Measuring the Regional Economy – Clusters, Subclusters and Occupations

Boy, it seems like only yesterday that the Regional Economic Strategy was created – a five year plan for focusing our collective action on the region’s leading industry clusters and the foundations that support them. That was 2005, which means that the clock is ticking on our five year strategy. So, unless the economy is perfect in December 2010, we should probably start thinking about what the next Regional Economic Strategy looks like. And, as always, I have some thoughts.

Mostly what I’ve been thinking about is how we figure out what it is our economy looks like in the first place, since you can’t make strategic decisions without good data. In 2005, we created these lovely industry cluster bubble charts, which told us 1) what the broad industries were in our economy that were at or above the national average in terms of employment concentration and 2) which were the fastest growing.

The problem is that, for our economy, those large industry clusters are too blunt an instrument. For example, what does it mean to have a large IT cluster? Do we have a lot of cable companies, a lot of CPU manufacturers or software makers? Are they focused on desktops, laptops, mobile devices, game systems or Internet applications? And where are the real areas of opportunity? In our region, for example, there is this huge energy and activity around interactive media, with people talking about how we can be the Hollywood of gaming. We need to be able to parse things more accurately to figure out what the actionable (and worth actioning) opportunities and challenges are.

There are two ideas that we can run with to do this better. First is what I’m calling cluster components or subclusters. We could make a bubble chart with more, smaller bubbles, rather than fewer big ones. Like, instead of one bubble for life sciences, we would have three: biotechnology, biomedical devices and global health. The other way we could go is to look at occupational clusters. For example, let’s say that we have a lot of machinists in our region (which we do.) With industry clusters, we throw them all into aerospace for the most part, which means that we disguise the fact that there is technical capability to also manufacture biomedical devices, clean technology devices (like replacement parts for wind turbines) and military/defense products. Of course, the ideal is to do an overlay of the two, so that you can see the strategic opportunities and links within specific industry cluster components and between the workforces of different clusters.

Like I said, we’re beginning now to start the process of gearing up for the Regional Economic Strategy: 2011-2016. And, if it is anything like it was last time, you’re all not only going to be hearing a lot more about it from me, but getting involved in the work of selecting what it is that we do. Looking forward to working with you.

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2 Responses to Measuring the Regional Economy – Clusters, Subclusters and Occupations

  1. If we were to redo the clusters analysis, I like the idea of dividing Life Sciences into smaller bubbles. Global Science itself could be divided into several subcategories, e.g., research, technology, and specialized professional training as components. The strategic emphasis could be on what else can we do – and the answer might be something like a greater emphasis on commercialization or knitting together the subcategories.

  2. Rob Allen says:

    Some of that work has already been done, or at least a model of one way to proceed has been created. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defined “High Tech” jobs by looking at technology-related occupations and examining which industries had the highest concentrations of jobs in those occupations. Find a description in the July 2005 Monthly Labor Review.

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