GROW Your REGIOn Conference, 8-9 November, Valencia, Spain

Allan Mayo, Smart Cities Strategist at DG Cities, was invited to act as a Commentator at the recent GROW Your REGIOn Conference in Valencia, jointly sponsored by DG Grow, DG Regio and the region of Valencia. Over 300 businesses, cluster managers and policy makers participated in the biannual bash to promote the concept of clusters and inter-sectoral and inter-regional collaboration.

With the EU economy only recently showing signs of growth, and arguments in favour of greater regional autonomy increasing in strength in Spain, Italy and the UK, regional clusters that collaborate across borders are seen as a powerful tool to regenerate local economies and create new high quality jobs. The Conference was organized to engage with stakeholders to explore new ways to achieve that goal.

Allan’s job was to act as a candid critic and to test the arguments being promulgated. Allan was struck by the seriousness with which our EU counterparts treat cluster development, and for good reason. Just to take two examples, the South of Denmark, which lies in the shadow of Copenhagen has created over 4,000 jobs through its clusters, and the Valencia “Green” cluster has created over 200 jobs. Furthermore, firms who participate in clusters improve their productivity more than others, and have been able to internationalise through the cluster network.

If Allan had a concern, it was what he called the “Clusters Dialectic”: cluster development is clearly an important tool for economic regeneration but there is the danger that a whole new industry of cluster management will grow up, funded from Brussels. It needs to be sustainable, generating income from membership fees and conference activities so there is proven market value in the activities. Interestingly, a Biotech Cluster in Milton Park (near Didcot) has grown on the back of such a model, attracting membership not only on the Milton Park, but far beyond, including large companies and foreign organisations as well.

Allan’s take-away from the Conference is that all the work DG Cities is doing around Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Urban Innovation, and Cyber Security, is laying the foundations for a powerful, multi-sectoral Digital Cluster in Greenwich. However, it won’t develop of its own accord, at least not at the speed that is necessary. What can DG Cities learn from others, such as Southern Denmark or Valencia, that will give economic regeneration in Greenwich the boost it needs?