Mr. Johnson noted that the EDA supports a suite of programs that are “essentially investments in the innovation economy.” Some of those inputs are data, tools, and technical assistance; some are direct support for projects, including physical improvements of buildings, sewer, roadways, or other infrastructure; or “invisible” networking, such as funds for planning, collaborating, and studying an infrastructure and its strengths and weaknesses. The EDA cluster initiatives include the following:
• Task Force on Advancing Regional Innovation Clusters (TARIC);
• Regional Innovation Acceleration Network (RIAN);
• National geospatial cluster mapping initiative;
• Registry of organized cluster partnerships;
• Urban RICE pilot project;
• Regional Entrepreneurship Action Plans.
“These are the lenses,” Mr. Johnson said, “through which we are viewing the investments, and some of them are brand-new.” For example, the cluster mapping initiative represents the first such survey. It will be undertaken with Professor Michael Porter and colleagues at Harvard, seeking to understand how the cluster model can best be used and how it can form linkages with other clusters domestically and abroad.
He pointed out that clusters in urban areas have different needs from those in rural areas, so that separate studies have been designed for each. For example, a regional innovation urban project will examine the unique challenges and opportunities of developing clusters in inner cities. “In doing this,” he said, “we’ve discovered a really important principle. That is, the federal government has to transform the way it does business. As it relates to cluster initiatives, that means we need to engage horizontally in a way that we have not done historically, when all the departments worked in their own silos. That’s not good enough. Now there’s a real effort for the federal agencies to collaborate and reach across those silos.”
Mr. Johnson ended his presentation by describing some EDA activities in Hawaii. Over the past four years the EDA has invested $19.5 million as “catalytic money,” he said, to leverage more private dollars into projects, including:
• $3 million to renovate a downtown Honolulu warehouse into an import/export small business incubator;
• $3 million in the Maui Economic Development Board to construct a Renewable Energy Resources Center in Kihei; and
• $300,000 to the High-Tech Development Corporation for business start-up assistance.