What is a "Business Cluster?"
According to Harvard Business School, "Clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions in a particular field that are present in a nation or region. Clusters arise because they increase the productivity with which companies can compete."
What are the elements present in a "Business Cluster?"
You need a learning institution such as a university or community college and a city, county government or workforce development council or chamber of commerce. In addition, you need small businesses and individuals with potentially marketable ideas for products or services and a research facility that can assist in bringing great ideas through the patent and product development process. Finally, you need an organization or people with the business management and marketing skills necessary to go from prototype to business launch. Angel investors and grants play a role in financing.
Many communities have all those elements but need to develop a formal working relationship with clear expectations to make economic development happen. Small business owners and college students need to be surveyed to locate those who have potentially marketable ideas.
From there you need a research organization like Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and/or Impact Washington to help with vetting the ideas to winnow the field down to products that can be developed and brought to market.
About Pacific Northwest National Laboratory "The Economic Development Office at PNNL is here to help you start, grow, or revitalize your business. We help you tap into technology experts, facilities, and other resources available at the Laboratory...some at no cost to you."
"We've helped more than 400 companies in our region and 100 more nationwide. Our goals: to expand the economy's technology sector and create high-value jobs."
About Impact Washington: Impact Washington is a not-for-profit organization that helps Washington manufacturers and manufacturing compete globally. "We help you thrive through expert consulting, training programs, educational and industry events and resources that willincrease your profits, develop your people, help you be more sustainable andbuild your business."
What does this have to do with Sustainability?
Economic sustainability is not possible in an environment in which a community tries to attract outside corporations to relocate. A community successful at attracting new industry is one with cheap land and labor, and tax abatements. Typically, once the standard of living in that area has risen with the accompanying increase in cost of doing business, the company picks up and moves to a location where land and labor was cheaper, sometimes overseas. You saw this in Mexico where many US corporations located there precisely because of the cheap land and labor.
As the standard of living rose in towns just south of the border, so did the cost of doing business. Most of those corporations subsequently moved to Asia, leaving behind the populations that had become dependent on the income from those corporations.
Growing our jobs within a community has multiple advantages. A community's future is no longer tied to the decisions of a large corporation.The investment is in the community and its infrastructure. Should a business choose to leave, it does not take that investment with them. Local companies that develop will usually draw labor locally instead of importing a work force. As economic development takes hold in an environment of community building, existing and new relationships are strengthened.
Because locally grown businesses have a stake in the health of the community, they are less likely to undertake practices that would harmthe local environment.
In Shoreline, there is a developing culture of sustainability with multiple organizations with goals in support of that culture. With Shoreline Community College's programs in sustainability and local entrepreneurs creating alternative vehicles and the many connections to solar and energy efficient building, the community is ripe with the potentialof spawning multiple innovating companies that will bring new jobs to thecommunity.