Do you remember the roaring 90's and the place Michael Porter used to have on the bookshelves of every economic developer? Porter's neat repackaging of old ideas about agglomeration and industrial districts set off a complex conceptual arms race between academics, practitioners, and consultants all looking to subdivide this intellectual real estate. Communities were offered a heady menu from which to repackage their community's assets as a response to global economic restructuring.
A lot of the data work with industry cluster analysis that used to be time consuming can be covered by increasingly accessible free on-line tools . So what's left to do?
Portland-based consultant Joe Cortright, writing for Brookings, described the thinking behind clusters as "cursed with being vague, comprehensible, and basically true." For example, the significance of regional scale and the concentration of existing industry for economic competitiveness readily penetrated discussions among practitioners. But too often regionalism is limited to a discussion about marketing, and the conversation around industry concentration mistakes mass for function in the global economy.
There are useful efforts to develop meaningful analytical tools for occupational and technology/knowledge clusters. I'll have more on those in future posts. What I want to think more about now however are strategy development and implementation. The communities who once may have needed us to churn out location quotients can take that step themselves with some ease. That should leave us free to facilitate that will add infinitely more value. These should include more meaningful conversations with local industries and other stakeholders, and importantly follow projects well beyond analysis and into implementation.