The Continuous Reinvention of the Province of Limburg Published on: 14/08/2014, Last update: 29/01/2015
The manufacturing industry in the Province of Limburg is facing a situation in which its products are becoming indistinguishable from others and consumers are buying on price alone. Other problems include increasing competition and short time-to-market. Thus, there is an urgent need to create new forms of added value and new business models and to capitalise on the opportunities in service innovation. Although the province boasts several multinational companies, policy initiatives and knowledge campuses, the challenge is to foster a more service-oriented culture in manufacturing firms, especially amongst SMEs. The regional eco-system is rather fragmented and more needs to be done to align the campuses, service-related policy initiatives and other policy programmes.
The regional development strategy is centred on several regional knowledge hubs, which include:
- Chemelot, as a centre of the chemicals industry and related materials including goods and services;
- The Health Campus is related to the academic work of Maastricht University, the Maastricht Medical Centre and firms in the cluster of life sciences and health, chemicals and medical, precision and optical instruments;
- Document Services Valley originated in the machine and equipment manufacturing sector and is linked to logistics and ICT. It started around Océ in Venlo, which is a manufacturer of printing and copying machines and a provider of related software services, and it is now part of the international Canon Group;
- Greenport is related to the agro-food and horticulture cluster in the northern part of the province and it is the logistics hotspot for the export of agro-food and horticulture products to Germany; and
- The Smart Services Hub is linked to specialised business services, financial services and public administration, in the Heerlen region where the All Pensions Group (APG) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS) are also located.
Strengths and weaknesses in Limburg’s innovation system
Lessons being learned that might be reflected in future policies
Various moves are being made within Limburg to ensure that appropriate policies are being established or renewed to promote the extension of service innovation.
Initially, the ESIC team recommended the definition of a clear governance structure that would outline who coordinates and implements the Large-scale Demonstrator strategy and also the tasks of the other actors involved. Although this step seems to be straightforward, it is crucial if the service innovation agenda is to be driven forward.
As part of the Large-scale Demonstrator strategy, the Province has become committed to making further efforts to identify synergies between policy initiatives that can contribute to the increased introduction of service innovation into manufacturing sectors and the further (smart) specialisation of the regional economy. The challenge is not to ‘break down silos’, but to create ’viable bridges’ between them. This refers to bridges between sector-specific campuses, horizontal programmes such as LimburgMakers and dedicated service initiatives such as the Service Science Factory (see below).
The establishment of a permanent platform as a focal point for learning about service innovation is under active consideration. It is felt that such a platform could facilitate knowledge exchange, opportunities for stakeholders from industry and research to meet, occasions to discuss project proposals, continuous and incremental innovation and the discovery of relevant support programmes at regional, national, cross-border and European levels.
There are other important areas of Limburg’s economy that are not yet covered by the campuses and the service initiatives. Thus, the Province will review the relationship between these hub interventions and the rest of the regional economy including sectors such as ICT, specialised instruments and the automotive industry.
In a similar vein, the ESIC team pointed out that it was important for the Province of Limburg to maintain the goals of its regional development and innovation strategies and so key performance indicators will be determined to help to create a long-term vision that will have cross- party political support.
Practices that have the potential for transfer
The Service Science Factory was initiated by the University of Maastricht in 2010. It aims to stimulate service innovation in the Province of Limburg. Firms wishing to develop a new service can hire a team of professionals or students to undertake a project that is valuable to all parties involved.
The LimburgMakers programme that was launched in 2013 recognises how services can contribute to the success of economic activity in manufacturing sectors. It has a budget of €10 million over three years to help manufacturing firms with the development of both new products and services.