link (2006) observe that the concept can also be traced to the evolutionary economics of Nelson and Winter (1982). Arthur (1989) analyzes circumstances when the particular path of evolving historical events can result in the adoption of a technology in preference to others, with the use of the chosen technology persisting even as new technologies become available. Such lock-in for a technology is especially likely when network externalities propel preferences for dealing with firms having large scale and thereby serving many customers. David (1985) also explains that historical events can, quite generally, lock a technology into a specific path of development. His argument might apply especially well to the development of technologies by organizations in university research parks. For technologies spawned by ideas generated in a university, creating a park, from the university’s perspective, and locating in the park, from a firm’s perspective, give positive, reinforcing feedback to continue the particular development paths for the particular technologies. The university research park then reinforces path dependences that lock in the success for the technologies developed in the park. Hall et al. (2001, 2003) describe the nature of the research partnerships between firms and universities and the challenging barriers to be overcome by the industry–university partnerships for research.

In addition to the knowledge spillovers and economic gains for the research process, the clustering of research-oriented organizations in a park will increase competition for resources among the park’s tenants. There will be competition for university resources, such as faculty, graduate students, laboratory facilities, and even the good ideas that may, when developed, spawn innovations. There may be competition to be the first to develop such innovations. Possibly the sharing of knowledge spillovers among competing firms will stimulate both invention and innovation. Indeed, the history of invention and innovation supports that expectation; the situation of competing firms sharing knowledge facilitates the discovery of invention insight and development of innovations (Scott, 2016). Yet, theoretically, although the increased competition could increase innovative activity, it is also possible that more competition would reduce innovative activity in the special circumstances identified in Scott (2009) and Scott and Scott (2014). However, with science parks, more competition among the park’s tenants would be expected on net to increase invention and innovation. The reason for this result is that greater competition would be expected to stimulate R&D investment except in only two cases. One case would be where overcrowding of competitors in the park made innovative investment unprofitable. The other case would be when the R&D investments of the park’s competitors were strategically substitutable to such an extent that additional competition would reduce the optimal R&D investment for the park’s firms (Scott & Scott, 2014). Neither of these special cases is expected to obtain because, as Leyden et al. (2008) have explained, we expect that a science park would act like a club, with membership granted to a new firm being the result of a mutually beneficial situation for the existing tenants as well as the new firm. The park’s tenants would not invite another firm, knowing that its presence would reduce the profitability of their own R&D investments. The Leyden et al. (2008) result obtains whether or not a university is affiliated with the science park (Layson et al., 2008).

The two-way flow of knowledge is at the heart of the theoretical story about why geographic proximity of research organizations in a science park will stimulate innovation and growth. Why should the geographic proximity be so important? Audretsch (1998, p. 21, italics in original) explains:

Knowledge is vague, difficult to codify, and often only serendipitously recognized. . . . The marginal cost of transmitting knowledge, and especially tacit knowledge, rises with distance. . . . Knowledge . . . is best transmitted via face-to-face interaction and through frequent and repeated contact. Geographic proximity matters in transmitting knowledge, because . . . such tacit knowledge is inherently non-rival in nature, and knowledge developed for any particular application can easily spill over and have economic value in very different applications. As Glaeser et al. (1992, p. 1126) have observed, “intellectual breakthroughs must cross hallways and streets more easily than oceans and continents”.

Evidence of Benefits From Geographic Proximity

The history of invention and innovation provides an early, albeit accidental, example of the benefits of geographical proximity for successful technological development efforts. Johnson (2014, pp. 17–19), for example, recounts how, in the late 13th century, the glassmakers of Venice were, for the public’s safety, exiled with their hot furnaces to a small island. The concentration of glassmakers in close geographic proximity triggered creative advances in the art of glassmaking because knowledge spillovers allowed new ideas to be shared among the competing artisans. Jacobs (1969) explains and illustrates more generally how throughout history the agglomeration of diverse economic activities in cities has caused innovation and economic growth and development, and Glaeser et al. (1992) report evidence supporting her views. Empirical studies have documented the importance of geographic proximity for knowledge spillovers, technology transfers, and innovation; agglomeration effects are documented by Audretsch (1998), Audretsch and Feldman (1996, 1999), Breschi and Lissoin (2001), Jaffe (1989), Jaffe et al. (1993), and Rothaermel and Thursby (2005a, 2005b). The literature about economic development has also examined the impact of research clusters on regional economic growth (Garcia-Vicente et al., 2017; Porter, 2001a, 2001b; Swann et al., 1998).

The two-way flow of knowledge enabled by clusters of research and technology-based firms in science parks benefits firms located on the park and the affiliated universities. Link and Scott (2003b) find that the universities report more publications and patents, greater success getting extramural funding, improved placement of doctoral graduates, and enhanced ability to hire preeminent scholars including the star scientists whose scientific knowledge, as found by Zucker and Darby (1996), has great monetary value that requires close, working collaborations with the scientists of firms—such as those in a science park—to be realized. Although studies have not always found that on-park firms have performance differences with off-park firms (Ferguson & Olofsson, 2004), most studies have found differences. The firms located in parks place greater emphasis on innovative ability and growth (Lindelöf & Löfsten, 2003, 2004) and have been found to be more likely than otherwise similar firms that are not located in parks to gain access to research facilities and scholars at universities (Felsenstein, 1994; Fukugawa, 2006; Goldstein & Luger, 1992; Westhead & Batstone, 1998), to have greater social capital for entrepreneurial growth (Hansson et al., 2005), to have greater research productivity and higher survival rates (Siegel et al., 2003; Westhead, 1995; Westhead & Cowling, 1995; Westhead & Storey, 1994, 1997; Westhead et al., 1995), to have greater patenting activity (Squicciarini, 2008), and to have more patenting per dollar of research and development expenditures (Yang et al., 2009). University research parks are more likely to attract new industrial laboratories (Appold, 2004) to a local region. The advantages of geographic proximity for the clusters of firms in science parks have leveraged business start-ups and employment growth (Goldstein & Luger, 1992; Shearmur & Doloreux, 2000). Phan and Siegel (2006) review the literature about university start-ups and spin-offs.

The clustering of multiple research and technology-based organizations within a park enables knowledge spillovers, and with greater productivity from research resources and lower costs, prices for new technologies can be lower, stimulating their use and regional development and growth. In addition to the clustering of the organizations within a park, the geographic proximity of universities affiliated with a park matters too. Evidence from the academic literature shows that a park’s employment growth is greater, other things being the same, when its affiliated university is geographically closer (Hobbs et al., 2017b; Link & Scott, 2003b, 2006), although perhaps that effect has lessened in the 21st century given the rapid, post-2000 advances in information and communications technology (Hobbs et al., 2017b). Also stimulating regional growth, university spin-off companies are more prevalent in a park when it is geographically closer to the affiliated university (Link & Scott, 2005). The findings of the importance of geographic proximity in science parks are consistent with the work of Adams and Jaffe (1996), who find that communication costs related to collaborative R&D activity increase with distance, and Wallsten (2001), who shows that geographic proximity to other successful innovating firms is associated with the firm’s own success.

Conclusion

Understanding the mechanisms through which the innovative performance of research and technology-based organizations is increased by their geographic proximity in a science park is important for formulating public and private sector policies toward parks. The understanding is important because successful national innovation systems require the two-way knowledge flow, among firms in a park and between firms and universities, that is fostered by science parks. Challenges for future research include several outstanding questions about geographic proximity in science parks.

The academic literature about the economics of innovation finds that investments in basic research increase productivity growth for firms, sectors, and economies (Adams, 1990; Griliches, 1986; Lichtenberg & Siegel, 1991; Link, 1981a, 1981b; Link & Siegel, 2003; Mansfield, 1980). How much of the relationship between productivity growth and the interaction of industry’s R&D and innovations with research in universities is because of the flows of knowledge enabled by organizations clustered in the geographic proximity provided by science parks?

As discussed by Link and Scott (2015, p. 179), the public sector has funded or otherwise supported science parks. Examples of central governments actively fostering the creation of science parks or academic innovation centers are provided at the national level by Westhead (1997), Hilpert and Ruffieux (1991), Sternberg (1990), and Goldstein and Luger (1990) at the state level. Is the public sector funding necessary? Is it effective? Answering these questions about the public funding of science parks requires the application of the evaluation methods discussed in Link and Scott (2015, pp. 179–180) and developed in the research described in Link and Scott (2011).

As Audretsch (1998) emphasizes, explains, and documents, at the end of the 20th century, despite the advances to that point in time in information and communications technology (ICT), distance did matter for two-way knowledge flows, even though information was more readily shared over great distances. Geographic proximity was critical for the two-way flows of knowledge, often tacit, that enable technology transfer, innovation, and growth. As discussed in Link and Scott (2015, p. 178), the importance of geographic proximity—close formal and informal interactions between and among industry and university researchers with some firm research physically close to the university—for the success of science parks was explicitly stated in the policy analysis of Martin and Scott (2000, pp. 444–446) who, writing at about the same time as Audretsch (1998), explained that when the technology base for an innovation has high science content, science parks provide bridging institutions that facilitate the transfer, to industrial applications, of technologies originating in the knowledge generated by university research. A critical, open question is whether—given the continuing, rapid advances in ICT during the 21st century—geographic proximity will continue to be important for the successful flows of knowledge among the organizations clustered in science parks. Hobbs et al. (2017b) provide some exploratory evidence that supports the hypothesis that the advances in the 21st century’s ICT may reduce the importance of geographic proximity for creating effective knowledge spillovers and conveying tacit knowledge.

Science parks are a component of the national innovation systems, although not explicitly described by Nelson (1993) and Cohen (2002). Wessner (1999, 2001, 2009) provides perspectives on the roles of the parks, including those associated with national laboratories as well as universities. The answer to the open question about the continued importance of geographic proximity is needed to inform our understanding of how the form of science parks may evolve throughout the 21st century and how public policy should support science parks.

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