San Diego: Hatch big ideas
Population: 1.37 million. Median single-family home price: $330,000.
Research labs: 75
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Tracking San Diego’s innovation economy is a bit like counting plants in the Amazon: Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, a thousand new wonders sprout up behind you. Carry a smartphone? It almost certainly contains technology pioneered by local wireless giant Qualcomm. Buy a new computer recently? That smaller, faster chip inside was likely made possible by a billion-dollar local company called Cymer. The decoding of the human genome? Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute played a major role in that and in producing the first synthetic bacterial cell last May. Like to surf? Matuse makes wetsuits not from petroleum-derived neoprene, but from a limestone-based material dubbed Geoprene.
Countless other future-is-now projects are in the works, like Sapphire Energy, which in 2012 plans to produce a million gallons of diesel and jet fuel derived from algae (pictured). As the local population of surfers might put it, “Duuuude!”
Runners-up: Palo Alto, CA; Seattle; Los Angeles