Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Regional Innovation Economies

As I travel around the country--and now the world--I'm starting to see some very interesting and provocative economic shifts--part real, part still potential.

In both rural areas such as Appalachian Ohio and in urban centers such as Accra in Ghana, entrepreneurship is everywhere. it feels like an increasing number of what used to be LOCAL entrepreneurs (having only local markets) are networking to become REGIONAL entrepreneurs serving sets of urban markets around them--often crossing state or national boundaries. This is happening through regional innovation networks that are just starting to emerge. I think we all need to examine these closely and figure out ways to help them form all over the world.

What are regional innovation networks? From the fragmentary evidence we have so far, they seem to consist of
*entrepreneurial networks supported by creative NGOs or non-profits,
*regional catalysts and facilitators who work with those entrepreneurs to develop new regional distribution and marketing vehicles,
*consumers that value and pay for authentic regional services and products,
*a set of innovation and/or commercialization services that enable all types of businesses to move to high-value niches in the market,
*and a culture of innovation--that includes governmental policies that support and encourage regionalism.

Why are regional innovation networks so important? If an artisan in Appalachia or Ghana figures out ways to work with others to get their products to larger, but still close at hand, markets, they will start expanding and creating more jobs. And, by helping entrepreneurs focus on innovative niches, those jobs tend to be higher paying and higher quality.

Has anyone else been seeing signs that regional innovation economies are emerging? How can we weave the networks that are the foundation of such transformation?


SteveHabibRose said...

A few years ago, I noted the emergence of what I called "multi-issue regional networks." You are describing an interesting and natural evolution for them.

I know of several regional networks that could serve as a starting point for "regional innovation economies." A large number of organizers are working together in the Seattle area in a loose network some of us refer to as "The People Web." It includes the Interra Project, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the Black Dollar Days Buy Local Coalition, the Center for Ethical Leadership and a number of other justice and sustainability oriented activists, nonprofits, and socially minded businesses.

The Interra Project could be a natural starting point for such a collaboration. It has already launched in Boston, in collaboration with Boston Main Streets, and is about to launch in Southeast Seattle -- which is, I believe, the most ethnically diverse zip code in the U.S. Jon Ramer, the principal organizer, is already launching a number of initiatives in partnership with other folks, such as a "Mesh-Up"/"Mash-Up" of online databases.

Since I'm in Seattle, I have the closest connections with this regional network. But, I've also had a bit of contact with Sustain Dane, a somewhat similar regional network in Madison Wisconsin. Sustain Dane, in ways, is ahead of us in the Seattle area. Madison is a much smaller geographic area, and would not be a bad choice for a pilot as well.

Judy Wicks, the president and founder of White Dog Enterprises is doing great work in Philadelphia. She is one of the co-founders of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. They would be a natural partner for this sort of an initiative.

Back on the "left coast," Salmon Nation, based in Portland, Oregon, is doing some interesting things in the Pacific Northwest bioregion. Portland also is the home of City Repair, which has recently expanded to Seattle. It might be possible to weave together a number of initiatives in the Pacific Northwest/Cascadia area.

My suggestion would be to start by exploring something in partnership with some of my associates in Seattle, and expand from here. There is fertile ground here, but your experience would be most helpful in helping things to grow!

SteveHabibRose said...

Another post that used the term "indicators" made me think of Sustainable Seattle, which was one of the leaders in defining indicators for community sustainability. My friend Viki Sonntag, who introduced me to your paper on Networking Weaving, is a consultant to Sustainable Seattle. There might be opportunities to work them into a collaborative effort as well.

bsuresh said...

Dont these regional networks not fall under the category of cluter studies? But then in cluster, most entrepreneurs are bound by a single product entity be it raw material or finished product. Are the network of entrepreneur you are mentioning, produce different products? there are few studies that have identified growth of clusters depending on the markets they serve. The stylised typology they developed was to act as indicator to enable the 'endogenous upgrading' of the cluster.

June said...

The concept of regional economies differs from clusters since, as you point out, a cluster is the set of businesses serving a market of set of related markets. A regional economy has at least several major clusters.

Also, this concept is an attempt to start identifying the many benefits of intra-regional trading and the impact of an innovative regional culture on the export economy of a region.

SteveHabibRose said...

I'm not familiar with the term "cluster" In the Seattle area, much of the current organizing is around food issues -- sustainable local food production, making connections between small farms and restaurants/schools/institutions, etc. Many of the people involved with these issues know one another and collaborate in a variety of ways. Is that an example of an emerging "cluster"?

If so, there are several emerging clusters in this region (around energy, transportation, etc.). This may be one of the many situations that social network analysis would be useful -- to help identify the clusters, which are ready to be strengthened, which are starting to connect with one another etc.

June said...

Yes, we've developed some innovative ideas about how to use network mapping software and analysis to identify and then enhance regional clusters.

SteveHabibRose said...

As I learn more about the field, I'd be very interested in learning more about your applications. I've got a lot to learn!