Today you’ll find few who will deny that we live in a time defined by economic challenges. Though the Obama Administration has made strides in the last year to spur recovery and build a new foundation for America’s long term prosperity, too many families are still faced with the reality of unemployment or underemployment despite exhaustive job searches. It is clear that the difficulties faced today by citizens across the country require that we find innovative solutions, take new approaches, and seize on economic opportunities that have previously been overlooked.
Inter and intra-regional competition – where one area recruits a business or industry from another area—only leads to a zero sum gain over time. Robust regional economies that are innovating and high performing enhance our ability to compete in the global economy, while improving job opportunities and quality of life for communities.
The Obama Administration is looking for ways to support the unique competitive advantages of regions across the country in order to drive forward industry and get America moving again. The White House’s Regional Innovation Clusters Working Group brings together seven different agencies—including the Economic Development Agency at the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, and the Departments of Education, Energy, and Labor— to do just that.
The Regional Innovation Clusters Working Group is developing collaborative federal funding streams in an effort to make coordinated, flexible, and regionally-customized investments in places thereby obtaining maximum return on a region’s unique economic assets and competitive strengths. We see economic cluster strategy as part of the bedrock of the new foundation for American prosperity.
Regional Innovation Clusters are geographic concentrations of firms and industries that do business with each other and have common needs for talent, technology, and infrastructure. Clusters make full use of a region’s unique assets, from infrastructure to workforce to available capital, to increase collaboration and create a climate for businesses to grow and thrive. Innovation clusters build on existing industry and resources, foster creative environments that encourage knowledge sharing and tailored training and educational activities, and anchor jobs to an area rather than shipping jobs overseas.
We know that this cluster strategy works. From well known places like Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle in North Carolina to lesser known places like Dayton’s Tech Town, Tuscon’s Arizona Bioscience Park, and the Middle Georgia Economic Alliance, clusters are helping to connect disenfranchised communities to career and educational opportunities, secure higher paying jobs in regions, and stabilize regions.
The White House Regional Innovation Cluster Working Group issued a joint notice of funding availability early this year, providing up to $129.7 million over five years to create an Energy Regional Innovation Cluster (E-RIC). The E-RIC will be an energy efficiency cluster that will focus on developing new technologies to improve the design of energy-efficient building systems. The award will be announced in the fall, but it is only the beginning.
We will soon see more collaborative federal approaches to foster local and regional partnerships around economic development and innovation in areas like health, agriculture, defense and more. The Administration is laying a new foundation for economic prosperity based upon regional strengths that will enhance our nation's global economic competitiveness and create sustainable, 21st century jobs for long term growth.
Barry Johnson is the Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency