Thoughts on developing regional innovation clusters

F ederal officials are increasingly interested in leveraging the value of universities and other economic development partners in regional growth.  At the same time, regions are exploring ways to transform economies made less competitive by global competition.

Strategically focused regional innovation clusters can accelerate regional transformation. They promote transformation by “linking and leveraging” existing assets — the skill of the workforce, the research base in universities, the networks of support organizations for innovative companies.  Connecting these assets enables the region to exploit new competitive opportunities. As companies within the cluster pursue these opportunities, they create as higher paying, more secure and competitive jobs.

Developing new regional innovation clusters is no simple matter. It requires enhanced, sustained collaboration on complex initiatives among the private sector, the public sector, and universities. The good news: We have developed a simple, repeatable discipline for building these clusters. The core insight: We manage complexity by following simple rules of strategy.

As partners within a regional innovation cluster follow these simple rules — embedded in the discipline of Strategic Doing — they develop a new, shared narrative about the future of the region. Slow, cumbersome practices of strategic planning do not work well in the dynamic world of regional innovation clusters. By contrast, strategic doing quickly defines opportunities and translates these opportunities into measurable outcomes, initiatives and action plans.

The development process for a regional innovation cluster includes:

  • Mapping cluster assets with clear, concise strategy maps.
  • Conducting structured workshops to teach the strategic skills of designing and implementing strategy in open networks (the discipline of Strategic Doing).
  • Forming boundary spanning connections to link regional assets to outside resources — at the federal, within other states, and among foundations — in order to strengthen the cluster.
  • Designing and promoting anchor investments to create or strengthen the shared competitive position of business firms within the cluster.
  • Creating better alignments and stronger collaborations within the region across organizational and political boundaries by developing the discipline of continuously updating strategic action plans.



Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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