Russian clusters needing coherent policy
Taking a cue from international trends, the government is looking to boost growth and diversification through fostering economic clusters.
In contrast to a traditional economic structure, focusing on competition within industries, clusters seek growth through collaboration between companies, institutions and organizations in defined territories. Current examples, found eligible for subsidies by the Economic Development Ministry, are an aerospace cluster in the Samara region or the PhysTech XXI cluster in Dolgoprudny and Khimki, in the Moscow region.
In Russia, the emphasis on clusters as a means to diversify and develop the economy has paralleled an emphasis on innovation, but investment in innovation has been slow, said Leonid Gokhberg, first Vice-Rector at the Higher School of Economics.
"For about a decade, after the default at the end of the 1990s, we note a plateau that has emerged in innovative activity in Russian industry," Gokhberg told the 2013 Cluster Summit at RIA Novosti last week. "The share of innovative enterprises has not exceeded 10 percent, much lower than in different countries."
Putting the brakes on clusters
The slow rate of innovation investment has led to a hesitance to engage in activities that make for successful clusters, such as technology sharing. Companies are slow to invest, and innovative firms are slow to connect with companies that all too often are content in a dominant position in a given region.
"Companies are localizing their activities on local markets, where no serious competitive pressure is being fostered [and] where they often occupy a monopoly position," Gokhberg said. "A market stimulus for innovations, as a result, does not arise."
Absence of innovation reinforces development gaps between regions, but a solution is targeted development - capitalizing on a region's particular advantages - rather than a broad approach.
"Modern approaches to a regional innovation policy... are based on so-called principles of smart specialization," he said. "This is not [on] economic activity in general, but on development and strengthening competitive advantages of the relevant regions."
This specialized development would allow for more sustainable growth and modernization of the top-down, centrally planned Soviet economy, whose repercussions still resonate throughout the country.
Role of the regions
Helping a region-based approach is the participation of local governments, companies and business groups, and universities in determining the industries and direction of local clusters.
"A defined policy of a selection of measures is developed and stimulated at the level of the federal ministries and the federal government," Alexander Vvedensky, director of infrastructure and regional development at state development fund RVK, told The Moscow News on the sidelines of the summit. "Specific implementation and localization are, of course, for the regional authorities, or representatives of regional authorities and business, who are interested in the realization of this federal policy."
Still, policy at the federal level needs to incorporate a "balanced toolkit" of measures that take regional strengths into consideration, Gokhberg said.