• Clusters and Regional Development: The Case of Seattle

    September 14 2007, 11:00 - 11:00
    Location: France Ameriques

    Paul Sommers is an economist (Ph.D., Yale). Since 2004, he has been a professor at the Institute of Public Service and the Albers School of Business at Seattle University.  He is also director of the university’s Center on Metropolitan Development, conducting research on economic development and workforce topics. He is an expert on industry clusters, regional development, and regional economic and workforce forecasting.  During a 25 year career at Battelle Memorial Institute and the University of Washington, he conducted many research projects on national energy industry topics and on rural and urban regional development issues in the Northwest.

    Currently he is leading a multi-organization project funded by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce aimed at connecting small and minority businesses to leading edge economic development strategies such as cluster initiatives and technology-based development.  Recently, he has completed reports on the public policy implications of trends in information technology and technology-led local development strategies, and studies of the economic impacts of the military bases in Washington State.  He is a member of the Washington State Governor's Council of Economic Advisors, and a past president of the Seattle Economists Club.  He serves on the board of the Pacific Northwest Regional Economics Conference and is organizing the 2008 conference which will be held in May 2008 in Tacoma, WA (with the Research Unit on Industry and Innovation Lab.RII, University of Littoral Côte d’Opale, France / Spirit of Innovation III).

    Cluster Research by Paul Sommers

    Dr. Sommers has been a leader in introducing collaborative strategies to economic development practitioners in the Northwest.  In the 1990s he was involved in several projects funded by private foundations and two state governments examining the potential for building flexible manufacturing networks to overcome problems of lagging rural economies. These projects were inspired by European experience with flexible networks, particularly in Italy.  In the early 1990s, he organized a study tour to Denmark, Sweden and Italy for key policy makers in several Northwest states to examine networks and other collaboration-based competitiveness strategies. He subsequently worked with network organizers in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Minnesota, and advised state programs encouraging network formation in Oregon and Washington.  Some of the experience is captured in a February 1998 article in Economic Development Quarterly titled “Networks in the United States:  Lessons from Three Experiments.”  As interest in the related but more encompassing notion of industry clusters grew around the world, he wrote two white papers that introduced the concept of clusters to state agencies in Washington, and presented that work to Gov. Gary Locke’s economic development cabinet.  He wrote several reports on cluster topics for Washington State agencies in which he assessed industry and workforce conditions in several clusters.  These reports have influence program development and policy in economic development agencies and in the state’s community college programs.  He also conducted two studies on specific clusters for the City of Seattle.  The first report dealt with the maritime cluster involving fishing and marine transportation, and a variety of up-stream and downstream industries closely tied to these two vessel-based industries.  The second report, written as part of a team including University of Washington geographer William Beyers, examined the composition of the music cluster in Seattle, a cluster that has produced a number of popular music stars including Jimi Hendrix and Pearl Jam.  Related industries in this cluster include sound and lighting specialists, recording and production studios, performance venues, and promoters.  He has worked closely with the organizers of the Prosperity Partnership, a regional cluster based economic development strategy and program in a four county metropolitan region.  In 2006 he presented findings from a study of the life sciences cluster in Seattle at an international conference in Dunkerque, France (Forum The Spirit of Innovation II, Knowledge, Finance and Innovation, September, 26-30, 2006).  He is currently writing a paper with Prof. Beyers on empirical identification of clusters in input-output models, using data describing inter-industry structures in the Puget Sound region.