For the past four or five years, peoples of various districts have been
attempting to promote regional advancement using the concept of "clustering"
(like a bunch of grapes, for example); the concerted efforts of industry,
academia, and public administration, to each play a role in the cluster, and
together the cluster will function as the driving force of regional
Originally Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School advocated the idea of clusters as a gathering of industry, universities, and public administration.
In his work "The Competitive Advantage of Nations" (1990), he stated that industries with competitive advantage in a nation are often those linked with each other in a group, called a "cluster."
He asserted that to promote mutual exchange among these clusters and to strengthen them with help from the authorities would be one of driving forces for industrial development.
As the prototype of such clusters, he mentioned the skiing boots industry in Italy, the printing machine industry in Germany, the mining machinery industry in Sweden, the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland and so on. In Hokkaido, people have taken notice of Finland's system of supporting business start-ups, which has made an industrial cluster in the forestry sector.
The word "cluster" is a somewhat difficult technical term often used in applied physics. A cluster is a structural unit of aggregate being placed between atom/molecule and solid/liquid, demonstrating characteristics lacked by these two objects.
With a little energy, it fluctuates in both terms of shape and reaction.
In addition, so-called "fullerene," that is a typical carbon cluster (it is said resembling the shape of a soccer ball), will have new characteristics when clusters interact with each other. They can give new characteristics to a piece of solid when they are stabilized on the surface of the solid.
When clusters reach a certain size of "grape bunch," their front position atoms exert some "avant-courier" effect and result in an ability to carve into the inside of the other solid.
These characteristics of the original technical term give us a hint of strategies when we promote regional development through shaping a "cluster." For example, we can expect the "break-through" effect for improvement of situation, resulting from the above-mentioned "avant-courier" effect of a cluster.
Clustering also has a potential of being a major instrument for "participation and cooperation," a keyword of the new "Comprehensive Development of National Land" project titled as the "Grand Design of National Land in the 21st Century."
Several years ago when I was talking with officials of the National Land Agency, I remember I said, "The word 'national land axis' may give an image of some straight line structure.
One might imagine an accumulated body with a short straight line axis. We had better look for a more suitable word.
" Perhaps a chain of short national land axis like a free adjusting bar with a cluster in both ends might give a suitable image (see "Cluster Model" and "Cluster Image").
If we consider this national land axis as an axis to link and shape clusters, we may be able to work out a more dynamic strategy.
Various tasks to be examined
Then what kind of tasks should we have to examine in shaping such clusters?
First, we have to think about the way to arrange networks within a cluster as well as those linking such clusters.
We will have clusters spontaneously generated as well as those strategically created. In some cases we may bolster existing spontaneously generated clusters.
As for relations between clusters and networks, there are such types where the network goes ahead and clusters are later formed around the nodes of the network, and ones where networks are later formed to link already existing clusters which were shaped on culturally and geographically common base built-up during several centuries.
The above-mentioned cluster-shaping centering on the Kitamatsuura Peninsula is an example of the latter type.
Second, we have to examine what kind of modern infrastructure we need in order to shape clusters. High quality educational facilities and good tourism facilities, not to mention multi-media infrastructure, can all be effective infrastructures for forming quality clusters.
Third, we have to check if the nucleus of the cluster should be the existing organizations of the present size or not.
Taking an example of Finland's initiative, it is said that a Smart Network Center gathers 170 organizations and has 1,500 staff.
Many of them are entities almost similar to individuals such as NGOs, NPOs, lawyers, accountants, managers of venture business and venture capital enterprises.
These entities close to individuals are desirable as an element to shape clusters, but even existing business organizations could be comparatively an entity "close to individuals" if we look at them from a macro viewpoint of "global environment" for example.
Fourth, we have to examine what kind of elements we should provide for as an effective inducement to encourage the conglomeration of entities.
Regional development can't always be an absolute inducement even in local situations. Under the present situation where business organizations locating in the area are becoming more and more "footloose", the formation of environmental clusters such as "zero emission clusters", "waste-reuse clusters", and "sustainable clusters for conserving ecosystems" could become a powerful inducement to attract NPO bodies (see "Sustainable Clusters").
Fifth, one big task is how to ensure the participation of "general people" in the cluster in addition to the aforementioned participating parties. We have also to decide on the quality of this "people." Should they be usual, individual citizens, NPOs, and NGOs?; or should they be "business families" (pseudo-citizen) who will be a strategic element for industrial development?
Thus the idea of clustering is only falsely similar to traditional cooperation of business, universities and public administration. It is not static measures like "zoning by functional features" or "stratified measures". Of course, it is not industrial conglomeration for which land for factory site is offered.
The idea is to dismantle once existing business organizations, administrative agencies, associations, educational facilities, technical systems and so on to their functional bases, and to add citizens, NGOs, NPOs, venture businesses and others to them, and to reorganize them under a new incentive into a quite different driving force for development; the whole process should be very dynamic.
An era of forming global conglomeration will come in the future
Initiative for clustering in many regions has been remained, so far, on the level of conventional "exchange of different industries" or an adaptation of the so-called technopolis.
With the enactment of the "Law on Measures concerning Regional Industry Zone Re-vitalization" in March 1997, the measures for the conglomeration of businesses having basic or indispensable production technologies, or of small- and mid-size enterprises as a strong base for self supporting regional economic development, started. The "Designated Region as Having Vitalization Program" under the measure, however, is somewhat narrowly defined. Almost no regions extending over two prefectures are designated under this system. Due to the nature of the policy, designated regions are limited to industrial districts.
Related policy budget is appropriated for facilities of cooperative system between universities, industries and administration, and for projects of advanced application improvement. However, shaping and/or strengthening clusters born from historical or cultural ties are not covered by the budget.
Anyway, we are still at the trial and error stage. From now on public administration may be required to support cluster shaping in many regions in terms of "software" as well as of infrastructure based on a grand design even if the main initiative should come from the side of the public.
Ultimately we could expect that leading clusters of various countries will internationally, or in the East Asian Block for example, unite together to form a global body, which might be called "cluster of clusters."
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