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Rust Belt Leapfrogging
Jamais Cascio, 25 Feb 05

BusinessWeek has a brief but suggestive article about the proliferation of nanomaterials companies in regions not generally known as being modern centers of technological innovation: Cleveland, Ohio; Albany, New York; and Norman, Oklahoma. They cite a variety of reasons why many nanomaterials firms have set up shop well away from IT and biotech hotspots on the coasts, including the dominance of government funding over venture funding and the variety of skillsets needed in nano companies ("ranging from experts in new textiles to defense contractors"). What immediately struck me, however, was the parallel to nanotech as a leapfrog engine in the developing world. So-called "rust belt" regions in the US have long suffered a brain drain similar to that plaguing developing countries, and economies based on declining industries are just as open to big changes as economies moving away from an emphasis on resource extraction.

This wouldn't be isolated to the US, of course. Leapfrog/innovation-based emerging industries could end up as economic engines of economically stagnant regions around the industrialized world. When we think about the potential for leapfrog development, we need to keep in mind the model may apply to far more places than we first might think.

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