Conferences at Department of Economics, University of Toronto, RCEF 2012: Cities, Open Economies, and Public Policy

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The Agglomeration of R&D Labs

Gerald A Carlino, Jake K Carr, Robert M Hunt, Tony Smith

Last modified: 2012-06-27


We study the location and productivity of more than 1,000 research and development (R&D) labs located in the Northeast corridor of the U.S. Using a variety of spatial econometric techniques, we find that these labs are substantially more concentrated in space than the underlying distribution of manufacturing activity. Ripley’s K-function tests over a variety of spatial scales reveal that the strongest evidence of concentration occurs at two discrete distances: one at about one-quarter of a mile and another at about 40 miles. These findings are consistent with empirical research that suggests that some spillovers depreciate very rapidly with distance, while others operate at the spatial scale of labor markets. We also find that R&D labs in some industries (e.g., chemicals, including drugs) are substantially more spatially concentrated than are R&D labs as a whole.


Tests using local K-functions reveal several concentrations of R&D labs (Boston, New York-Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia-Wilmington, and Washington, DC) that appear to represent research clusters. We verify this conjecture using significance-maximizing techniques (e.g., SATSCAN) that also address econometric issues related to “multiple testing” and spatial autocorrelation.


We develop a new procedure for identifying clusters – the multiscale core-cluster approach — to identify labs that appear to be clustered at a variety of spatial scales. We document that while locations in these clusters are often related to basic infrastructure, such as access to major roads, there is significant variation in the composition of labs across these clusters. Finally, we show that R&D labs located in clusters defined by this approach are, all else equal, substantially more productive in terms of the patents or citation-weighted patents they receive. 

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