University of Minnesota
Institute of Technology
myU OneStop

Electrical and Computer Engineering

"The Dynamics of High-Tech Innovation in Minnesota: Computing and Medical Devices"

Dr. Tom Misa
Charles Babbage Institute
University of Minnesota

Why did Minnesota develop the first computing industry, at least a decade before "Silicon Valley" was coined in 1971?  And why did the state also develop a world prominent medical-device industry?  Entrepreneurship, state policies, and the University of Minnesota--all played a role.  This paper focuses on Minnesota as an innovative "industrial district" with specific linkages between older and newer industries.  I describe how the pioneering Engineering Research Associates company (founded in 1946) took off owing to the numerous high-tech skilled workers of the Midway industrial district in St. Paul.  I then analyze the consequential linkages between the computer and medical device industries using a unique dataset of 245 high-tech supplier firms in Minnesota (1980--2011).  Industrial districts composed of anchor firms, specialized auxiliaries, ancillary industries, and global enterprises figure in this story.

Thomas J. Misa directs the Charles Babbage Institute, a unique partnership between the College of Science and Engineering, the University Libraries, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the graduate Program for the History of Science Technology and Medicine.  As CBI director he holds the Engineering Research Associates Land Grant Chair in the History of Technology.  His recent books include Digital State: The Story of Minnesota's Computing Industry (2013), Building the Control Data Legacy: The Career of Robert M. Price (2012), Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present (2011, 2nd edition), and Gender Codes: Why Women are Leaving Computing (2010).