David J. Adams, Cincinnati Innovation District

It’s been just over a year since the unveiling of the Cincinnati Innovation District (CID), a purpose-built model that attracts talent as well as Fortune 500, midsize, and startups. We spoke to David Adams, the first chief innovation officer for the University of Cincinnati and architect for the Cincinnati Innovation District about its progress so far.

Tell us in your own words what the purpose of the CID is.

Adams: It’s all about growing, attracting, and retaining talent here in our region. People are drawn to locations where innovation is occurring, and organizations are drawn to that talent. The CID is in close proximity to students, research, educational resources, and other organizations seeking to transform. It is a highly connective —live, work, learn, and play—ecosystem.

Our efforts are modeled after much research by leading experts, such as the Brookings Institution, Jonathan Gruber, Richard Florida, and many others, on innovation districts. These are ‘places’ typically anchored by major research institutions.

How did all of this begin?

Adams: For us, it all started in 2017 with President Pinto creating the office of innovation to serve as a connector between the community and the university. The 1819 Innovation Hub serves as the nerve center and was at capacity in less than two years with startups to Fortune 500 businesses. These organizations have physical spaces to innovate, access and connect with talent. We broke ground on the digital futures complex in 2019 and the first two buildings, comprising nearly 400K SF (of a planned 600K SF development), will be completed in mid-2022.

This interdisciplinary research institute will further connect research talent with industry. The CID, by extension, ties everything together by providing us a collective opportunity to highlight to the nation and the world the innovation that is occurring here in our great city anchored by world-class educational and research institutions – seeing is believing.

We need to stem the tide of our highly skilled talent—who may leave for other places—by making this district a destination location. This helps us from an economic standpoint to really strengthen the businesses we have here in Cincinnati, as well as attract future businesses because innovation is the new currency for every organization.

The anchors in the program are UC and Cincinnati Children’s. Can you talk about what each contributes?

Adams: The University of Cincinnati, a Carnegie Level 1 research institution, is 47K students strong and produces $500M+ annually in research. The economic engine of the university fuels the needs of employers to support their growth.

Cincinnati Children’s, a trailblazer in healthcare research and a dominant leader in pediatric care, is integral to having a robust innovation district.

The CID launched one year ago and then COVID hit. Despite that, you have accomplished a lot. What are some of your “wins”?

Adams: Defying the odds in a pandemic year, the district has seen considerable success, including signing four major new partnerships (including Microsoft, IncludeHealth, Kao Brands, and the Hillman Accelerator), expanding startups from two to almost 50, increasing virtual connections and accelerating technology development to commercialize innovations.

The CID is on pace toward creating 20,000 new knowledge jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact to the region by 2030. Fueling this effort is the acceleration of STEM graduates by 15,000 and research by $2 billion over this same time period.

Corporate partners of the CID have direct access to talent and together we quickly adapted and made more than 1,000 virtual talent connections as a result. Microsoft, for example, designed a skilling initiative to increase digital fluency – for both the UC student body and across the CID corporate partners. Kroger has seen a 10x increase in research investments at UC, expanded their intern program 5-fold, and has experienced a 100% conversion of intern talent to full-time employees. Looking ahead, the district will continue to grow, with construction of the Digital Futures Complex, a planned 600k SF development with the first facility being UC’s Interdisciplinary Digital Futures Institute, on target to open in summer 2022.

The CID has become a model for other cities in Ohio. Did you work with the leaders in those cities to help them launch?

Adams: We have learned—through our experience in establishing the 1819 Innovation Hub and now, the Cincinnati Innovation District—that we have a model that can quickly be replicated to other communities. We continue to be intentional in our ‘purpose-built innovation district.’

As the saying goes, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and we are working hard to be one of those tides….and as I say, ‘Stay tuned. We are just getting started.’