This year Mesopartner (Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke) again joined the Annual gathering of the global cluster community. On this occasion, the TCI-Network Global Conference took place in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, and was hosted by the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity (@Institute_ICP) of the Rotman School of Management.

This year’s title was “Collaborating to Compete – Clusters in Action”. A first practical insight to the contribution of clusters to regional development was delivered by the Emerging Tech Tour (one of seven cluster immersion experiences). After a two-hour bus drive from Toronto, a group of twenty cluster enthusiasts from different parts of the world arrived in the Tri-City Region, Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo. With over 500.000 inhabitants, it is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Ontario.

The region’s history is characterised by the presence of German settlers, who still celebrate a typical Oktoberfest. Manufacturing, especially the tanning and leather industry, was for a long time the backbone of the local economy. These traditional industries declined during the last decades of the 20th century, with very negative impacts on employment. Fortunately, the tri-cities were able to master structural change successfully. They built on the local entrepreneurial spirit, with support from the University of Waterloo. Today, the area is known for its high concentration of information technology companies – including Google, BlackBerry, OpenText – which is why it is often referred to as "Canada's Silicon Valley”.

During the Emerging Cluster Tour, the group visited four institutions. The tour was organised in such a way that it started with basic research and became more business oriented at each stop. First of all, we visited The Perimeter Institute (@Perimeter), a leading centre for scientific research, training and educational outreach on the foundations of theoretical physics. Next, the group went to the Institute of Quantum Computing (@UWaterlooQC) at the University of Waterloo. Both institutions were created thanks to the vision and investment of Blackberry’s founder Mike Lazaridis. Today, the region is promoting itself as global hub of the quantum revolution.

The decisive role played by Blackberry in the region was also evident at Communitech (@Communitech), a public private innovation hub founded by a group of entrepreneurs. When BlackBerry laid off thousands of workers in 2013/14, Communitech helped more than 1,200 workers to find new jobs and assisted 22 startups #tci2018. The link with local economic history is clearly visible, given that Communitech is located in the former Lang Tannery. This building was reconstructed and is now an incubator, accelerator and coworking space.

The last stop on the trip was Google Canada headquarters in Kitchener. The promotors of economic development highlighted the importance of attracting multinational tech cooperation to the region. The local presence of Google also increases opportunities for the students of the University of Waterloo to find jobs in the region. Nevertheless, most of the university graduates leave the area after completing their studies, with many going the US and toSilicon Valley in particular. Therefore, it remains a challenge to keep talent in the tri-city region.

The issue of attracting and retaining talent was also a key theme throughout the event. This challenge is one faced by many other countries and regions represented at the TCI Network Global Conference. Gender diversity and entrepreneur and workforce clusters were also seen as requirements for territorial innovation.

The trip to Toronto was an enriching experience and showed how Canada is taking the cluster approach seriously in order to promote structural change. The Minister Navdeep Bains explained that the country is spending 950 million Canadian dollars to promote Superclusters in digital technology, protein industries, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and ocean industries. Comparatively speaking, these innovation hotbeds have stronger connections, a long-term competitive advantage, global brand recognition, and an outsized positive impact on job creation and economic growth.

Mesopartner’s contribution to the conference was to raise attention on cluster promotion in developing countries. Using the case of the promotion of clusters in the Caribbean, Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke, together with Martin Dellavedova (SISTME), presented the use of the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) and Social Network Analysis (SNA) to enable Business Support Organisations (BSO) to promote clusters. In a workshop setting other cluster practitioners provided valuable feedback, and it was interesting to observe the similarities between the approach to cluster promotion in developing and industrialised countries.

Our participation in the TCI Conference has helped to update Mesopartner’s knowledge about cluster and economic promotion. We will use the learnings and contacts to strengthen our continuous involvement in cluster promotion around the world.