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Report from NGIN and RTI describes critical elements for building an inclusive cluster

May 02, 2024
By: Michele Hujber

“Inclusive clusters have an explicit focus on equity, have identified the precise issues that lead to economic disparities in the cluster and have targeted strategies in place to shrink those disparities,” say the authors of Developing Inclusive Clusters, a recent Insight Report from the New Growth Innovation Network (NGIN) and RTI International. They cite the high-tech industry as a high-wage industry whose benefits “tend to exclude women, people of color, and non-urban communities” and note that this type of disparity has not been “widely or systematically” studied.

The authors outline the key decisions that go into creating inclusive clusters. “Creating an inclusive cluster requires looking through a ‘lens of equity and inclusion’ at every decision-making juncture to ensure barriers to inclusion are first identified and then addressed,” they note. The report lists and discusses the key decisions that influence the inclusivity of a cluster. These decisions include:

  • Creating a governance structure that includes a more diverse group of people in the decision-making process;
  • Focusing on an industry cluster that has a high probability of generating opportunities for marginalized groups;
  • Locating job opportunities in places that are readily accessible to those who would benefit from them;
  • Targeting existing barriers, such as lack of access to capital; and
  • Providing training and job opportunities that coincide with local industry needs.

The report also includes examples of emerging lessons derived from interviews with individuals working in the field. These lessons included:

  • It is better to start with leadership committed to inclusive processes and outcomes than to introduce that mindset later in the process.
  • The inclusion process incurs expenses that should be anticipated and included in the budget.
  • Coalitions must build trust within their community before developing an inclusive cluster.

The report illustrates these key decisions and lessons learned via five case studies of industry clusters supported by the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

inclusion, clusters