According to Harvard University's Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, clusters are defined as geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field that are present in a nation or region. Clusters arise because they increase the productivity with which companies can compete. The development and upgrading of clusters is an important agenda for governments, companies and other institutions.
The 1st International GIS Cluster Conference was held in Gavle, Sweden in 2008 with representatives from the U.S., Sweden, Norway, China, Germany and Austria. The conference was created and hosted by Future Position X (FPX), Sweden's national GIS cluster.
"The idea for an International Conference on GIS clusters grew out of desire to learn more about other GIS clusters around the world and to share our experiences," stated Micke Kedback of Future Position X. "Not only are we able to bring home the knowledge we've gained from these other clusters, but long-term we see our cluster developing business relationships with companies from these other global clusters. For instance, as a result of the first conference, FPX developed a substantial presence in China through partnering with CAGIS."
While many of the global GIS clusters have similar goals, it was striking how differently the clusters are structured, from the smallest cluster with less than 20 companies to China's GIS cluster with 10,000 members. Funding was a major difference among the clusters, with some receiving government funding either at the national or local level, while others relied on membership fees and competitive external funding. Some clusters were more focused on academics and research while others emphasized expanding markets and developing new products. Several of the clusters, such as EIGS and GIS Salzburg, have been operating for 10 or more years while others, such as Geospatial Quebec, have recently employed the cluster concept to grow the geospatial sector in their region. However, a commonality across all clusters is the focus on facilitating the bridge between research and commercialization.
Nicholas Chrisman with Geospatial Quebec observed that while there are many different models, there is no guarantee that one model will work better than another. "It has been very useful for the Quebec cluster to link up with the others to try and find common ground."
Clusters participating in the conference included the following organizations:
- China Association for GIS (CAGIS)
is the government organization for the promotion and development of the
GIS sector. Almost all companies, universities and research
organizations in China related to GIS are members.
- The Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions (EIGS),
housed at The University of Mississippi, nurtures and supports the
growth of the geospatial technology business cluster in
Mississippi. The EIGS cluster includes high-tech geospatial
companies, university research programs, state agencies and other
related organizations. EIGS provides business support, recruits
new businesses to the state, facilitates research opportunities, and
supports workforce development activities.
- FPX: Future Position X is Sweden's national GIS cluster. A non-profit member organization, FPX is an independent arena for demonstration, development and marketing of GIS services and knowledge.
- Geospatial Quebec is a consortium of over 20 members drawn from industry, government and academic organizations in the Québec City region (Québec Chaudières-Appalache) founded in 2009. Its goal is to develop stronger links between industrial players in geomatics, business intelligence and telecommunications sectors, particularly with international connections to other cluster organizations.
- GIS-Cluster Salzburg is a consortium of Austrian GIS companies, based in Salzburg, Austria. It is an internationally renowned competence center in the field of geosciences. The competence field has scientific components such as The Centre for Geoinformatics - Salzburg University, Salzburg Research, and Research Studio iSpace.
- Wuhan Geospatial Information Industry Base is in the Wuhan East Lake High-Tech Development Zone, Wuhan University Science and Technology Park, China. Wuhan is China's only industry center integrating GPS, GIS and remote sensing research, teaching and industrialization.
Wenjun Xie of the China Association of GIS (CAGIS) stressed the importance of collaborating globally. "China has seen GIS develop into a strong, demanding market and this conference has opened the door for international cooperation. In fact, we have been so pleased with our participation in the first two conferences that we propose to host the next one in China in 2011."
During the luncheon, Major Jeff Ragusa, a pilot with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, addressed the attendees. The squadron, more popularly known as the "Hurricane Hunters," is based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Established in 1944, it is the only operational military weather reconnaissance unit in the world. "Hurricane Hunters" are tasked with 24-hour-a-day continuous support operations, with the ability to fly up to three storms at a time with a response time of 16 hours.
Sponsors included EIGS member companies and partners NVision Solutions, Inc.; AeroTec; Mississippi Enterprise for Technology; and the Mississippi Technology Alliance.
Cluster representatives met at the conclusion of the conference to determine the need and format for future gatherings. A coordinating committee will begin exploration of the 3rd International Conference in China in 2011 with the goal of increasing the number of international clusters participating.