Washington’s growing interest in innovation clusters is illustrated by the fact that this symposium is the second on the subject conducted by the National Academies in a year, said Ms. Lew, a senior advisor to the White House and Small Business Administration on small-business issues.
In the Obama Administration, she noted that Energy Under Secretary Kristina Johnson and John Fernandez of the Economic Development Agency lead efforts to move forward on the recently announced Energy Innovation Cluster. “Without their leadership, this project could not have taken place,” she said. NIST played an integral role in the inter-agency team that created the initiative.
Ms. Lew said she would start by explaining what the Obama Administration is doing to promote regional innovation clusters—and why. “Our motivation is important, because it provides the context for the Energy Innovation Cluster as well as other projects the Administration will move forward with in 2010,” she said.
Over the past decade, Ms. Lew noted, there has been a growing emphasis on regionalism as whole and the need for communities without regard to boundaries to come together and develop and implement regional plans. In essence, Washington, DC, is a regional economic cluster, she said. “The industry we are all associated with in some form or another is the federal government. But workers do not respect political boundaries. We live in Virginia, Maryland, and DC. So the cluster activity has a regional impact.” Increasingly, businesses look not only for local resources but also regional resources. They want supply-chain vendors and service providers that can support them and allow them to scale.
Besides the familiar examples, such as Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, numerous regional clusters have emerged in the United States. Ms. Lew cited the Sonoma Valley wine cluster as an example. The University of California-Davis has been integral to that cluster. There have been pockets of cluster developments in Austin, Texas; Corning; New York, Seattle, Washington; and Kansas. “All of this occurring on an ad-hoc basis without a formal U.S. policy,” she noted.
Ms. Lew presented a map of the United States featuring a few regional innovation clusters. Denver, for example, has clusters in leather and sporting goods, oil and gas, and aerospace vehicles. Clusters around Chicago include communications equipment, processed food, and heavy machinery, while Boston’s regional clusters include analytical equipment, education, and communications equipment.
Not all clusters are related to high technology. Ms. Lew recalled that she recently met with representatives of an organization called Sustainable Northwest. The group manages forest and timber assets in a 300- to 400-mile area of Washington and Oregon. It is looking to convert those assets, which used to generate