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Harvard data tool presented in Santa Clarita

New industry cluster map helps regions identify suffering or burgeoning markets

Posted: August 2, 2014 3:15 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2014 3:15 p.m.
Sarah Jane Maxted, manager of Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, speaks at the cluster mapping event at College of the Canyons. Sarah Jane Maxted, manager of Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, speaks at the cluster mapping event at College of the Canyons.
Sarah Jane Maxted, manager of Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, speaks at the cluster mapping event at College of the Canyons.

Taking an active leadership role on a regional level, the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation invited the Harvard Business School to give one of the first demonstrations in California of its new ‘industry cluster’ mapping data tool.

As defined by experts, an industry cluster is a regional concentration of related companies and industries, like the aerospace industry.

Industry clusters drive regional economic performance including job growth and motivation, and serve to attract investments, export opportunities, supply chain decisions and even site selections for a company about to open its doors or relocate, said Sara Jane Maxted, presenter and research manager for the project and the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School.

A wide cross section of 66 people representing organizations from around Southern California was on hand Thursday to view the Harvard presentation.

People from cities, economic agencies; and universities and colleges attended – including the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, California of Southern California and California State University, Northridge.

City, county and state officials sent representatives as well to view the data mapping tool.

Data collected

Culling information from a broad spectrum of data collectors, like the U.S. Census County Business patterns and the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and more, the new Harvard database compiles data from industry clusters in regions throughout the U.S.

“I think this tool will help us better understand our clusters and the industries that are linked with our clusters,” said Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the SCVEDC. “It can help us identify prospective companies that might fit well within the Santa Clarita Valley.”

On a broader scale, it helps emphasize the economic importance of industry sectors within the state, she said. It can be an important and informative tool for policy makers and business leaders in understanding the region’s business clusters – as well as what’s happening to them.

Based on the data gathered, some of the state’s industry clusters have been in decline.

“We need to be protecting the industry that we have and strengthening the companies that are here already because they’re the drivers of our economy,” Schroeder said.

As much as the new tool was applauded, attendees also identified a gap in the ability to identify industry cluster micro-regions like the SCV.

Region’s size

Harvard’s cluster mapping tool can only be as useful as the data groups it collects from.

But the way the region is defined by the local and federal governments for data collection purposes, however, too many economic clusters within the region are all lumped into one category.

In one data sample, the Los Angeles Economic Area actually extended down to the border with Mexico and includes a slice of Arizona.

In most cases, the general L.A. County market spanned across such a wide geographic area – it is nearly half the size of the entire state of Massachusetts – home to Harvard. With 88 incorporated cities, the county alone has twice as many cities.

Attendees expressed an interest in being able to cut the big data-pie into much smaller slices.

Pilot Study

To that end, Maxted offered two possible solutions.

Unlike most custom design database products and data sorting tools, this online tool is not being shielded as a proprietary product.

And the purpose for the public demonstration is to introduce the tool as well as collect feedback, Maxted said.

In the spirit of partnership, Harvard is granting open source access to its database so that groups can develop their own localized pictures of industry clusters.

The goal is to provide a national perspective of regional industry clusters in the U.S., but also to foster “collaboration and break down silos,” she said.

Maxted also said that a pilot project between stakeholders in the region and the Harvard cluster master mapping project might be possible.

“We were pleased that she was open to considering the idea,” Schroeder said. “We told her we would be very interested in working with them on that project.”

Until people have a chance to see how the data can be used for localization purposes, however, attendees did like the idea of a universal gathering place for U.S. economic data on industry clusters.


Putting all relevant data into one database, the cluster mapping tool can help drive local economics.

The online tool allows users to drill down through layers of data in regions in the U.S. to show growth trends, wages, productivity, job growth, industry resiliency from a period ranging between 1998 and 2012.

Also, research has shown that strong business clusters came out better off after a recession, Maxted said.

“I see many benefits in having access to the data,” said Julia Potter, manager of employer and partner programs and services at CSUN. “It’s a user-friendly, one-stop place for data to help with economic development activities.”

CSUN is one of five California state universities that recently joined together to look at how they could collaborate more with each other and their respective communities, and collect and share data.

Having Harvard take the lead on the data collection and sharing project is really exciting, Potter said.

The collaboration effort among the schools, led by CSUN’s President Dianne Harrison, allowed the five schools to join forces with the newly formed Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in Southern California, one of only 12 regions designated throughout the country, and the only one in the state, by the U.S. Economic Administration.

Harvard’s tool gives us the hard data needed for comparative analysis for hundreds of grants we’re expecting to develop over the next two years, Potter said.

“I commend the SCVEDC for hosting it (demonstration), recognizing its value to us and to really getting the word out,” Potter said.

Locally, the SCVEDC felt bringing Harvard out to demonstrate the tool was a great opportunity to bring people to see the Santa Clarita Valley that may not have otherwise had a reason to visit the area, Schroeder said.

“It introduced the region, city, SCVEDC to a larger stage,” she said. “Santa Clarita is now the third largest city in L.A. County in influencing policy activities and ideas that affect our region.”

The cluster mapping tool is set to launch at the end of September.


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