Conference: Venture programme Competitive Districts’ and internationalisation project

Invited by the EU-LAC Foundation, entrepreneurs, political leaders and experts on local innovation and competitiveness from 10 Latin-American and Caribbean and 7 European countries held a meeting last April in Hamburg to share experiences concerning the development of competitive districts (clusters and its background) and to assess the first results of the competitive districts’ project "Polos de competitividad" which is developed by the Foundation’s venture programme in partnership with the Italian region of Lombardy.

The Mayor of Hamburg, Mr. Olaf Scholz, opened the conference, by high lightening the effectiveness of industrial policies aimed at improving territories' development, complementarity and competitiveness, regardless of the existing administrative divisions in each country; however Mr. Scholz also pointed out that these are long-term processes.

"Growth depends on our ability to innovate" and "a key element of our innovation strategy is to conduct a successful policy of cluster, because this is the only way to engage and retain companies and skilled workers" claimed Mr. Scholz, who mentioned that Hamburg has been chosen as the model region for cluster policies by the European Commission. 

The Mayor informed the participants, among them the Ecuadorian Vice-Minister of Trade, Mr. Juan Francisco Ballén, saying that there are currently eight clusters in Hamburg, including aviation, logistics, IT and life sciences, without excluding future new clusters since "we see a great potential in creative industries, health industry and renewable energy", he said.

Mr. Ballén explained that the development policy conducted by the Government of Ecuador is now leading towards that direction, because it no longer works only at a national level, but also at the territorial level, which has allowed to generate incipient experiences of cluster in the area of Guayaquil through tourism and in the area of Cuenca through metal craftwork.

"Ecuador is encouraging a change that will enable us to move from limited to never-ending resources, meaning from an economy based on raw materials to a knowledge-based economy", stated Mr. Ballén. Furthermore, he added that work at territorial level is leading to successful models which allow a more efficient combination of resources and efforts with a view to solidarity and a sustainable economy.

The Deputy Director of the Dominican Republic's National Competitiveness Council, Ms. Laura del Castillo, praised the cluster initiative that, in her opinion, has allowed her country to become an expert in the tourism industry. 

"We only have one tourism cluster, Barahona, but it is a successful cluster integrated into the local government's structure, which comprises the banking, production and tourism industries as well as public institutions," Ms. del Castillo noted.

Ms. Norma Pérez, representing Impulsa Colombia in the workshop, acknowledged that her country has not developed an integrated cluster policy yet. Nevertheless, she realized that the first steps towards that direction are being taken.

"The initiative was not, however, taken by Bogotá, but by the companies, a bottom-up process in which chambers of commerce, companies and universities have been involved", claimed Ms. Pérez. She then highlighted that after that process, there are currently 32 innovation roadmaps and more than 60 cluster initiatives in the country.

The experts gathered by the EU-LAC Foundation thus, outlined an asymmetrical landscape between and within territories of the European Union, Latin-America and the Caribbean; though, with the conviction that the global market's increasing competitiveness suggests going towards the development of a culture of cooperation and improvement of competitiveness as a result of the development of industrial districts.

Territorial assessment and experiences dealt with in the conference of Hamburg will be the basis for the EU-LAC Foundation's Venture programme and its working group on Competitive Districts in order to establish recommendations and identify potential actions at the level of the more than 60 industrial districts that participate in this project from both regions.