WASHINGTON – The ability of small businesses to drive innovation is critical to U.S. competitiveness. The U.S. Small Business Administration recently announced the addition of seven new clusters to its portfolio of communities it supports through the Regional Innovation Clusters Initiative, raising the total number of clusters in the program to fourteen.
This initiative promotes and supports industry clusters – geographically concentrated groups of interconnected businesses, suppliers, service providers and related institutions – in industries or fields associated with regional economic growth. The announcement of these seven new clusters is more demonstrable evidence of the Administration’s and SBA’s strong commitment to rural America.
These public-private partnerships drive innovation and job creation in our most promising hubs. We're unleashing the full potential of entrepreneurs who are developing cutting-edge products and processes to ensure American competitiveness worldwide, creating supportive environments for small businesses in regions with the most need.
While the industry focus varies, the core cluster activities are similar: to act as networking hubs to convene resources to help small businesses navigate funding, procurement and supply-chain opportunities and allow them to compete on a larger scale. Through technical and legal assistance, these cluster networks also work to help innovators commercialize promising technologies.
Independent reports conducted in the second and third years of the initiative proved the investment is worthwhile. The value of economic activity in the third year of the program totaled more than $3.9 billion. Employment in cluster-associated small businesses grew an average of 6.9 percent – more than four times faster than the regional benchmark. Revenues also increased an average of 6.9 percent – nearly twice as fast as comparable firms.
The closest clusters for the Mid-Atlantic Region (West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, D.C. and Virginia) are the Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster in Nelsonville, Ohio, and the AgLaunch Cluster in Memphis.
If those aren’t your industries, or if you can’t make it to one of our twelve other Regional Innovation Clusters, you can always find assistance at one of more than 1,000 SBA-backed resource partners such as Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Score Chapters, or Veteran Business Outreach Centers for free business consulting and low-cost training in business planning, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, trade and much more. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies and private sector partners.
Through SBDCs and direct funding, the SBA also supports small business incubators and accelerators across the nation where entrepreneurs can find workspaces, mentoring and counseling services, mentor-protégé relationships and opportunities to showcase and pitch their ideas to prospective investors and public-private sector adopters of new technology.
Innovation does not happen in isolation, which is why supportive structures like Regional Innovation Clusters incentivize businesses and people to engage, collaborate, and find solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Innovators can always rely on the SBA to help them develop their ideas into the solutions that transform lives.
Christian is the SBA's Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator.