Salma O. Zbeed & Andrey N. Petrov

In the last few years, Alaska’s economy suffered as world oil prices plunged to very low levels and production declined. Modern economic development theories would suggest searching for alternative ways to manage northern regions. Investment in the knowledge-based economy seems to be one of the possible options. In Alaska, there have been very few studies of its knowledge economy. The key feature of a knowledge economy is a greater reliance on human capital than on natural resources, combined with efforts to integrate innovations in every stage of the production process. Patents are considered a good representation of innovative activity. We provide evidence drawn from patent data to document geography and dynamics in Alaska’s knowledge production over thirty-five years (1976-2010). The results show that Alaska has considerable patent activity, especially in certain oil-sector-related industries, and strong clustering of innovation in major urban regions (Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs). Alaska inventors, however, tend to be independent individuals (“lone eagles”), even though corporate innovation activity has been growing. In addition, small Alaska communities sometime demonstrate high levels of knowledge production in a few niche industries, articulating the importance of individual-driven and niche-based innovation in remote regions. Overall, between 1976 and 2010 Alaska’s regional innovation system evolved from a small isolated system dominated by individual inventors focused on innovation in old, low-technology sectors to a relatively diversified (although still over-reliant on the oil sector) intra- and internationally connected system with a considerable presence of company-driven innovation, but with a strong position of individual inventors, including those from smaller communities.

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