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America’s top states for innovation in 2015

Hubs for breakthrough thinking

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America's Top States for Business prize technology and innovation and know-how to nurture them. Our Technology & Innovation category considers a variety of indicators, including tech investment, patents and research grants. The category is worth 250 points, or 10 percent of the 2,500 total. You can see our full rankings and methodology here. These are America's most innovative states.

—By CNBC's Scott Cohn
Posted 24 June 2015

10. North Carolina

Durham, North Carolina
Davel5957 | Getty Images

Long before technology was cool—in 1959—North Carolina established its famed Research Triangle, anchored by Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill and supercharged by Duke, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University. Practically ever since, the Tar Heel State has been on the cutting edge. Today it is a leader in medical and scientific research. But it's not just within the Triangle. The state is a leader in agricultural research as well.


Caption: Durham is part of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area, also known as the Research Triangle.

9. Illinois

A scientist works on a nanoprobe beamline at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois.
Tim Boyle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

You may think of Illinois as a husky, brawling manufacturing state, but the Land of Lincoln is also the birthplace of the Web browser. And there is plenty more where that came from. Illinois boasts some of the most important research universities in the world, as well as the largest national laboratory—Argonne—in the Midwest. Illinois researchers garnered more than $325 million in National Science Foundation support last year, among the largest totals in the nation.


Caption: A scientist works on a nanoprobe beamline at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois.

8. Michigan

A robot moves a 2015 Ford Motor Co. F150 truck on the production line at the company's Dearborn Truck Assembly facility in Dearborn, Michigan.
Jeff Kowasky | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The resurgence in the U.S. auto industry has reinvigorated the high-tech companies that surround it in Michigan. In fact, one recent study found Michigan has a higher concentration of jobs in the most important tech industries than any other state, and the state boasts it has more engineers per capita than any other. Researchers at the University of Michigan are in the midst of a five-year, $6 million program along with colleagues in Illinois and Indiana to develop new methods of sustainable manufacturing and production.


Caption: A robot moves a 2015 Ford Motor Co. F150 truck on the production line at the company's Dearborn Truck Assembly facility in Michigan.

7. Maryland

John Hopkins University
Jessica | Flickr Commons

The Old Line State has long been aligning itself with biotech—a natural fit for the home of Johns Hopkins University. The Maryland Health Care Product Development Corp.—an outgrowth of the Tech Council of Maryland—was founded in 1994 to help develop and fund promising life sciences start-ups. But the state has also become a major exporter of high-tech products and services for aerospace and information technology.


Caption: The campus of Johns Hopkins University.

6. Minnesota

Research technician Hannah Salk prepares human cell samples for vaccine studies in the vaccine research laboratory at the Mayo Clinic medical center in Rochester, Minnesota.
Ariana Lindquist | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Minnesota High Tech Association, a nonprofit group of more than 300 companies and organizations, has set a goal of making the North Star State a Top 5 technology state. They're almost there. Minnesotans set a state record for patents issued in 2014, beating the previous record set just a year earlier. The home of the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic is a research powerhouse that also happens to be America's Top State for Business overall this year.


Caption: Research technician Hannah Salk prepares human cell samples for vaccine studies in the vaccine research laboratory at the Mayo Clinic medical center in Rochester, Minnesota.

5. Colorado

Mike Hamel, vice president and general manager of Commercial Space at Lockheed Martin, left, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, center, and Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, celebrat
RJ Sangosti | The Denver Post | Getty Images

Scientists at Colorado State University are seeking once and for all to find the truth about climate change. At the University of Colorado, they're developing new tools for cybersecurity. The Centennial State's multi-year push to transform its economy keeps paying off. Colorado was the fourth-largest recipient of National Science Foundation support last year, but that's just the beginning. The state is a leader in advanced manufacturing, bioscience and more, with high-tech exports totaling more than $2.9 billion per year.


Caption: (Left to right) Mike Hamel, vice president and general manager of Commercial Space at Lockheed Martin; Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; and Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, tour the new Lockheed Martin Commercial Space headquarters.

4. New York

Cornell University.
Kenneth C. Zirkel | Getty Images

The Empire State has a well-established high-tech industry and a solid higher-education system that the state is seeking to leverage to attract more start-ups. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's one-year-old StartUp NY program is aimed at encouraging development in outlying areas of the state that have not shared in New York City's success. The program has had a slow start, but it highlights the technological and economic might of a state with one of the nation's largest concentrations of scientists and engineers.


Caption: A view of the campus of Cornell University.

3. Massachusetts

Drivers on northbound Route 128 near Lincoln, Mass.
Joeanne Rathe | The Boston Globe | Getty Images

The Bay State has no shortage of brainpower, as the home of Harvard and MIT, as well as the dozens of cutting-edge companies that have given Massachusetts Route 128 around Boston the nickname America's Technology Highway. No state has a higher concentration of high-tech jobs, and Massachusetts is second only to California for National Institutes of Health funding. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, launched in 2008, is a 10-year, $1 billion state-funded program to create jobs in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics and bioinformatics.


Caption: Drivers on northbound Route 128 near Lincoln, Massachusetts.

2. California

San Jose, California.
Nancy Nehring | Getty Images

The Golden State prizes innovation like no other. It is home to Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, the birthplace of the most legendary firms in tech, as well as thousands of start-ups that hope to be legends someday. California leads the nation in scientific and medical research, and Californians received four times as many patents as the state's nearest competitor last year.


Caption: A busy San Jose, California: Silicon Valley's hot spot.

1. Washington

The building housing the headquarters of Amazon.com Inc. stands in Seattle, Washington.
Kevin P. Casey | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Dethroning perennial tech leader California is a tall order, but the Evergreen State does it this year with the help of agricultural research. While California brings in far more raw USDA research dollars, Washington wins on a per-capita basis. But there is plenty more innovation going on in the home of Microsoft and Amazon. Washington was one of the top five states for patents and for National Institutes of Health grants last year.


Caption: The headquarters of Amazon stands tall in Seattle.