05An advanced manufacturing Innovation District in Sheffield-Rotherham: guiding principles to take forward

In The Rise of Innovation Districts, Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner consolidate the reflections of practitioners that have been at the forefront of efforts to drive and develop Innovation Districts. Although varied, their reflections come under five common headings that are explored in more detail below:

  1. Build a collaborative leadership network
  2. Set a vision for growth
  3. Pursue talent and technology
  4. Enhance access to capital
  5. Promote inclusive growth.13

As the authors state, these principles apply across a wide range of Innovation Districts, despite their varied nature. One particular model stands out as being especially relevant to consider in the Sheffield-Rotherham context: the ‘urbanized science park’ typified by the Research Triangle Park (RTP) in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham region. Katz and Kline identify the RTP as a model for Sheffield-Rotherham to look to for improving amenities, such as public spaces as well as green spaces, cycling and walking paths, to ‘urbanise’ the AMP-SBP site.14

RTP identified that building and strengthening relationships between innovators was a challenge because of a lack of places for people to meet. In order to support innovation and growth, RTP are focusing on creating these spaces and delivering the increased amenities to support the sharing of ideas and socialising, although not at a density found in the city centre. This is reflected in their vision which includes creating a greater concentration of buildings, amenities and a more vibrant central district, with a possible construction of a light rail transit line to connect the park with the larger Raleigh-Durham region, including the universities.15In other words, the RTP led with a clear vision for increasing interaction ‘between the buildings’ and proceeded to take the practical steps for delivering according to these priorities based on boosting innovation.

Building on these insights and recommendations but tailoring them to the specific situation, challenges and context in Sheffield-Rotherham, the rest of this section explores three guiding principles that should help inform the Innovation District strategy in Sheffield-Rotherham. They are:

  • Support existing businesses as well as attract new businesses
  • Strengthen linkages in the ‘innovation ecosystem’ and don’t be limited by boundaries
  • Set priorities and determine which interventions will achieve the best impacts.

Support existing businesses as well as attracting new businesses

Gain an in-depth understanding of the reasons existing businesses have for locating on the AMP. Finding out whether the benefits for companies of being located within the advanced manufacturing ecosystem are derived from co-location on the site or from simply being located in the wider Sheffield-Rotherham advanced manufacturing corridor is important, as the most effective policy responses will vary accordingly. Many of the SMEs at the AMP Technology Centre were positive about the coffee mornings at the AMP and regular public lectures at the AMRC for example, suggesting firms benefit from of co-location. Understanding how the current ‘networking assets’ benefit the companies on the AMP and SBP sites and what interventions would further support this environment is important.

In the context of the visit and what partners such as Keith Ridgway have expressed, this might include attracting the next OEM to the area that will boost jobs and economic growth, for example. Attracting the next generation of innovative companies to the site will rely on the AMP-SBP site and area being more attractive and desirable to those firms (from an economic perspective) than other areas, not only in the UK, but also globally.

Strengthen linkages in the ‘innovation ecosystem’ and don’t be limited by boundaries

Strengthen linkages between innovation drivers and cultivators across the innovation geography. Supporting the benefits of the ‘innovation ecosystem’ in Sheffield-Rotherham requires an understanding of the role of the AMRC anchor institution located on the AMP-SBP site and how it functions in the wider ecosystem and supply chain.

An agglomeration of the ‘innovation drivers’ in advanced manufacturing are located on the AMP-SBP site and the AMRC serves as an anchor for the advanced manufacturing sector in the Sheffield-Rotherham corridor. This geography should inform the strategy for an Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District to support existing businesses and attract new innovative firms to locate on the site itself. Understanding exactly what drives businesses to locate on the AMP-SBP itself (as discussed above) might point to a specific geography that merits it being designated as the nucleus of the ‘Innovation District’, but defining boundaries should not be the focus of an Innovation District strategy.

Develop a clear vision but don’t be limited by boundaries. Practically it might be useful to think of AMP-SBP as the nucleus of the Innovation District, but it is highly interrelated and dependent on the wider area. Rather than a defined district, the innovation ecosystem in Sheffield-Rotherham is made up of nodes, anchored at the AMP-SBP site and including businesses and stakeholders in the wider advanced manufacturing corridor, Sheffield city centre and Rotherham town centre. This means the impacts of policy decisions that affect the wider economy, such as efforts to boost growth in Sheffield citycentre or the location of a new HS2 station, need to be considered.

Set priorities and determine which interventions will achieve the best impacts

Base policy decisions and sequencing on qualitative and quantitative evidence of how to support business to grow and innovate. In the current economic climate – where tough decisions will need to be made about where to direct resource – robust information and strategy is vital to informing these decisions and making the case to local and national partners for investment. Partners should also have a clear ambition for the impact of the existing advanced manufacturing cluster in the area, including the future role and size of the AMP-SBP site in order to guide long-term policy interventions around transport infrastructure and housing, for instance.

Set short-term goals as well as focusing on longer-term strategy. As the anchor in the broader advanced manufacturing Sheffield-Rotherham economic corridor, direct interventions in place-making to improve the ability of companies to innovate and do business on the site are vital – such as improving the connections ‘between the buildings’ by better linking the AMP and SBP sites, for example. At the same time, and requiring a more long-term strategy, many local partners have identified securing an OEM as a key ambition. The long-term strategy for the area will have a direct as well as an indirect impact on the growth of the Innovation District anchored at the AMP-SBP, by generating significant employment in the area as well as adding to the wealth of advanced manufacturing expertise. Similarly, there are long-term objectives that form part of a wider economic strategy – including boosting growth in the city centre and improving transport connections across the area, as well as directly to the site – that will have an important impact on the growth of the innovation ecosystem.

The principles outlined in this section should help guide the strategy for maximising the impact and contribution of the advanced manufacturing cluster to the economy – centred around the innovation hub of the AMRC – through an Innovation District approach. In summary, local partners should support the AMRC and businesses to continue to grow and innovate by setting a clear vision for the future of the economy in the area and by creating the environment in which innovators will continue to grow, or be attracted to locate to.

Gaining the evidence and information from the advanced manufacturers and innovators themselves is the first step to determining which interventions are required and where support from the public sector and other partners is needed most. The next section provides some more tangible actions that public sector partners can implement to drive the Innovation District strategy forward.


  • 13 Katz B and Wagner J (May 2014), The Rise of Innovation Districts, Metropolitan Policy Programme, Brookings Institution: Washington DC
  • 14 Katz B and Kelly K (March 25, 2015), An advanced manufacturing innovation district grows in Sheffield, England, Brookings blog (accessed 8 April 2015: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/03/25-manufacturing-innovation-district-sheffield-england-katz-kline)
  • 15 Ibid