Clusters strategic planning

Marcos Fava Neves


In four chilly days of May, around 300 clusters practitioners from 10 different countries met in the beautiful city of Ouro Preto, in Brazil, considered as a world heritage for its old architecture and churches. This inspirational environment with a perfect organization conducted by SEBRAE-MG was a stimulus to discuss important topics and challenges related to clusters.

For the ones not familiar with this concept, a cluster is “a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters are considered to increase the productivity with which companies can compete, nationally and globally” (from Free Dictionary). Michael Porter was one of the first authors to study and write about this collective actions initiative.

First, there is a common sense that clusters are facing a huge pressure due to global environmental changes. The fact is that these global changes and impacts are speeding dramatically, turning the environment where clusters operate much more complex to understand.

The major changes affecting clusters planning and management are higher exposure to global competition and currency exchange rates war, an increase in volumes and speed of financial flows with a business concentration model towards scale economies, efficiency and cost controls.

Clusters also face increasing risks (financial, sanitary, image among others), the emergence of new business models, increase in the importance of the services based economy and the fast rate of innovation and technology change.

Government’s changing role towards the regulation of economic activity is another challenge to be addressed. At the consumer side, pressure of time, individualization, high connectivity and excess of messages and communication also sets the need to change the traditional way of doing business in clusters.

Another bundle of rapidly changing facts are the emerging green and carbon economy, the growing consumption of goods all over the world and the pressure over commodities prices and the exploitation of natural resources like water, oil, land and energy, resettling locations of production.

All these points put pressure over margins, increases the costs of time allocation and as a consequence, a need to increase cluster’s efficiency. Several impacts of all these global changes happen over cluster’s structure, calling for a re-think of its planning, governance and management.

In terms of strategic planning and management, to face this fast changing environment, a cluster must, more than ever, to be demand driven (basic act for survival), offering the solutions demanded by the changing consumers, be focused on the major objective and target, must promote useful cooperation among partners, and one of the most important an new facts: must be always measuring and showing results of this clusters cooperation and collective actions to the participants and stakeholders.

The philosophy of a cluster must be “result driven”. A simple governance mode, with low cost and high effectiveness is crucial. At the same side, clusters managers and thinkers should dedicate a time to plan, to think, to anticipate changes and impacts and develop the capacity to rapidly adapt the cluster to these changes, which is not easy.

A good communication process should be done to keep the interest and motivation of participants to cooperate. Clusters should also focus to partner with Government to promote business inclusion and a discipline to make it happen. Normally clusters have more difficulties than isolated companies to implement what is proposed in a strategic planning. To implement strategies is crucial for clusters survival.

In a world of changing role of Governments, clusters should act more as public policies designers, helping local Governments to modernize and also, to transform institutions. Clusters, as a “meso” organization, can be responsible to make Governments increase their speed of modernization, following more closely the speed of the private sector. Good ideas also involve cooperation among different clusters, sharing good practices and problem solving solutions, since the challenges sometimes are the same, and some clusters solved their problems developing knowledge that is useful to other clusters. A continuous process of sharing and learning makes part of a life of a cluster.

Clusters are well known and recognized as a tool for economic development, for territory management, and these network structures are facing several changes that are challenging their structure. This article brought some of these changes and the actions that clusters should take to face them and continue to be competitive in the future.

The author is professor of strategic planning and food chains at the School of Economics and Business, University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) and international speaker. Has 25 books published in 7 countries. (

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