Some days ago, I attended a conference of Dr. Miquel Barceló. He, apart from being “an epic reference of the technological development in
Catalonia” (as I dared to say some day, far away in the time: he was one of the members of my PhD dissertation court) was the alma mater and CEO of 22@, the biggest economic-promotion operation in urban area in Europe. And a successful iniciative, worldwide recognized. He explained the strategic planning process to develop such an operation, which goal was to lead the transition from a diffused, depressed and post-industrial city, to a new, compact, knowledge-intensive and worldwide interconnected urban area to position in the epicenter of the innovation world. Barcelona
I’ll summarize some key issues, that conform a model that could be reproducible in any other city with the will to be internationally competitive and recognized.
First, the physic layer: In words of Dr. Barceló, according to Salvador Rueda, an urban ecologist, the footprint of
during the last 25 years of the XX century, had been similar in extension and impact that the footprint left since the Roman foundation of the city. It’s the rule of the exponential numbers. We’re in an era of exponential change. And, to lead the change and take profit of the new environment (openness, global competition, knowledge creation, creativity as a competitive advantage, international talent attraction etc.), the first step is to refine from a strategic point of view the urban planning of the district: which will be the new uses of the urban space to guarantee the attractiveness of the operation: green areas, space for office buildings and company HQs, public soil to attract research and university centres. It’s necessary a smart strategy to mix the several kinds of spaces, to attract private investments by means of public-private partnerships, and to offer public soil to lock in research activities. This is a win-win strategy, where everybody takes advantage of the agglomeration economies that are stimulated. And, of course, below this layer, it’s necessary to deploy the connectivity hardware: energy equipments, broadband communications, and the proper public transportation facilities. Barcelona
Second, the economic strategy: Which are the basic conditions, those where
(and, specially), the district, could have initial competitive advantages? Dr. Barceló took the experience and academic reflexions of professors like Michael Porter. It’s clear that nobody can build a cluster from scratch. It’s necessary a seed to build on. And several economic sectors started to arise as the initial ones to create the agglomeration effect: media (the Barcelona Pompeu Fabra University had some powerful research groups in this field, willing to be open to the industry –and the first strategic plan for was developed-). ICT (there were several ICT start-up’s in the area, and a new technological centre was created to dynamize the cluster and structure cooperative projects with firms, with the support of an important financial entity in Catalonia). Medical Devices ( Barcelona Media Tech Center is well known by its powerful hospital network, its biotech potential and the excellence of the research groups in biomedicine). And, the last one, energy, field in which another technological centre was launched from the partnership between a group of leader companies (Gas Natural, Endesa) and the Politecnical University of Catalonia, among others. Barcelona
Third, building the innovation ecosystem: The decision-making process has to be maintained in the long-term. The ecosystem has to strength its internal links. Building clusters, in words of Ifor Ffowcs – Williams, one of the main international experts in clusters, is “strengthening relationships and creating trust”. And to do that, it’s necessary to have the proper services to structure complex projects between companies and research centres. To look for funding. To provide IP assessment. To attract the best international talent (to teach in the cluster, to give conferences and, if possible, to stablish it there). It’s good to have business angels and venture investors circulating around. It’s necessary to have the complicity of the regional government to priorize the attraction of selective, external investments to the place. And to do that, it’s essential to build a powerful, atractive brand.
Four, governance: Leadership, long-term commitment, and a smart executive team to maintain active the innovation layer, to develop commercial and communication activities, with several dimensions (real-state marketing –to attract promoters and facility investors-, institutional marketing – to gain complicities and attract public, knowledge-based activities and enterprise marketing – to attract new private operations in the selected fields-).
22@ is a great example of economic promotion in urban area. It created a model valid worldwide. In my opinion, the key success factor has been the clever combination of all those strategies: physical and real-state strategy, economic strategy and innovation strategy. All this, with the leadership and the momentum of an outstanding team (basicly, Miquel Barceló, Sergi Guillot, Oriol Alcoba and Anna Majó).
(I write in english because many people from abroad has shown interest in the model)