Expert: Southeast Cluster Initiative Working

Patrick Quinton, executive director of the Portland Development Commission. He addressed the Southeast Innovation Summit in Juneau. Photo courtesy PDC.
Patrick Quinton, executive director of the Portland Development Commission. He addressed the Southeast Innovation Summit in Juneau. Photo courtesy PDC.

A Pacific Northwest development expert says Southeast leaders are on the right track toward improving the region’s economy.

A large group of Southeast business, government and other leaders have spent the past two years searching for ways to grow the region’s economy.

They’ve formed what are called “clusters,” each focusing on a particular industry or group of connected businesses: Ocean Products, Renewable Energy, Mining Service and Supply, and Visitor Products.

“If that list were to expand, I think it would really tax the resources of the organizations that are helping companies, as well as the companies themselves,” says Patrick Quinton, executive director of thePortland Development Commission.

He addressed cluster initiative members during the 2013 Southeast Innovation Summit at Juneau’s Centennial Hall, organized by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

Quinton’s organization used the cluster process to develop the Portland area’s clean technology, outdoor recreation products, software, and advanced manufacturing industries.

“This is a very long-term process,” he says. “You’re fundamentally talking about changing the nature of the economy. You’re talking about diversifying the economy. Those changes take a long time.”

Southeast’s initiative began a little more than two years ago.

Quinton says it’s made good progress so far. Those involved have engaged industry and the government agencies that can help.

“In a few years, you would want to see how successful are you in executing the plans that have been laid out,” he says. “So if you have two or three initiatives, what kind of progress are you seeing there? And I would imagine three or four years out, you would want to see some actual change in the job numbers and the economic output.”

He says he doesn’t know enough to about the region to predict what will work best. But he’s intrigued by the Mining Service and Supply focus.

“Import substitution is the more technical term. But how do we replace services that are being provided from distant places with more local services? And Juneau seems to be well-positioned to be the more local provider of those services,” Quinton says.

He says cluster-process leaders have to make hard decisions, and it’s not a democratic process. Otherwise, he says, the effort will lose focus.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.