Southeast Cluster Initiative

Focused on enhancing the competitiveness of businesses in five economic clusters. For more information on each cluster, please select a link below:

Why Southeast Alaska Cluster Initiative? 

"The foundation of a regional economy is a group of clusters, not a collection of unrelated firms. Firms cluster together within a region because each firm benefits from being located near other similar or related firms. The firms in a cluster have common competitive strengths and needs."

An "industry cluster" is a set of businesses, in the same or related field and located near one another, which are linked by service or supplier relationships, common customers and supporting institutions or other relationships. They share reliance on regional knowledge and on the regional labor market. They compete with one another but also complement one another. They draw productive advantage from their mutual proximity and connections.

Since early 2011, the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) has been provided the opportunity to bring an industry cluster based planning approach to the Southeast Alaska region under a contract awarded by the USDA Forest Service. JEDC's Southeast Alaska Cluster Initiative has successfully brought private sector "industry clusters" together with federal, state and local agencies, university faculty, trade association representatives, economic development organizations, community leaders and other stakeholders to address industry needs, concerns and opportunities on a cooperative basis. Since its inception, the Southeast Alaska Cluster Initiative has been a successful catalyst for private-public partnerships. It has supported implementation of the USDA Forest Service and Rural Development unified regional "Transition Framework" economic development plan for Southeast Alaska.

In its initial phase, JEDC assembled and facilitated startup of four industry Cluster Working Groups in three established and one emerging industry sectors: Visitor Products, Ocean Products, Forest Products, and Renewable Energy. These four industry working groups developed actionable initiatives unique to the needs and opportunities of each industry, developing between 5 and 10 actionable initiatives for each Cluster Working Group. The 2012, JEDC facilitated the formation of the Mining Services and Supply Cluster Working Group and, in 2013, the Research and Development Cluster Working Group, each cluster initially developing six action initiatives. In 2015, JEDC is working toward the establishment of an Arts and Culture Working Group.

With the development of actionable initiatives, the focus of activity for all groups transitioned to initiative implementation, leading to the creation of over 30 initiative implementation teams to follow through on action steps, each a team of stakeholders led by a volunteer Champion. Over time, some initiatives gained traction, saw activity and success; others became inactive. An example of successful industry-government cooperation resulting from the cluster initiative is the formation of a new industry led non-profit, The Working Forest Group, formed in June 2012, to take over and continue the Forest Product cluster's initiative work on Young Growth and Old Growth analysis through cooperative agreements. JEDC transitioned facilitation of the Forest Products cluster to this group at the request of this non-profit, led by Sealaska Timber.

"Regional industry clusters – synergistic regional concentrations of industry and related activity in particular fields – represents a powerful source of growth, new-firm starts, and quality jobs at a moment of economic uncertainty."

Currently, 20 plus initiatives are actively championed by industry with the expectation that these initiatives will bring innovative ideas, tools or collaboration to their industry. Visitor Products initiatives to increase guided access to Forest Service land have brought about a new appreciation in Forest Service management of the need for flexibility to respond to changing market needs in the region and innovative ideas for commercial activity where infrastructure constraints have limited access. Ocean Products activities have supported innovation in industry and government collaboration in the development of a new industry around mariculture. In the Renewable Energy sector, participants have identified electric transportation a nascent industry with high development potential. The Electric Vehicle initiative has accelerated investment in infrastructure needed for bringing this innovative transportation alternative to the region. The biomass initiative has contributed to local renewable resource utilization through diverse biomass infrastructure installments throughout Southeast Alaska. The Research and Development Cluster has seen an increase in collaboration in inter-agency channels of communication with the continuation of a speaker series. A formal request for recognition of the region as an Area of Excellence has been submitted to the State of Alaska.

In December 2011, JEDC convened the first Southeast Alaska Economic Summit which brought all four Cluster Working Groups active at that time together to advance the work of the clusters, share best practices and connect cluster participants with local community, government and business leaders. In 2013, JEDC worked to improve the cluster-specific business environment in Southeast Alaska by organizing a regional Innovation Summit early in the year to focus on the role of shared value in fostering industry innovation. "Shared value" is the achievement of economic success for business through products and/or services that also create value for society. This event brought together over 180 leaders in business, government and education to cultivate ideas and collaborate for economic success in the region. The two-day summit included an agenda packed with professional development and networking opportunities, as well as sessions focused on key industries and challenges specific to Southeast Alaska. JEDC's well-attended Summit won a Silver level award for innovation from the International Economic Development Council in the special event category.

The event grew in attendance and impact with the January 2014 Innovation Summit. Keynote speakers included Thor Sigfussen from the Iceland Ocean Cluster, who spoke on the success of Economic Clusters in Iceland and how they have dramatically increased the value of cod by diversification and innovation; Mary Jo Waits, Director of the Economic and Workforce Development Division at the National Governors Association, talking about the role of Government in Innovation, sharing success stories from state governments around the nation; Patrice Kunesh, Deputy Undersecretary of Rural Development at USDA, speaking on innovators in government; and Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of ArtPlace America, speaking on creative placemaking.

JEDC's third Innovation Summit took place January 28 and 29, 2015. One keynote speaker was Dr. Scott Stern, Chair of the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management Group at MIT Sloan School of Management. Dr. Stern's research in the economics of innovation and entrepreneurship focuses on entrepreneurial strategy, innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems, and innovation. The second keynote was Armelle Solelhac, representing the French Mountain Cluster, which for the past four years has been working to strengthen the mountain tourism (winter and summer) in the French Alps. Ms. Solelhac is founder of SWiTCH Consulting, an experiential marketing and digital communication agency specialized in tourism and outdoor sports. Third keynote was Mark Skinner, Vice President and Director of the Regional Innovation Acceleration Network (RIAN). RIAN strives to grow the impact of public, private and philanthropic investments in science, technology and innovation.

One of the central tenets of the cluster-based model of economic development is that the most economically successful regions have managed to knit together companies, teaching and research institutions, and government at multiple levels to create a uniquely competitive industry. The success of the Southeast Cluster Initiative has been the forging of new relationships and partnerships in our region between industry, government, the university and other agencies or non-profit entities, the increased understanding of economic development issues in our region, and the advancement of the priorities of our identified cluster working groups.

[1] Joseph Cortright, Making Sense of Clusters: Regional Competitiveness and Economic Development, The Brookings Institution, March 2006.

[2] Mark Muro and Kenan Fikri, Job Creation on a Budget: How Regional Industry Clusters Can Add Jobs, Bolster Entrepreneurship, and Spark Innovation. Brookings-Rockefeller, Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation, January 2011.