The cutting edge of the country
3 February 2012
By Edwin Coyler
Far from being a city phenomenon, innovation is also a significant factor in sparsely populated areas. Research findings from Dr Sara Davies at the University of Strathclyde indicate that innovation is not always dependent on the co-location of a critical mass of people and firms, but can also thrive in remote rural areas - often focusing on particular problems and characteristics in the region.
In some areas, for instance, there are research centres developing innovative e-health solutions such as the provision of electronic scans or check-ups in local surgeries, so that people in remote regions do not have to travel long distances to access specialist healthcare services.
Dr Davies interviewed policymakers, trade associations and business support organisations from remote parts of the UK, the Nordic countries and Austria.
"It appears that innovation in these regions can be linked to many aspects of remoteness," she comments. "For example, firms often exploit natural resources, such as the sea and wind for renewable energies, cold weather for Arctic technologies or large uninhabited areas for car performance testing."
But there are also some remote areas – particularly in countries like Norway and Finland – with highly innovative firms specialising in very sophisticated engineering or electronic sectors. This is not only because of local natural resources or skilled people, but also because of public investment in transport, broadband infrastructure, higher education and research. The support has attracted technology businesses to remote regions of Norway and Finland, where vibrant clusters of firms have developed over time.
But while innovation is healthy in many peripheral areas, it still needs encouragement and support.
"Just like in urban areas, innovation happens when people interact. There are fewer firms and people in remote areas, so there are often fewer close links with information sources outside the region. This is why it is so important to invest in transport, facilitate networking between businesses and ensure the broadband ICT infrastructure will allow people to interact with other people remotely," Dr Davies explains.
"ICT is making it possible and much more attractive for innovative firms to be located in remote areas, especially in sectors which do not rely on the transport of goods or the face-to-face delivery of services."