09 October 2002
11 October 2002
Australia

The 5th TCI Global Conference reaffirmed the positive contribution that industry clusters are making to the development of host countries and regions. More than 200 attendees from 22 countries - including the Industry Ministers from Catalonia, Slovenia and Queensland -  agreed that at a time of heightened global investor uncertainty, governments and business must work collaboratively to minimize common risks and to strengthen pathways to trade and investment. The conference reaffirmed the significant role that clustering concepts can play in this regard.

 

One of the main discussions was about the role of the clusters in economy development. The participants agreed that while clusters can be powerful tools for wealth and social advancement, they should not be seen as a silver bullet. It was noted that there are risks that clustering concepts will get be maligned if the rethoric is too strong, and not matched by outcomes within a reasonable timeframe. Moreover, there are a range of models in operation, reflecting different cultures and environments, including some tension between the US and European cluster models. Accordingly, stakeholders were urged to share information across clusters in order to determine what is best for their particular circumstances.

 

Clusters are not a panacea to replace firm-specific innovation and emphasis on quality of product and service, experts said. The risks of the ‘do me a cluster’ syndrome were noted, particularly in situations where stakeholder expectations are raised but there are insufficient resources, weak governance structures and little recognition that that clusters often take 10 - 20 years to evolve to a fully viable level. Professor Michael Porter in his contribution to the conference emphasised this point. At the same time however, cluster programs need early results to maintain stakeholder interest. In most situations, they must be industry-driven have a bottom-up focus and push the boundaries of economic, social or environmental development – otherwise government support becomes a subsidy rather than an incentive. Governments need to have exit strategies once clusters cease pushing boundaries.

 

Some of the attendees emphasised that clustering concepts can improve the organizational culture of a region, and thereby achieve better coordination of public and private sector delivery of economic and social infrastructure. The Showcase Tour prior to the conference provided a clear example of how the development of Cairns International Airport and the implementation of various environmental management systems have enhanced the international competitiveness of the North Queensland region.

 

One of the delegates, the Hon. Antoni Subirà, Minister for Industry, Trade & Tourism, Government of Catalonia, explained that 23 clusters have been developed in Catalonia since the early 1990s, and the region now accounts for 28 per cent of Spain’s exports, despite having only 15% of Spain’s population. He also noted that ‘clusters are a good methodology for working with enterprises in a more natural way’. The Hon. Professor Tea Petrin, Minister of the Economy, Republic of Slovenia indicated that cluster concepts have been used to identify Slovenia’s relative competitive position, and to serve as the basis for policy formulation.

To the conference, the key outcomes of the meeting were focused in five areas related to cluster innovation and new focuses for the next conferences. The linking of clusters across 18 industry areas, the measurement and evaluation of clusters as the next big challenge or the fact that emphasis has to be placed on moving from analysis to implementation are some of the outcomes. 

 

Delegates to the Caims conference agreed that one of the main future goals is to facilitate a better understanding of how clustering concepts can help government transform itself and build stronger industry-government alliances. They also noted the constructive dialogue and positive spirit that prevailed throughout the conference.