The members of the Blue Cluster, a group of innovative private companies active in a wide range of sectors, have created an organisation dedicated to developing and promoting economic activities that are linked to the sea. They believe that enhanced cross-sector partnerships and better cooperation with knowledge centres and government institutions, will lead to new and innovative investments and projects in the Belgian Part of the North Sea (“BNS”) and beyond, which are the anticipated solutions for a number of global challenges. By fully incorporating cutting-edge small and medium sized companies in the cluster organisation and the innovation projects, the Blue Cluster ensures that they can accelerate their growth and leapfrog international competition. Apart from the infrastructural benefits, these solutions will create economic return for Flanders by creating new industries, opening up new markets for export and improving the competitiveness of the companies involved.
This section summarises the cluster mission and addresses some frequent questions and common misconceptions.
Why would a small country with a limited coastline develop a blue strategy?
Because it is not the size of our coastline that matters, but the potential of the blue economy that is within reach. This economic potential is difficult to quantify because most of our traditional GDP metrics relate to sectors and companies that produce traditional products and services, on the back of innovations and incremental improvements of the past. Furthermore, the potential of the blue economy goes beyond the sea and our oceans. There are numerous applications that have instant potential for the “land economy” and our society at large. Desalination and clean water free from micro- or nanoplastics are just some of the big challenges that are relevant to the whole country. Also, blue energy is a crucial element in our overall energy transition challenge, with nearshore wind, wave, tidal energy, innovative energy storage solutions and the further innovative development of existing and new far shore energy projects, showing a huge potential.
Another question that often arises is: why is a blue cluster needed?
A cluster creates stronger forms of cooperation, facilitates information transfer from the knowledge centres and can align private sector initiatives with government policies and priorities. A cluster is not limited to a sector, it is a network-based economic approach. In the blue economy, because of the complexity of the issues involved, solutions require partnerships between companies from various sectors that would otherwise not work together. The presence of a cluster organisation helps uncover new potential avenues for innovation. Therefore, a cluster evolves as future potential grows and companies start shifting their attention to these new opportunities which enable strong local growth and a large export potential. Competition from our northern neighbours, that already have established a blue cluster, has always worked positively in the past, as has been especially true in more traditional maritime activities. The potential for the next decades is however much larger than anything we have seen in the past, if we seize the opportunities quickly and with determination.
The blue cluster is not supported by one established sector, does it have enough substance?
As stated before, in economic terms, a cluster does not comprise a sector, but transcends sectorial analysis and reflections. We could reverse this thinking: some established traditional sectors have faded in economic importance, yet have kept an unusual large presence in economic policies and in this way often limit innovation for new entrants. A cluster-oriented policy has the explicit intention to foster new activities, innovation and co-operation between sectors and companies from very diverse activities. Also, a company with nascent products or services in these new developing activities, does not currently have a sector federation or established organisation where it can turn to for more information, knowledge or government access. In addition, the cluster builds upon solid economic foundations (assembling companies active in sectors that represent between 5-10% of total economic added value), which will allow companies within existing value chains to quickly seize the new opportunities that will open up.
The Blue Cluster has proven potential, already has sufficient economic substance but is also an economic wildcard, and gives our economy purpose.
The economic wildcard can be defined as a sufficient number of promising activities that are being researched and developed today, but where it is impossible to determine ex ante which of these will succeed. We have to consider this as a portfolio of promising and high growth activities that can potentially alter the shape and composition and improve the strength of the Flemish economy. Think about wind turbines in Denmark, mobile telephony in Finland or semiconductors once upon a time in Silicon Valley. Activities and sectors that were completely new, lacking pre-existing structures and yet have unfolded into defining activities for these regions.
Furthermore some of the fields of activity that are part of the Blue Cluster give purpose to our region, and have the potential to have a global positive impact. We think about the fight against marine litter, the quest for blue and clean energy, the adaptation to climate change and the production of sustainable food in an ecosystem approach. All the members of the Blue Cluster are particularly motivated to be part of a group of organisations that could potentially find solutions and services to tackle these big global challenges.
While the longer-term potential is impressive, the Blue Cluster members are also committed to deliver medium-term tangible results and have outlined their goals in clear missions statements for each of their focus areas.