39 North Plant Science District
Aerial Rendering of 39 North Innovation District


Brookings Hails the St. Louis AgTech Sector as a Model for the Nation

39 North is a model for successful cluster initiatives nationwide.

A new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program argues that initiatives to support and grow industry clusters remain a potentially powerful strategy to jump-start local economic growth, but only if certain market and civic fundamentals are in place.

The report, Rethinking Clusters Initiatives, by Ryan Donahue, Brookings fellow Joseph Parilla, and Brookings nonresident senior fellow Brad McDearman, takes a fresh look at the concept of industry clusters—groups of firms that gain a competitive advantage through local proximity and interdependence—and offers practical guidance for metropolitan leaders considering investments in cluster initiatives, drawing on five in-depth case studies.

Agriculture Technology in St. Louis is cited as a successful model and national case study. According to the report’s authors, regions grow based on their ability to provide environments where firms want to cluster and concentrate, and therefore cluster initiatives offer one justifiable foundation to lay long-term economic development strategies. The report aims to help regional leaders confidently and knowledgably pursue cluster initiatives where they make sense; and where they do not, recognize that there are potentially equally powerful alternatives.

“At a time when a few elite coastal metro areas seem to be solidifying their hold on the most innovative, high-growth sectors of the economy, regions across the U.S. are under more pressure than ever to figure out how they can secure a foothold in the next economy,” said co-author Ryan Donahue of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institute. “St. Louis offers a model for how to do so: for nearly two decades, it has patiently and collaboratively made strategic investments in the capital, facilities, and skills that its agriculture technology cluster needs. These investments have made St. Louis a better place to start and grow an ag-tech firm, put the region on the radar of global firms and talent, and positioned it as a leader in solving the global challenge of creating more sustainable food sources.”

The authors note five distinct traits of successful cluster initiatives:

  • Focused on establishing a robust ecosystem, not job gains
  • Industry-driven, university-fueled, government-funded
  • Placing a collective big bet on a unique opportunity
  • Championed by passionate, dedicated leaders
  • Anchored by a physical center


Learn more about the cities profiled by Brookings here.

Brookings Metro – Rethinking Clusters Infographic

Download the St. Louis Ag Tech Report by Brookings Institution