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.”[1]

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 October 2010, 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 startup phase, JEDC assembled and facilitated 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. This collaborative effort initially launched between 5 and 10 actionable initiatives for each Cluster Working Group. In 2012, JEDC facilitated the formation of the Mining Services and Supply and, in 2013, the Research and Development Cluster.  With JEDC facilitation, the Mining Services and Supply cluster initially launched six action initiatives.  The Research cluster also finalized six initiatives for launch in the second half of 2013.

Since 2012, the focus of activity for all groups transitioned from initiative development to initiative implementation, with the creation of over 30 initiative implementation teams to follow through on action steps, each a team of stakeholders led by a volunteer Champion. 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.”[2]

Currently, 23 initiatives are actively championed by industry with the expectation that these initiatives will lead to increased business development, jobs and regional prosperity. These initiatives call for resource deployment based on industry priorities in areas that include increased guided access to Forest Service lands with corresponding enhancement projects, value added resource utilization, and coordinated industry communication and outreach. The process has also highlighted promising new areas of economic development for Southeast Alaska, such as electric transportation and mariculture.

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. The success of that event led to creation of the 2013 Innovation Summit, which 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 in Southeast Alaska.  The event grew in attendance and impact with the 2014 Innovation Summit. It has become an annual gathering of leaders interested in forming better solutions to further the economy of Southeast.  The forum fosters collaboration across sectors and industries and delivers fresh ideas and new perspectives from in and outside of Alaska. Keynote speakers in 2014 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 from the National Governor's Association, talking about the role of Government in Innovation, sharing success stories from state governments around the nation; Patrice Kunech, Deputy Undersecretary of Rural Development at USDA, speaking on innovators in government; and Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of ArtPlace America, speaking on creative placemaking.

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.