Industry and Entrepreneurship
Nearly 40% of European workers are employed by companies that are part of a cluster - which can be defined as a group of firms focussed on specific productions, located near each other and relying on specialised expertise, services, resources, suppliers and skills. The European Cluster Observatory has identified in Europe around 2000 statistically significant clusters which continuously contribute to increasing innovation, growth and jobs in Europe.
It is therefore clear that clusters are at the core of Europe's industrial base, and are the origin of many innovative products which have moulded Europe’s economic history - from the steelworks of Lorraine and the Saarland to the cutlery of Sheffield; from the silk district of Northern Italy (now turned into an avant-garde textile dye location) to the metal-works of the Alpine region.
"Clusters are a key component of regional development. They foster local strengths and optimise resources and ideas. They are a pillar of Europe's industrial base and need to remain so. They have played this role for centuries. To make sure they will maintain it in the future, we have to be ambitious and multiply our world-class clusters through increased cross-border cooperation and excellence".
Such agglomerations are predominantly a market-driven phenomenon. Many clusters are created spontaneously as a result of natural competitive advantages, such as the presence of a specific resource in the region where they sprouted. Once the cluster is born, market forces tend to favour the development of nearby supply chains. A healthy high-tech car parts cluster has for instance grown up around Stuttgart to supply local carmakers, such as Daimler and Porsche.
But clusters do not always emerge spontaneously. In recent years, forward-looking public policies, business initiatives or top-class universities and research institutes have been instrumental in the creation of strong clusters. The European Commission is staunchly committed to help strengthening existing clusters and favour the emergence of clusters in new business areas.
A key objective is to extend the scope of European clusters and foster trans-national cooperation. Clusters best evolve in an environment characterised by entrepreneurial spirit and different synergies between local companies. However, in a highly competitive and globalised world, being part of global value chains and a constant innovation flow is also paramount.
A great example of resilience comes from Sassuolo, a small town in Central Italy, which has for centuries been a major centre for tile production. The tile cluster emerged thanks to the high quality of the clay found around the town. But over the centuries, its clay deposits were depleted. Nevertheless, thanks to innovation and the constant improvement of the skills acquired over centuries, Sassuolo and Faenza (which gave its name to the tiling industry – known as “faience” in French) remain today a major reference point for tile companies - which now source expertise rather than raw materials.