The Irvine Master Plan created two hubs of innovation – UC Irvine with an adjacent research park, and Irvine Spectrum District. These hubs create high-paying jobs with wages well above area averages.

A city of innovation

by TOM BERG

Successful cities share a trait that futurist Neil Sahota sees here in Irvine: a culture of innovation. “There is so much innovation happening in Irvine right now,” says Sahota, an IBM Master Inventor, author on artificial intelligence, and United Nations advisor. “The city has a real shot to be a global leader in innovation over the next few decades.”

Irvine has the right mix of university research, creative startups and established tech firms, he says. “We’ve developed this culture where, if someone wants to think outside the box, you have an environment that supports that,” says Sahota, also a UC Irvine lecturer. “People say, ‘Let’s try it.’ ”

Neil Sahota, IBM Master Inventor and author, delivers a TED Talk.

Hubs of innovation

Irvine innovators have invented the heart valve, authored the internet’s HTTP system, and created the world’s most popular online video game.

This is not by accident.

Fifty years ago, the city was master-planned around two hubs of innovation – UC Irvine with an adjacent Research Park, and the Spectrum District.

These hubs complement one another: UC Irvine and the UCI Research Park generate ideas and research to cultivate startups, while established tech companies grow their businesses within the Spectrum District.

Tech clusters

As a result, Irvine Spectrum District is home to several successful tech clusters – economists call this “agglomeration” – that allow for the fast spread of new ideas and a concentrated talent pool from which businesses can recruit.

These clusters create thousands of high-paying STEM jobs that attract and retain extraordinary talent, according to Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce CEO Bryan Starr.

For instance, heart-valve maker Edwards Life- sciences spawned a cluster of more than 400 medical-device companies in Irvine, while Allergan, a global leader in eye-care products, spawned a similar cluster to make Irvine “the ophthalmology capital of the world,” Starr says.

And now Blizzard Entertainment – maker of “World of Warcraft,” the world’s most popular online game – is doing the same.

It has attracted several gaming companies, some from Silicon Valley, and helped make UC Irvine a popular choice for students studying STEM, artificial intelligence and other new technologies.

Driving value

All this points to a bright future for Irvine.

Its diverse, clustered economy protects and drives value for Irvine residents. High-paying jobs are plentiful. Wages are well-above area averages.

The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation. And home values – a family’s fundamental source of wealth – are higher and more sustainable than in neighboring cities.

In other words, technological innovation is cre- ating a vibrant and sustainable economy, based on high-wage STEM jobs.

“When there are enough of those jobs, they create a great place to live,” Starr says, “and Irvine is in the center of that.”


Artificial Intelligence

Neil Sahota, author of “Own the A.I. Revolution,” says Irvine is poised to be a global leader in innovation. Sahota’s book discusses the ways that A.I. can build value for customers. This in-depth guide on A.I. brings insights from the man who designed IBM’s Watson, the A.I. system that famously won “Jeopardy!”