Archive for January, 2010

US Government gets ready for rural clusters

January 12, 2010

Mark Muro has written a very useful piece. His views broadly supported by other analysts.

Mark Muro, Policy Director, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

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With a House-Senate “conference” committee soon to decide to create a truly valuable regional industry clusters initiative, some rurally oriented conferees fear that cluster strategies pertain exclusively to urban development. Others fret that cluster initiatives point exclusively toward high technology growth. However, the sort of cluster program being entertained by the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) conference would be completely agnostic about geography and equally friendly to all sectors, so long as they promised growth.

It’s true that cluster discussions – with their focus on spatial concentrations of related industry activity – have a cosmopolitan, high-tech feel. Clusters have naturally been equated with cities. Likewise, the concept’s original author, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, has frequently discussed the powerful dynamism of such big-metro innovation communities as Boston’s biotech cluster, Hollywood’s movie cluster, New York’s finance center, and Milan’s fashion concentration.

But the cluster concept has strong rural and low-tech groundings. Porter dwelt on the cluster structure of northern California’s wine cluster, populated by hundreds of wineries, thousands of independent grape growers, and myriad suppliers of grape stock, manufacturers of irrigation and harvesting equipment, producers of barrels, designers of bottle labels, and specialist marketers as well as the viticulture program of the University of California. Likewise, rurally oriented scholars like Stuart Rosenfeld have for more than two decades been producing authoritative reports on rural industry clusters, ranging from auto manufacturing in Northern Alabama to artisan cheesemaking in Vermont, log home production in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, and wind energy in the Texas Panhandle. And economists at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have conducted research suggesting that rural manufacturing clusters raise workers’ earnings substantially. In this regard, the vision of heightened economic collaboration and cooperation within distinct lines of work and industry has long appealed to rural thinkers.

The strongest U.S. policy precursor is the Rural Collaborative Investment Program, (via the USDA) which has been allocated $135 million and provides a model of how a federal clusters promotion program could be set up. USDA would set up a new rural investment board and a national institute on rural competitiveness, provide technical assistance, and make grants to regional investment boards to develop smart, regionally focused rural investment strategies, cross-sector collaboration, public-private partnerships, interim financing or seed capital, emphasis on collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship.  Source: The New Republic

Dutch knowledge networks

January 12, 2010

May be this dissertation might be of interest for your readers. regards, Johan Visser (Netherlands)

Title: The structure and dynamics of knowledge networks: a proximity approach
Author: Wal, L.J. ter
Year: 2009
Publisher: Utrecht University
Document type: Dissertation


Through the application of social network analysis this dissertation provides an in-depth study on the structure and dynamics of knowledge networks. It analyses how geographical, social and cognitive proximity can explain the evolution of knowledge networks. The effect of geographical proximity on network formation is not constant over time. Longitudinal analysis of the collaboration network among German biotech inventors shows that geographical proximity is most relevant for network formation for young emerging industries where knowledge is predominantly tacit.

In many other contexts, geographical proximity between firms does not result in the formation of local knowledge networks. In particular, social proximity is more important for local knowledge networks to emerge. The research demonstrates that a lack of social proximity might prevent the emergence of networks of local collective learning in clusters despite geographical proximity.

Singapore on par with Uganda (sic)

January 12, 2010

An article by Teh Shi Ning in the Business Times – extract follows.

THE Republic’s prowess in math and science may not turn its students into the innovators and entrepreneurs needed to drive the economy in the long-run, says the Singapore Competitiveness Report 2009. While Singapore has established its tertiary and research institutions, and patenting and publication intensity has grown, entrepreneurship remains low and local rather than export-focused.

The current competitive strengths are more in line with a ‘high-skilled, investment-driven model’, rather than the ‘innovation-driven economy’. Singapore needs to reconsider its position among the host of economies hoping to be innovation nations. It does well on many global innovation rankings – but better on ‘those that focus more on general business environment conditions than on specific economic returns on innovation’. In fact, Singapore’s profile of relative strengths and weaknesses are more similar to economies like Armenia, Peru and Uganda, the report says. Hong Kong, too, showed itself to be stronger than Singapore on innovation performance vis-a-vis innovation inputs.

The report raises ‘a concern that Singapore focuses too much on the type of repetitive memorization of knowledge that generates high performance on standardized tests.’ But the authors’ main issue was with the overly ‘science-leaning’ nature of the innovation system. ‘There is a need to mentally break free from the US model, from wanting to replicate what Silicon Valley or Boston does,’ said Christian Ketels who says Singapore has not the depth nor breadth of funding from venture capital or large corporations to generate breakthrough technologies and products quickly enough.

Go to The Business Times. Source: PDE News

Wagga’s competitive advantage = SPORT

January 12, 2010

Researchers are to uncover ‘why’ Wagga Wagga has produced so many sporting champions. Griffith University is leading research into identifying potential elite athletes. Rather than standard biophysical measures, the aim is to explain why areas such as Wagga produce more elite athletes than others – also involved are the Australian Sports Commission, Australian Institute of Sport, Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia and the Australian Football League following a $300k grant from the Australian Research Council.

The ”Wagga syndrome” has produced rugby league greats Peter Sterling, Chris & Steve Mortimer & Arthur Summons, AFL stars Wayne Carey & Paul Kelly, 400 metres runner Patrick Dwyer, golfer Steve Elkington, cricketers Mark Taylor, Michael Slater & Geoff Lawson, tennis champion Tony Roche. The team will study the family-club-social support networks for elite athletes, how recruiters perceive talent and home-town advantage. (Discussed this at a conference a few years back – Wagga factors suggested were the lack of non-sports options for youths and very good sports amenities – Editor).

‘Pioneers exploring in an empty space” says Gettler

January 12, 2010

Leon Gettler (Cockatoo member) is a leading columnist with the Age. Herewith an extract of a recent article.

Policymakers say Australia’s affluence is in a consignment of iron ore headed for China. They believe such good fortune must come at the expense of manufacturing. Someone should remind them that reducing a country’s economic base is dangerous – in the 1990s, England embraced financial services while its manufacturing sector declined. Look at it now.

In its latest quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy, the Reserve Bank sees the resource sector as the future of Australia’s prosperity and warns that manufacturing will shrink. Similarly, Treasury secretary Henry has forecast an Australia in 40 years with a much smaller manufacturing sector.

A report by UTS professor Roy Green ( – part of a study by the London School of Economics – found that Australian manufacturing managers were at best mediocre, significantly lagging behind the US, Japan, Germany, Canada and Sweden. Chinese and Indian factory managers were a lot better. Australian managers were particularly bad at managing people and innovation.

Professor Green says Australian manufacturers need to work smarter, focusing on niches and developing clusters. Some manufacturers – e.g. implant company Cochlear and cutting tool maker Anca, which exports 95% of its products – are good examples of companies that have built niches and strong global markets. Australia, however, has few manufacturing clusters, most are just clumps. Research by Swinburne University sociologist professor Michael Gilding compared biotech clusters in the US with the Parkville precinct. Our biotechs are – same applies to other precincts, such as the IT sector in Clayton and Ryde. It’s very Australian – pioneers exploring opportunities in an empty space.

It contrasts sharply with Italy’s manufacturing sector – small city of Modena specialises in high-performance cars, home of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati. Montebelluna, close to the Italian Alps, produces 65% of the world’s ski boots and home to Rollerblade skates. Sassuolo is the home of 150 tile manufacturers, producing 60% of all tiles traded internationally.

The only globally successful cluster in Australia is the wine industry, with intense competition among almost 2000 companies, combined with collaboration through industry associations.

Canberra-based industry consultant Rod Brown says business and governments need to identify high-value niches and then build collaborative frameworks, bringing in financiers as well. Aerospace is a prime example. “A proactive industry policy for aerospace would have a cluster program connecting the key players in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, and tying in the outriders” Brown says. “An aerospace cluster would connect the dots with the CSIRO, relevant CRCs, training providers, VC providers, banks – and see who wants to collaborate and those who simply want to go it alone.”

Source: The Age

Cairns Institute – Tropical Innovation Hub

January 12, 2010

As we’ve highlighted for months, if you’re looking for federal largesse, think HUBS.

Here is another – a $44 million world-class institute dedicated to research and innovation for tropical Australia – with 125 research staff – to be built in Cairns. The Rudd Government is providing $19.5 million in capital costs, and a further $8.75 million for research infrastructure. The Institute will be located at James Cook University’s Cairns Campus, which will contribute a further $15.8 million. The focus is on marine and climate science, public health, social & community welfare, tourism & indigenous development.

The concept was first tossed around 5 years ago by CREDC – phone hook-ups with people like Tracy Scott-Rimington (CREDC) and Jim Bitomsky (Kleinhardt Consulting), followed by a concept paper used by CREDC to drum up interest. I said then that JCU had to be the champion. But things moved sideways for a couple of years, and it seems the powers within JCU had ‘internalised’ the project.

 Some salutary lessons – getting projects off the ground requires a lengthy gestation period for ideas to be worked up to a viable and agreed stage. You also need a business plan for the banks and/or government agencies. And you need political patronage – Kim Carr’s prints are all over this project.

 P.S. CREDC was axed two years ago. It was always one of the most effective RDOs in Australia – Ecofish, Super Yachts, Tourism, hosting a great TCI cluster conference etc. Tracy, Jim and I are not seeking any glory on the Hub getting up – just a wider understanding that collaboration does win out eventually.

Innovative Regions Program – new regions aanounced in Australia

January 12, 2010

The Innovative Regions Program sits within the Innovation Department (the old Department of Industry) whose Minister is Kim Carr. It has a Board populated by quite a few Cockatoo members. The Secretariat is in Geelong, due to a pre-election deal.

It works with regional business associations and authorities to develop region-specific strategies for improving economic performance. Emphasis on boosting innovation capacity by encouraging partnerships, networks and alliances. Part of its mandate is to deliver Enterprise Connect services to regional firms around Australia. The funding was initially around $20 million over 4 years, but the Department of Finance has nibbled away, and the bulk of funding pays for the facilitators, offices, travel etc.

When originally announced, the program was to focus on 5 regions (Geelong, north Adelaide +3 others). However 8 more regions have just been announced: NSW – Wollongong; Central Coast; Lithgow QLD – North Brisbane; Central Queensland WA – Kwinana-Mandurah-Fremantle belt VIC – Central Goldfields TAS – Northern Tasmania.

 If you’re outside these regions, the facilitators might travel if they consider you worthy. In this regard, a Cockatoo member and I recently met with facilitators in the North Adelaide office to see if a Business Partnership Program between a council and its major suppliers could dovetail with the Enterprise Connect program. Not a raging success – the facilitators are not paid to think beyond their immediate task.

NOTE: The feds’ main regional agenda – “Regional Development Australia” involving 55 RDA Committees that replaced the old ACCs – is run by the Infrastructure Department (the old DOTARS) whose Minister is Anthony Albanese, supported by Maxine McKew and Gary Gray.

Global travel writers

January 12, 2010

Graham ‘Simmo’ Simmons (Byron Bay NSW – regular Cockatoo contributor) says many people want to know how to become a travel writer, but don´t know where to start. He says you don´t need a degree in journalism – and that a new E-book provides all the information you need to get a foothold.

“TRAVEL WRITING AND TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: From Dreams to Hard Reality” is the title – written by a group of professional travel writers and photographers who are members of the A-based group Global Travel Writers, a highly successful marketing cooperative established in 1997.

Apart from Simmo, other contributors include Glenn A. Baker, the world-renowned pop music guru, and Philip Game, a long-time journo. The book can be downloaded as a PDF at an introductory price of $US8.95 ($A9.95). Order at

Re-birth of Remote Region Research Body in Australia

January 12, 2010

Industry Minister Kim Carr has announced that seven Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) have been granted $130 million ($US120m) in the CRC Program’s latest selection round. The CRCs are:

  • Advanced Composite Structures ($14 million)
  • Infrastructure and Engineering Asset Management ($12 million) – for defence assets.
  • Environmental Biotechnology ($4 million)
  • Optimising Resource Extraction ($17.5 million)
  • Remote Economic Participation ($32.5 million)
  • Wound Management Innovation CRC ($28 million)
  • Vision ($22 million) – to deliver revolutionary vision care treatments for eye problems.

The most interesting is the CRC for Remote Economic Participation – to close the gap on Aboriginal disadvantage and develop economically sustainable communities in remote areas. It resurrects the Desert Knowledge CRC whose funding was flagged about 12 months ago. We are advised that Indigenous issues simply couldn’t allow the Desert Knowledge agenda to fail – the proponents were told how to recast their agenda – and voila! Jan Ferguson remains the Director, and it flies again from July 2010.  Cockatoo is proposing to work with this CRC.