Our View: Blue economy potential lies somewhere between competition and collaboration
UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Robert Johnson’s work to bring stakeholders of the blue economy together for a day long seminar on the burgeoning marine technology industry recently offered attendees an exciting glimpse at the industry’s potential for the SouthCoast.
Johnson, who comes from the Detroit area, is well aware that the gravitational pull of a region of enough mass can help create industries. From his outside perspective the area hotspots: Quonset, Narragansett, Newport, Fall River, New Bedford, and Woods Hole, could someday be to the marine technology economy what the Detroit auto corridor was to automobiles.
The blue economy, a broad term encompassing fields from marine technology (think IoT marine sensors and underwater autonomous vehicles) to biotech research (including potential new pharmaceuticals created from marine plants and organisms), is a race to the future with the winners often being the ones who innovate best and go to market quickest.
During the April 19 event, Johnson suggested the groups present could reach the finish line together with enough economic growth for all. He, in fact, argued that only a collaborative push will drive innovation and success.
New Bedford already has its feet firmly on the blue economy track, not just with recent offshore wind developments or its secure base of commercial fishing, but also through the city’s Ocean Cluster initiative announced last fall. The Ocean Cluster is itself a collaborative effort — a growing global marine research network that supports sharing best practices.
UMass Dartmouth too has made significant inroads in marine fields both through SMAST research and existing marine tech startups at its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Fall River.
But neither the city nor the university have enough weight to eclipse Newport’s naval research groups, Woods Hole scientists, or University of Rhode Island’s many marine programs.
Which is why Johnson may have designed the “Catch the Next Wave: Building the Blue Economy through Innovation and Collaboration” seminar to prove his point — there may be several centers of gravity working on marine innovation but we are stronger and will grow faster if we work together.
Molly Donohue Magee, executive director of the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance described it this way that day, coining the phrase “competimates.”
″(It) means sometimes they’re competitors and sometimes they’re teammates,” she said. “But that dynamic says let’s work together.”
But for that to occur all sites along the imagined marine corridor must have a place at the table and it’s not clear yet if that will happen. Why, for example, was there no representation from the city of New Bedford at this important event?
If any two partners need to collaborate, it is the university and the city it borders. The absence of either group diminishes the chances of the industry’s success.
William Bates, executive vice president of the Washington D.C.-based Council on Competitiveness, made this point in his opening remarks.
Regions that have successfully capitalized on their natural assets have done so by building effective collaborations not hindered by political or other manufactured boundaries, he said.
The regions that have not done this have languished.
In other words, intelligent collaboration has a better chance at creating a blue economy than competitive game-playing does.
The university and Johnson deserve praise for getting this conversation started. Let’s make sure all relevant groups participate.