If you travel to the hubs of innovation across this nation and take a hard look at what makes some of the most productive centers of creativity and invention tick, you might notice they have a few things in common: a highly-educated workforce, global engagement and diversity, and a culture that supports creativity and invention.

And beer. They have lots of great craft beer.

That’s because there is no better catalyst to innovation than collaboration, and the kind of brainstorming that powers innovation among today’s millennial generation is just as likely to take place in the evening over a meal and a pint as at the company conference table earlier in the day.

And that’s why if you want to find the newest spark to innovation in Tampa, you need to look no farther than the new World of Beer that opened on Fowler Avenue just a few short weeks ago.

 On any given evening, the place is packed with young and old. People are scratching out ideas on napkins, or huddled around laptops propped open on tables next to those just there to relax and enjoy their time off. You’ll see a few people sitting alone and comfortably working over a laptop — me included — and feeling profoundly at home in this vibrant atmosphere.

A technology-driven new economy seamlessly blends work, social and creative life but always centers around gathering spots that give a sense of place.

Welcome to the Tampa Innovation Alliance and our community’s new Innovation District.

The New Economy

There is an innovative spirit sweeping America, from Silicon Valley to Austin, from St. Louis, Salt Lake, New York and Atlanta to other locations large and small, with the promise of rekindling the American economy.

Great anchor institutions once were built as islands unto themselves — guarded by massive berms or walls intended to keep some people in and others out. Now there is an effort to bring people of all walks of life together in research parks, hospitals, restaurants, coffee shops, green spaces, co-working spaces and more for the purpose of transforming ideas into products or services that will change the world or save lives.

Ideas power investment and opportunity, and although Tampa’s Innovation District is just starting, you can see green shoots of progress throughout the area. New gathering spots are opening, and new development is beginning to rise out of the ground. In a part of our city hit particularly hard during the great recession, there is a sense of hope and optimism that we can build something unique and powerful by leveraging the presence of large institutions that populate the area.

The Tampa Innovation Alliance is an organization designed for the purpose of bringing our major anchors — the University of South Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital, Busch Gardens, the new University Mall and hundreds of businesses — together into a special place where people want to live, work, play study and stay. With the support of the Hillsborough County Commission, which has launched a comprehensive planning process with a goal of making the most of this area, the effort is well under way.

This concept is grounded in reality with ample evidence of success in emerging Innovation Districts across America. The growth is uneven, with some locations like San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Seattle, Austin, Houston and Charlotte creating high-wage jobs at a rapid clip while other communities struggle to keep up due to a weak workforce, poor educational opportunities or a poor quality of life.

The Power of Proximity

In a meeting several weeks ago with the new director of one of the busiest VA hospitals in America, located at the heart of the Alliance area, reported that his institution has an economic impact of over $850 million each year. The VA sits astride a top research university, USF, that ranks first in patent production among universities in Florida and is home to over 42,000 students.

The USF campus also is home to Moffitt Cancer Center, the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer institute in the state, and just a short walk from Florida Hospital, the top-ranked hospital in Florida.

This incredible assemblage of health care and research activity produces over $3.5 billion in output and is but 1.5 miles from Busch Gardens. One of the top-ranked entertainment destinations in America, attracting over 4 million visitors a year, Busch Gardens also is one of the largest zoos in America with over 12,000 animals.

Now we must bring it all together. And we will.

On Thursday, the Tampa Innovation Alliance will host the “Innovation Gathering,” a first-of-its-kind event at the Museum of Science and Industry. The event will feature a talk by Bruce Katz, founding director of the Brookings Institute and one of the world’s leading thinkers in innovation districts.

Tampa is not alone in pursuing this concept. Cities across North America and Europe are increasingly recognizing the value of organizing their efforts around the assets that spur high-wage job creation.

Tampa’s intent is that this effort be inclusive of everyone eager to be a part of this exciting new era for our community. Join us by visiting www.tampainnovation .com and be a part of this incredible new venture.

Mark Sharpe, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, is executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

Read More: http://www.tbo.com/list/news-opinion-commentary/mark-sharpe-blending-work-social-and-creative-lives-20151025/