Catalonia presents the success of its economic cluster policy at Harvard University

Catalan Economy · International Events

27 Mar 2024

The case study on Catalonia recently published by the Harvard Business School was presented to 50 experts on economic competitiveness from around the world.

ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade and Investment organized yesterday the event "The emergence of place-based policies. The Catalan case of cluster policy" at Harvard University (Boston, MA). More than 50 professionals had the opportunity to learn about the importance of place-based policies around the world and to hear the business case of Catalonia's 30 years of successful cluster policy.

The Catalonia case study was recently published by Harvard University and shows how clusters have had a decisive positive impact on Catalan companies. It also shows that Catalonia is one of the most developed regions in Europe in this area.

The event was attended by Christian Ketels, Harvard Business School faculty member and author of the case study 'Three Decades of Cluster Policy in Catalonia. What's next? (.PDF document)'; Joan Martí, Director of Business Strategy at ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment; Alberto Pezzi, Senior Cluster Manager at ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment; and Elisabeth Reynolds, consultant on industrial transformation and lecturer at MIT.

“Catalonia has a unique and successful approach to cluster policy”

Christian Ketels, Harvard Business School faculty member

The event was also attended by experts in the field of clusters and economic competitiveness from India, the United States, Denmark and Taiwan, as well as Catalan executives based in the Boston area.

During his presentation, Christian Ketels emphasized that "Catalonia has a unique and successful approach to cluster policy because of several factors". One is the "longevity of its cluster policy, regardless of political changes in the region". Other factors, he said, are "the focus on strategic change in companies, the development of the figure of the 'cluster practitioner', and the role of ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment as the leader of the cluster ecosystem".

"Catalonia has the opportunity for excellence in cluster policy not to stop here, but to better link with other competitiveness policies and contribute to positioning what is its value proposition as a territory", concluded Ketels.

Joan Martí, Director of Business Strategy at ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment, presented the pioneering origins of cluster policy in Catalonia 30 years ago, based on a public push with private leadership. Martí said: "We have been pioneers in contributing to a new conscious capitalism through the cluster methodology, training companies to generate shared value on a sustainable basis. We also have a consistent track-record in the specialization and training of cluster professionals. Catalonia currently has 200 professionals in this field".

Elisabeth Reynolds explained in her presentation that one of the main goals of industrial policy in the United States is to implement place-based policies, such as cluster policies, prioritizing the hydrogen and the semiconductors sectors, and generating spin-offs from universities. Other focuses of the United States industrial policy, she said, are resilience - monitoring the supply chain -, reindustrialization - investing in advanced manufacturing -, and improving the quality of jobs.

30 years of cluster policy in Catalonia

The case study published by Harvard Business School analyzes the evolution of the cluster policy in Catalonia, promoted since 1992 by ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment. It highlights that "few initiatives have been maintained over such a long period" and the "indications that this success in keeping this program active reflects the value it brings to Catalonia and its economy".

In this sense, it emphasizes that companies that are part of clusters have better indicators such as turnover, job creation, innovation, or internationalization than other companies that do not belong to these organizations.

Similarly, regarding the environment, the case highlights that the organization TCI Network - the global network of professionals and organizations active in cluster-based economic development - is located in Barcelona, a city "recognized as a leading European and world metropolitan hub".

Indeed, it highlights Catalonia's "industrial tradition", the fact that it has been awarded the status of innovator by the European Commission in the European Innovation Ranking, as well as recent investments by multinationals such as Microsoft, with the opening of an AI-focused R&D center in Barcelona, or the R&D hub of the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

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