Monday, March 30, 2015

News: AMP at the heart of advanced manufacturing innovation district

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US experts on the role of cities in growing the economy believe that the high levels of innovation taking place on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham means that it is perfectly suited to evolving a wider Innovation District for Sheffield and Rotherham.

Bruce 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 AMP on a recent visit.

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.

Writing in his latest opinion piece with fellow expert, Kelly Kline, the economists commended the ambitious vision of all those involved in the AMP, including Sheffield and Rotherham Councils and the University of Sheffield.

The report states: "Our visit to Sheffield convinced us that there is a strong base for a globally-significant innovation economy and a strong rationale for spatially organising that economy in ways that recognise the common attributes of innovation districts – integration, proximity, density, connectivity, and quality place-making.

"The region, in other words, has a good hand to play and, most importantly, appears ready to act with intention, purpose, and ambition. These are the right ingredients for the kind of advanced economy that is a prerequisite for broad-based prosperity."

The AMP, on the site of the former Orgreave coking works, is described as an innovation ecosystem that draws from a pool of talented workers and applied research. Katz was impressed by the innovation at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing, which solves advanced manufacturing problems as a partnership with leading private sector companies.

The visitors also picked out the AMP's incubation facility, which is due to grow this year, and the AMRC's training centre which provides apprenticeship opportunities to 250 individuals a year in an effort to bridge the engineering skills gap.

The report adds: "We were impressed with the nature, scope, and scale of the corporate offerings and sheer number and size of the applied research facilities in the Advanced Manufacturing Park. In a relatively short period of time, the park has emerged as a compact and centralized anchor for the broad network of manufacturing companies in the Sheffield/Rotherham area.

"In many respects, AMP embodies the core economic focus of innovation districts: routine collaboration across government, universities, and private-sector companies in sectors that are fuelled by technologically advanced R&D and highly skilled workers. The park's inclusion of apprentice training on site reinforces the fact that many of the jobs in the "tech sector" require workers with skills and credentials that can be obtained without receiving a degree from a four-year university."

Civic leaders have committed 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 district would build on existing links between universities and the private sector but develop added urban characteristics such as improved transport, housing and amenities making them "liveable, walkable, bike-able, and transit connected."

Professor Keith Ridgway CBE, executive dean of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), said: "We are delighted that Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institution, and Kelly Kline, the economic development director of the City of Fremont, in California, took such a positive view back to the US following their visit.

"As Bruce and Kelly said, advanced manufacturing in mature economies relies heavily on continuous innovation and we have already established strong foundations for future growth and development.

"Our Factory 2050 development on Sheffield Business Park and this week's Factory 2050 conference at the AMRC, exploring the future of advanced manufacturing, demonstrate how we can build on those foundations.

"Plans to develop an Innovation District, incorporating the AMRC on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, Factory 2050 on Sheffield Business Park and local businesses will accelerate that process and reinforce this region's role as the UK’s leading location for advanced manufacturing."

Paul Woodcock, director of Planning, Regeneration & Culture at Rotherham Council, added: "We are really pleased with the progress made with Sheffield, the university institutions and the private sector towards growing the economy in the region, especially in advanced manufacturing. A stamp of approval from Bruce Katz and his team is most welcome and provides a platform to move forward together."

AMP website

Images: RiDO / Harworth Estates

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