The Role of Invention in U.S. Metropolitan Productivity

45 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2012 Last revised: 30 Dec 2015

See all articles by Jonathan T. Rothwell

Jonathan T. Rothwell

Gallup; George Washington University Institute of Public Policy; Brookings Institution

José Lobo

Arizona State University (ASU)

Deborah Strumsky

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte

Date Written: December 1, 2014


At the regional scale, human capital and agglomeration forces are assumed to shape innovative capacity, but there are likely to be more direct channels like the development and commercialization of new products. This article examines the relationship between inventive activity and productivity at the level of U.S. metropolitan economies, using a patents database that links inventors to their residence. Examining the 1980 to 2010 period, we find robust evidence that patenting is correlated with and Granger causes higher productivity in metropolitan areas. A standard deviation increase in patents predicts a 6 percent increase in productivity over 10 years. Higher-quality patents enhance the effect. We attempt to identify a cross-sectional causal effect of patenting on productivity and wages using various historical instruments from the early 20th Century and controls for the selection of high-skilled workers into the area. Two-stage least squares regressions show an even stronger causal effect, but we can not rule out the possibility that historic advantages in manufacturing and scientific research continue to affect productivity through both patenting and some un-identified channel. We conclude that inventive activity plays an important role in regional prosperity.

Keywords: patents, innovation, productivity, urban economics, economic development, growth, technology

JEL Classification: O1, O18, O3, O31, R11, I22, O40

Suggested Citation

Rothwell, Jonathan T. and Lobo, Jose and Strumsky, Deborah, The Role of Invention in U.S. Metropolitan Productivity (December 1, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan T. Rothwell (Contact Author)

Gallup ( email )

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Washington, DC 20004
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George Washington University Institute of Public Policy ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
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Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
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Jose Lobo

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

Farmer Building 440G PO Box 872011
Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

Deborah Strumsky

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte ( email )

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