New thinking to drive regional economic development
What are the best ways to revive the economic fortunes of Europe's poorer regions and urban areas? An EU-funded project has looked to America to see how a focus local innovation policies can boost regional and urban development. The recommendations will feed into policymaking for jobs and growth.
© Sergey Nivens - fotolia.com
The European Union is keen to see lagging regions catch up with their richer neighbours. To that end it promotes the use of smart specialisation strategies (S3) to drive regional economic development. Simply put, the idea of S3 is that regions must play to their strengths and nurture technological innovation if they are to prosper in the future.
“The main challenge is to reverse the persistent gap among lagging regions in Europe which remain at the same development stage despite being provided with long-term EU structural funds which are supposed to improve their research base, innovation capacity and economic development prospects,” explains Carmelina Bevilacqua, coordinator of the MAPS-LED project.
MAPS-LED is looking at how S3 can best be implemented to enhance local development by taking account of a region’s territorial uniqueness, as well as a variety of social and environmental factors.
Plenty of other issues are being examined by this multi-disciplinary research team including the role clusters of hi-tech businesses can play in driving local development; how best to stimulate industrial innovation policy at the local level; and the role public administrations, research institutions and communities play in nurturing what is know as the entrepreneurship discovery process. This process is about finding which emerging hi-tech economic sectors can be exploited to make the most of a region’s underlying potential.
Project researchers have examined economic development issues in the US cities of Boston, Cambridge and San Diego to find out how innovation policy can be harnessed to drive growth in specific localities.
“Boston and Cambridge are cities where cluster innovation policy and urban planning act in a complementary way to support the regeneration of the local economy,” says Bevilacqua. “Our initial findings from these places have allowed us to identify a link between the city and S3 and show that the introduction of an innovation-driven urban policy is important to the entrepreneurial discovery process.”
The project’s analysis of urban transformation initiatives in Boston and Cambridge reveal that allocating space for innovation is becoming a zoning requirement in everyday planning activities, just as it is for commerce, residential areas and education.
The MAPS-LED team believes this link between planning and innovation policy means that a bottom-up approach works best for the entrepreneurial discovery process. In other words, local people and organisations are in the best position to know what can drive a city’s regeneration and deliver economic change.
MAPS-LED is backed by the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie staff exchange programme. The project provides for the training of young European researchers at the Northeastern University of Boston and San Diego State University.
The young researchers took classes in economics and regional development through which they acquired knowledge about US innovation systems. Specifically, they compared regeneration and business development initiatives in Boston and San Diego work which is proving vital to the project’s understanding of how urban areas can make the most of innovation and the knowledge economy. The project will deliver its final conclusions in 2019.