The organization and dynamics of industry clustering and innovation are key factors in contemporary regional economic development. In Newfoundland and Labrador generally, and the St. John’s city region specifically, industries in the ocean technology sector are perceived to be of special importance to the region’s present and future economic performance. Yet, the dynamics of clustering and innovation in this sector are not well understood.
This study analyzes the organization and dynamics of clustering and innovation in the ocean technology sector and suggests possible recommendations to stakeholders in government and industry for enhancing the sector’s competitiveness.
Clustering and learning and innovation systems (LISs) are similar but different phenomena. Clusters can be understood as groups of systematically co-located firms and other organizations (e.g., government, research institutes, trade associations, universities) that exhibit strong inter-organizational ties or linkages. These linkages may be comprised of, for example, buyer-supplier relationships, labour market specializations, and product or service specializations, among other possibilities. The organization and dynamics of clusters depends on the quantity and quality of such linkages as well as their orientation i.e., whether linkages are predominantly inward (toward other co-located firms/organizations within a region), outward (toward other firms/organizations outside a region), or some combination thereof.
Learning and innovation systems are similar to clusters in that they are comprised of linkages between firms and other organizations. LISs are comprised of flows of knowledge that lead to the creation of novel goods and services. Thus, analyses of the organization and dynamics of LISs tend to focus on such factors as labour flows between firms/organizations, labour force educational characteristics, R&D collaborations, strategic alliances, and patenting activity, among other possibilities.
This study analyzes the organization and dynamics of clustering and innovation in the ocean technology sector in Newfoundland and Labrador and the St. John’s city-region. The sector matches national benchmark criteria for clustering and is predominately externally oriented towards firms/organizations outside the region. The network of buyer/supplier relationships and collaborative relationships internal to the cluster, other than those related to Memorial University (MUN), focuses on only a few firms. The cluster’s outward orientation coupled with the dominance of only a few firms within the cluster suggests the cluster is vulnerable to external economic shocks.
In addition to the clustering dynamics in the Newfoundland and Labrador ocean technology sector, there is ample evidence to suggest that the sector comprises a learning and innovation system (LIS). A key feature of LISs is the exchange of knowledge between firms and other organizations. The majority of ocean technology firms have hired from other firms in the St. Johns city region. Furthermore, the majority of firms have employees who were employed previously in an ocean technology organization in the St. John’s city region. These findings indicate that labour circulation within the local ocean technology labour market is an important feature of the ocean technology cluster. It further suggests that the cluster constitutes a LIS where firms learn from one another as employees move from one firm to another. Additional recommendations address industry concerns and potential for future development of the ocean technology sector in the St. John’s city region.