To change this map so that innovative clusters spring up in new regions, there must first be consensus that the growth of such clusters are a national priority, Mr. Locke said. There also must be a commitment that regions be “dedicated to creating ecosystems where universities, venture capital, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are all amplifying each other’s talents,” he added.
At the federal level, “President Obama is doing just that,” Mr. Locke said. At the Commerce Department, the Economic Development Agency is taking the lead. He noted that the President’s 2011 budget includes $75 million for the EDA to implement a federal clusters strategy. “Region by region, EDA is helping to speed the transition to a more entrepreneurial, innovation-driven society,” he said.
To fulfill this mission, the EDA is “fostering regional innovation that builds on an area’s competitive advantages.” The agency is “encouraging business exports and competitiveness in a way that leverages private investment.”
Despite these federal efforts, Mr. Locke stressed that local governments must take the initiative in any cluster strategy. “Let me underscore how critical it is that regions take a leadership role in this process,” he said. “The federal government can facilitate and encourage stakeholders to work together. But regions will know where their unique strengths and abilities lay.” While the federal government can “shine a spotlight on the importance of clusters,” he said, “it can’t replace a region’s knowledge of what it does best.”
He cited New Orleans and New Mexico as examples of “how the federal government can support regional initiatives.” The EDA “helped fund the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission’s plan to link new medical research centers and a new bioscience district with medical centers at Tulane and Louisiana State University. New Orleans is not merely re-building from Katrina,” Mr. Locke said. “It’s redeveloping a large portion of the city into a world-class medical corridor.”
In New Mexico, he added, the EDA is “working with a regional council to help create more robust alternative-energy production, grow artisanal manufacturing, and fund new micro and nano-engineering centers.” “The genius of regional innovation clusters,” Mr. Locke said, “is that different parts of the country can leverage their regional strengths to accomplish a common goal: creating well-paying, sustainable jobs and growing the country’s economy.”
“And at the end of the day, job growth is the metric that is most important to most Americans,” Mr. Locke said. “It’s the metric that is most important to the Obama Administration.” He called regional innovation clusters a key part of the nation’s long-term strategy for economic growth. Mr. Locke thanked the audience and said he looks forward to working with the symposium’s participants in the years to come.