Archive for October, 2012

There’s something about San Sebastian

October 30, 2012

Report from TCI’s 2012 global conference

This year’s 15th TCI annual global conference was held in the Basque Country from 16-19 October.

It was a highly successful event with around 450 delegates representing 67 countries. (Unfortunately I was the only Australian this year). The theme of the conference was “Place based competitiveness in times of global change”, underlining the need to be focused and strategic in promoting the competitive advantages of regions and localities.

There’s something about Sans Sebastian! One of the many workshops was dedicated to understanding the bleak situation with the Spanish economy – however one would have thought Spain a much rosier place walking the streets of Sans Sebastian. The pounding of the Atlantic around the headland of the old town, the surf beaches and pintxos (Basque form of tapas) bars on every corner make for a wonderful setting. In fact San Sebastian was voted one of Europe’s top food and wine cities by Trip Advisor in 2012, boasting more Michelin star restaurants than any other European city.

The success of the Basque country in weathering the economic storms over Europe was palpable. Tours to various Basque clusters further highlighted the fact. Basque was one of the early adapters of a competitive cluster policy and their clusters are performing and centrepiece to the Basque economy.

Cluster policy pioneers such as Antonio Subira, Catalonia; Jon Azua, Basque Country; Ifor Ffowcs-Williams, NZ; Gerd Meier zu Kocke, Germany; Alonso Ramos Vaca, Mexico, took to the floor to discuss the past 15 years of TCI and cluster policy. The session, facilitated by Christian Ketels, current TCI President, resulted in a celebration of the vision and commitment of the Basque people to their economic development policy of ‘clusterisation and strategic thinking’.

Michael Porter summed things up – by a video-conference – saying we no longer need to understand the ‘why and what of cluster policy’, we just need to get better at doing the ‘how’. Michael Porter has recently developed a Microeconomics of Competitiveness (MOC) program as a platform that can be taught at universities around the world to improve understanding of competitiveness and clusters.

I presented the views of Australian women cluster Managers in the “Gender and Diversity in Clusters” workshop with three other brave women from Denmark, Germany and Austria. The audience grew as we went along and by the end we felt we had hit on a topic that resonates. There seems to be a quiet swell of renewed interest in gender and diversity issues.

The issue, in Europe and elsewhere, is that plenty of women are in the top jobs, including managing clusters, but few are on Boards. Norway has just implemented a 40% compulsory inclusion of women on Boards policy apparently.

Also an issue of representation of women in engineering and design sectors. They are at universities, but this is not translating to the industries. Great case study presented by Kersten Hindrum, an engineer from the Danish maritime sector, about a ‘women only’ designed pleasure craft which received rave reviews and media at this year’s Danish boat show. The point was that women use the indoors of the craft and therefore should design them!

Expect to see more on this subject at the TCI annual conference in Kolding, Denmark in September 2013.

For more info on the Sans Sebastian conference or the TCI network Also contact Tracy Scott-Rimington (Brisbane) at

Hubs and Precincts – Australian Government develops a sense of place

October 26, 2012

The PM’s Manufacturing Taskforce tabled its ‘Smarter Manufacturing’ report in August 2012, and the Government will reply in an Industry & Innovation Statement around November.

The Taskforce report is an excellent document in that it walks the reader through the realities of a high dollar, high cost economy. It provides some good pointers for other ‘resource boom’ economies such as Canada/

The report includes some intriguing overseas examples such as the UK’s Catapult Centres and Singapore’s Biopolis and Fusionopolis. One can see the deft hand of Professor Roy Green (University Technology Sydney) in the report’s thinking.

The recommendations include a call for a more effective Enterprise Connect program, and increased investment in transport infrastructure, skills, smarter workplaces etc. Nothing revolutionary there

BUT there is new-age thinking as follows:

“As part of a broader overhaul, the non-government members of the Taskforce propose the development of globally-oriented innovation precincts that build critical mass around our comparative advantages and opportunities. And a new Smarter Australia Network linking businesses, research organisations and others is proposed to address systemic barriers to more widespread collaboration.

Recommendation 21:

The non-government members of the Taskforce recommend the establishment of a limited number of Smarter Australia Precincts. These would involve large-scale facilities that bring together a critical mass of capabilities and industries – across businesses, researchers, end users, students and government – to share resources, support knowledge spillovers and diffusion, and strengthen networks.

Recommendation 22:

That smaller scale innovation hubs, based on niche specialisations, could be based in major regional centres, and based on existing strengths of these regional centres.”


We expect that the Australian Government will endorse these recommendations and that they will be the centrepiece of the PM’s statement.

The significance of the proposed ‘precincts-hubs’ approach in three-fold

– this is the first time that a nation-wide network of precincts and hubs has been considered i.e. centres of excellence have been commonplace, but nothing on a strategic, all-encompassing scale.

– it brings a positive and regional perspective to industry policy i.e. regional efforts to date have been rescue packages for Wollongong, Adelaide, northern Tasmania etc.

– there is scope is to connect up not just manufacturing players, but others along the supply chain i.e. services, mining, government. This is NOT just about manufacturing.

Bottom Line

Local councils, RDA Committees, analysts and universities (both city and rural) should read the report ASAP – just google it. And overseas players might note this trend, because these precincts and hubs provide a great vehicle for international engagement.

PS – the report’s recommendations by non-government members is rather quaint. It seems to be an attempt by the Industry Department to be arms length from the business leaders and academics on the Task Force. The ‘government’ members made no recommendations!

Regional museums and galleries – from liabilities to assets

October 11, 2012

There are 1,000 museums and 500 commercial art galleries across Australia. And I’d hazard a guess that 50% would benefit hugely from professional support.

The good news is that as a result of interviews with the national museums and galleries in Canberra in recent months, I’m predicting a new federal program to rejuvenate these facilities. There are two main triggers – the government’s current overhaul of the arts programs, and Minister Crean’s desire to leverage the arts on behalf of regional Australia.

Background – There is a bit of a story, and I’d like to walk you through it.

Rural and urban communities alike often don’t appreciate their cultural points of difference. This point was brought home recently in talks with Museums Australia, the Canberra-based industry association. The MA’s head, Ms. Bernice Murphy, is adamant that regional museums and galleries are under-appreciated sources of community identity and pride, but we agree that the issue is how to unlock the potential.

As flagged previously, there is considerable scope to get more of the collections of the Big 7 national institutions out of Canberra and into the regions. The reason is that they have a large proportion of their collections in storage – for example, the National Museum, sitting proudly on Lake Burley Griffin, has 96% of its collection out of sight in the industrial suburbs of Canberra. Similarly the War Memorial, Sound and Film Archive, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Library etc. have a good proportion of their collection in storage.

However accessing these collections isn’t a simple process. These institutions are essentially the keepers of the national estate – so there are strict loan procedures. As Bernice explained ‘Art museums are geared up and ethically charged to take highest care of all works owned, and not to let works out of their care (even though a huge number of works may be in storage) except under strictest controls and regular checking.’

But when I broached the possibility of getting more of these collections out of Canberra, the response from most staff was positive. This seems to be because many of the staff seem to have come from interstate museums and galleries and thus understand their problems. They are also aware that Minister Crean has been dropping hints about more collaboration between the arts and regional development agencies within his portfolio.

The opportunity – There are three broad industry segments:

– The state museums and galleries, which are relatively well-resourced.
– The facilities in the bigger regional cities (Newcastle, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Freo etc.) which are growing in stature, but face continual financial worries.
– Hundreds of mostly marginal facilities in the smaller cities and towns.

The last category provides the opportunity. The norm is a collection of furniture, kitchenware, farming equipment and artworks cobbled together by local volunteers. These facilities are open only for short periods during the week and/or year, and get by with a council grant to cover electricity bills and so on. They don’t generate much tourism traffic or revenue, which is a great shame because when local museums and galleries ‘click’ they are powerful attractors of tourists, business investment and jobs. The great examples of Bungendore, Yarragon and Clunes are on our blog (

Based on discussions with the experts, there is an exciting opportunity looming for the small museums and galleries. It lies in accessing outside curatorial and marketing expertise, marrying items from the national institutions with the local collections to create stand-out displays, and creating hubs to attract and hold tourists.

These agendas won’t be easy, so you need to be persistent and think long-term about four necessary steps.

First, your community must decide whether it wants to be seriously in this game, and that it has sufficient people with the energy and commitment to make it happen.

Secondly, you need to ensure you have a building that can meet the standards required for the national collection. This doesn’t mean you need a new multi-million dollar facility e.g. there are precedents of old scout halls and commercial buildings being renovated to the required standard.

Thirdly you need to identify the cultural product that would underpin your museum or gallery. Is it an agricultural, maritime, industrial, mining, environmental, forestry, sports and leisure or social theme? If it’s not apparent, then cultural mapping is generally advised. This can be done by local historical groups or universities, but expert consultants also undertake this work.

Fourthly, thought needs to go into what businesses could be clustered in order to build complementary revenue streams and share business expenses e.g. marketing, electricity, staffing. Restaurants, bakeries, antique shops, coffee shops, wine bars and newsagencies spring to mind.

Getting started – The suggested start point is a dialogue with the professional groups. Museums Australia fits the bill. There are also numerous workshops and conferences run by them and its partner organisations where you can make the right connections. We can also help with the steps outlined above.

Contributed by LG Focus – October 2012 edition.

Build on your comparative strengths – wherever you are in the world

October 11, 2012

Federal Regional Development Minister Simon Crean spoke in Whyalla, SA on 25 September – he is 100% aligned with our Sunrise Trade Network’s aim of linking clusters across national boundaries. His commnets are below.

“Between the frustration and the success, and from the perspective of this portfolio, I believe there is a real opportunity for regional communities to develop opportunities at the sub-national level. Look at your comparative strengths and your comparative advantages—and build on it!!

The opportunity with regional and remote communities is to look to how we can build region-to-region trade and relationships – whether it’s through the sister city relationships, regions can find more meaningful partnerships.

The challenges that Australia, and the rest of the world have, are common; food and water security, energy and resources security and skills development.

What this means is that the trading relationships don’t just involve trading in goods, they’re trading in services – such as education, financial and health services. Services that a growing middle class demands.

As part of our regional strategies, we have to be pushing the barriers in terms of facilitating that exchange. Your knowledge and advocacy of regional strengths presents an enormous opportunity through region-to-region partnerships.”

Kentucky perspective on Australia

October 7, 2012

Professor David Freshwater (University of Kentucky) was recently in Victoria discussing regional development issues, and then presented at a Regional Australia Institute conference in Canberra.

His translation of OECD and US policy experience into the Australian context was useful at a number of levels.

His first point was that local government in Australia is highly dependent on transfers from the federal and state governments. He’s dead right. We figure that an eventual referendum recognising local government in the Constitution is one thing, but getting better balance in federal-state-local revenues is still problematical. It’s a difficult road because every time the defence, welfare and education lobbies scream blue murder at likely funding cutbacks, the chances of the feds agreeing to local government’s needs become more remote.

Freshrwater’s second point was that our planning processes are reactive to federal/state settings, rather than being bottom-up, and that there’s an absence of business and volunteer input to planning processes. Well this is correct too, because the feds’ revenue powers provide no incentive for local stakeholders to get involved. The hypocrisy is that federal ministers and officials continue with devolution rhetoric while entrenching top-down program delivery systems.

His third observation was that efficiency-based cuts in service delivery to rural areas, in Australia or anywhere, have detrimental effects on economic opportunity. He suggested that service delivery to the regions requires different mechanisms. according to the regional circumstances.

(This is so true, and local stakeholders might usefully reflect on whether you have the energy and commitment to lobby for a new mechanism for your region. As I’ve indicated in this column before, the delivery of federal programs is patchy and expensive.

The better solution is to wind back the competitive bidding by junking half the existing programs, and transferring those funds to Regional Development Commissions, similar to the WA model. This would give meaning to bottom up processes, deliver respect and attention to local stakeholders, and enable federal officials to get out of program administration into problem fixing.

This approach won’t be possible in all regions, but where there are a group of councils with a collaborative spirit it should be possible. Opposition will come from those who fear the rise of super councils. But the alternative is to suffer ongoing under-funding and centralised decisionmaking. – Editor)

European Network of Maritime Clusters

October 4, 2012

We’ve been doing some research on governance structures operating around the world, looking for ways of addressing the slow progress of marine disaster relief and maritime safety in the Pacific and Africa regions.

And we stumbled across this European Network, whose aim is to promote and reinforce the various Maritime Clusters and players therein. They set up a network, rather informal at the beginning, to create a link, to be reinforced year after year, between national cluster organisations.

As its website ( explains, ‘the purpose is to put the entirety of the European maritime cluster on the map…the Network provides a platform from which joint activities can be developed.’

The organizers emphasise that the Network is not to replace the maritime branch organisations which have existing representation and lobbying structures in place. Membership means that it is easier for the organizations to attract EU authorities’ attention.

Similarly the Network can assist the European Commission and others in pursuing integrated development approaches by:
A. pushing the national clusters to organise the various maritime players within their boundaries.
B. bringing the national clusters together to drive stronger collaborative outcomes.

The EC has a lot to offer in terms of maritime technology and this Network concept is worthy of close attention in other sectors as a mechanism for addressing coordination failure.