Small firms, a critical element of economic growth and job creation, are a particularly strong force when grouped into local networks, or clusters, specialising in compatible industries. Representatives of such networks from 35 countries, many outside the OECD, came together with policymakers in Paris in January for a World Congress on Local Clusters, organised by the OECD's Local Economic and Employment Development Programme (LEED) and the French Delegation for Territorial Planning and Regional Action (DATAR).
"Clusters demonstrate that every territory is different in its industries and structures. It is therefore no longer possible to deliver a simple top-down policy," OECD’s secretary general, Donald Johnston, told the 1,000-plus participants. "Every territory must design its own initiatives, tailored to its own needs."
France's minister for spatial planning and environment Dominique Voynet, told the gathering that "globalisation makes it more necessary than ever to strengthen networks around a local identity, a local reality. Globalisation is a further spur to co-operate and work together locally."
And clusters help boost local economies, she said, citing the example of a marine products cluster in Vendée, France, where 15 small enterprises, from fishery firms to distributors, boosted employment by 87% between 1993-98, compared with a 20% shrinking of employment in the sector nationally.
©OECD Observer No 225, March 2001