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Economic Crises, the Mobility of Displaced Inventors, and Regional Resilience


In recent decades, the United States and other advanced economies have transitioned from an industrial, manufacturing-based economic system to one structured around high technology industries and the production of knowledge. Under this “knowledge economy”, knowledge becomes the primary basis for an organization’s competitive advantage, and the ability to create and commercialize new knowledge faster than competitors is crucial to any organization’s success. The fast pace of technological change has the tendency to create unprecedented prosperity while displacing ideas (and often firms and industries) that came before through a process of creative destruction. Although a significant body of literature has studied the job loss and “deindustrialization” that occurred as a result of the decline of the US manufacturing sector, considerably less work has studied job loss and economic change within the knowledge economy. This research gap is a principal motivation for this dissertation.Job loss is studied from the perspective of inventors, or the knowledge workers primarily responsible for the production of new technologies and innovations within firms and organizations. Although not all workers formally patent their ideas, studying the inventors on patents may provide a window into the experiences of knowledge workers more broadly. Chapter 1 examines the mobility of inventors across firms and geographic regions as they leave struggling firms. It assesses not only the characteristics of inventors who patent again after job separation, but also the regional conditions that best promote patenting re-employment within local firms. Chapter 2 expands this analysis by analyzing the adjustment time between an inventor leaving a declining firm and patenting again for a new firm, and the impact of this adjustment on inventors’ future patenting careers. The two chapters highlight the possibility of brain drain and regional skill loss that may occur in the aftermath of firm decline. Finally, Chapter 3 examines the impact of inventor mobility on regional innovation and resilience, using Rochester, NY as a case study. This work illustrates some ways that firm decline has the potential to open up new regional growth possibilities, and makes recommendations for policy makers facing these challenges in the future.

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