Earlier this year, Enrico Moretti, who is a professor at UC Berkeley, published this research paper looking at the effect of high-tech clusters on productivity and innovation. (I am unclear if there is any relationship to the Italian brewing company Birra Moretti.)
One of the things he looks at in the paper is the decline of Kodak. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, Kodak famously missed the transition to digital photography. And so by the late 1990s, they were forced to start letting people go. The result was an almost 50% decline in the size of the entire “high-tech cluster” in Rochester.
But what Moretti goes on to test in his paper is the impact that this employment decline had on productivity and innovation outside of Kodak and outside of the photography sector (but within Rochester). And what he found was that between 1996 and 2007, the productivity of non-Kodak inventors dropped by about 20%!
This, of course, is one of the great features of cities. Even if you’re not working at some big company with lots of smart people, just being in the same city, on the same block, or within the same office building, can make you more productive. It turns out that business ecosystems are pretty interconnected. Spillovers are important.
For more on this topic, check out this recent Wired article by Viviane Callier. In it she makes the case that remote work is going to negatively impact productivity and innovation over the long run.