Friday, January 16, 2015

News: Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District for Rotherham and Sheffield

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As a world leading destination for advanced manufacturing, the economic corridor between Sheffield and Rotherham can become an "Innovation District" if it can build on the strong links between the city region's universities and innovative companies.

The idea is given prominence in the emerging Rotherham Growth Plan and Bruce Katz, an expert on the role of cities in growing the economy is in the region this week to share his work on driving growth through Innovation Districts.

In a "city charrette" organised by Sheffield City Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and the Sheffield's two universities, Mr Katz gave a lecture at Sheffield Cathedral on Innovation Districts and how they differ from traditional locations of industrial development and insular science parks, instead based around open networks where research and development brings together universities and the private sector. Added to that is the desire for these districts to have urban characteristics and be "competitive and cool" places to be.

Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institute and former advisor to President Obama, who regularly advises federal, state, regional and municipal leaders on policy reforms that advance the competitiveness of metropolitan areas, saw for himself the beginnings of a potential Innovation District when he was given a tour of the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham. During his visit to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing, he toured its Factory of the Future headquarters, the Nuclear AMRC, Castings Technology International operations, Integrated Manufacturing Group, Training Centre and Design, Prototyping and Testing Centre.

Mr Katz went on to visit the site where the AMRC's Factory 2050 – the UK's first totally reconfigurable digital factory - is being built over the Parkway on Sheffield Business Park.

Speaking at the end of his visit, Mr Katz praised the AMRC for the way it had evolved, the collaboration between different partners and the way it spread solutions developed for one particular industrial cluster to others.

"The development has been really organic – and that is just the way the world works. It has evolved in a very interesting way," said Mr Katz (pictured, left).

"It was very interesting to see solutions developed within one cluster being applied to others. That seems to be emblematic of some bigger dynamism in advanced manufacturing industry."
Innovation Districts with different models can be seen across the US, in downtown and mid town city areas, re-imagined areas like waterfronts and in science parks that have become urbanised with amenities and improved transport, with Katz explaining that they all need economic, physical and networking elements to create a successful "ecosystem." Almost always the result of public / private initiatives, the districts can be driven by city mayors or universities with the same vision but different strategies.

At the lecture, Katz said: "Advanced manufacturing is the most interesting sector for Sheffield. Ask yourself: "Who are you? How do you become the best 21st century version of yourself? But don't be so British! You have incredible assets here - be confident, build on it and shout about it."

With hopes for further decision making powers and potential funding through devolution, the local authorities and universities are showing commitment to the idea of "supercharging" the advanced manufacturing cluster and the Sheffield-Rotherham Economic Corridor. A masterplan for the potential Innovation District is being produced by an external consultant that will be used as a bidding document for accessing monies through the Government's Growth Deal and other funding sources.

The plan is set to based around the research and innovation capacity of the AMP and AMRC, linked with major manufacturing companies based in the area like Tata Steel and Firth Rixson, plus improved transport links and the housing, retail and culture/leisure offer.

AMRC website

Images: AMRC / Harworth Estates

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