We have recently witnessed a stark divergence in the geography of jobs. While some areas have emerged as high technology clusters, others have fallen behind. As two of the driving forces behind this divergence – education and innovation – are produced by research universities many policymakers look to these institutions to deliver local economic growth. In this paper, we discuss when and how research universities can be anchor institutions for a local economic development strategy. The evidence demonstrates that universities do cause local economic development – increasing wages and jobs – over the medium term. Yet because university outputs – graduates and ideas – are highly mobile the effects of research university activity over the longer term remain an open question. Manuscript available upon request.