Friday, January 08, 2016

Who's the most innovative state? That would be little old Massachusetts.

I know, I know.  I can be such a complete and utter homer when it comes to those (often completely silly) state and city rankings. Healthiest. Wealthiest. Wisest.

Bring it on! Most of the time “we’re” number one or two.

Weather and housing costs aside, this is a pretty good place to live.
And this winter even the weather is being benevolent. Way too early to celebrate (and, of course, when you think the abnormal warmth through, it’s probably not a good thing), but we’ve only had two days in the twenties and about two inches of snow. So far. Of course, last year at this time we hadn’t had any snow to speak of either, before being thumped with 2-foot storms five weeks in a row.

As for housing costs, on behalf of the younger generations, I do bemoan them. It can’t be fun looking for digs around here when you’re just starting out. On the other hand, I’ll be clicking my heels and dragging my Scrooge McDuck loot bags to the bank when I eventually sell my condo. (As long as the oceans don’t disastrously rise between now and then, and this place turns into a houseboat. Or, worse, submarine. Glug, glug, glug…)

The latest kudos to Massachusetts come from Bloomberg’s ranking of the Most Innovative States.

In the rankings, which were released just yesterday, Massachusetts eked out a narrow victory over California, 93.3 to 93.0.

Of course the faux precision of these numbers should be a good indication of the somewhat ludicrous nature of these sorts of rankings. On the other hand, would anyone be surprised that the top three spots were taken by Massachusetts, California, and Washington, while the cellar-dwellers were South Dakota, West Virginia, and Mississippi?

Okay. Maybe South Dakota wouldn’t have sprung first to mind. I’d have said Louisiana. And I wouldn’t have been that far off. Louisiana was 5th from the bottom. But poor Mississippi. They tend to come in rock bottom in pretty much every ranking I’ve seen. Poor states tend to fare poorly in most measures.

Overall, New England acquits itself quite well. Connecticut came in 5th, New Hampshire 12th, and Rhode Island 14th.  Even Vermont, at 25th, narrowly made it into the top half of the rankings. Let’s give it up for Burton Snowboards and Ben & Jerry’s new flavors. Only Maine, which I guess hasn’t had much by way of innovation since Leon Leonwood Bean invented the duck boot in ought-two - as in 1902 – languishes (43rd) near the bottom of the pack. Apparently, not that much innovation going on with pine trees and lobster traps.

Here’s what went into Bloomberg’s rankings:

The Bloomberg U.S. Innovation Index scored each of the 50 states on a 0-100 scale across six equally weighted metrics: R&D intensity; productivity; high-tech density; concentration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) employment; science and engineering degree holders; and patent activity. 
Interesting that the article mentions only one innovative Massachusetts company, Bose, which has been innovating-away for over 50 years. What else is out there? A little less back in the way back machine than Bose were all those mini-computer outfits. (Remember them? You do if you’re in your sixties and had a career in Mass high tech. In which case, you likely worked for one of them.) Lotus didn’t invent the spreadsheet, but they sure did popularize its use in business and push along the adoption of PC’s in the workplace. When was that? Thirty years back? I worked for an offshoot of BB&N, which invented the Internet (really) and the @. And Mark Zuckerberg – or was it the Winkelvoss Twins? – came up with Facebook while in Cambridge, before decamping to California.
Anyway, I do know that there are a lot of plenty innovative tech companies out there, not to mention plenty of innovative bio-techs, the Whitehead Institute and Draper Labs. We have excellent STEM schools - not just MIT. There’s Worcester Tech, UMass Lowell, and Olin Engineering. And business schools (HBS, MIT/Sloan, Babson) spitting out all sorts of would-be entrepreneurs.
The fact that I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what’s being innovated at or out of any of these places is more a testament to my not being especially interested in the shiny and new than it is to there being no innovation going on.
The bottom line is that it always makes my day when The Commonwealth of Massachusetts gets crowned for something or another.
Not that I can take personal credit for any of it. It’s just that, if you actually like the place where you live – and I do – it’s fun when neutral third-parties confirm that there really is something grand and glorious about it. And I guess it just releases the inner-Masshole in me.
Yay us! Yet again, We’re Number One!

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