ITALY: Industrial clusters are a typical Italian phenomenon, and the country is viewed by many as a pioneer within industrial clusters and systems of cooperatives. In fact many of todays Italian industrial clusters have roots back to the 19th century, and some retain that their origin date back to the medieval guild system.
Today the Italian Industrial Cluster Federation harbors around 50 industry and production clusters, consisting of more than 75 000 businesses and 489 000 employees. Together they produce a 67 billion euro turnover. The federation includes clusters within the main genres of clothing/fashion, mechanical/automation, furniture/home and feed/agriculture/fish-seafood.
The majority of the clusters are located in the north, and among these is the Lombardy Energy Cluster (LEC) which focuses on power generation, transmission and distribution. LEC comprises more than 100 small and medium sized companies, 8 universities and R&D centers and 10 public sector organizations, and has a turnover of around 9 billion euro. It is also the second largest cluster in the power generation and transmission sector in the EU. LEC cooperates with numerous international clusters and is part of the International Cleantech Network along with the Norwegian cluster OREEC. Internationalization is highly stressed, and LEC is constantly looking to meet relevant actors abroad and aims to get involved in a number of European business projects.
The Lombardy Energy Cluster brand is recognized for the quality of its cutting edge products and focus on the renewable energy sector. Over time the cluster has built up a stock of technological expertise and achieved exceptional commercial success in the export market. Lombardy has for long been a leading pioneer within the production of steam generators, turbines, heat cycles, cooling towers, transformers, fans, windmills and large pumps, and this was the base for LEC’s multi-faced production effort now making the cluster a reference model for the sector. LEC has also become an expert within the field of renewable energy, manufacturing cutting-edge energy systems which make use of the sun, wind, biomass, biogas motors and bio-fuel, and it is within this field the cluster’s research centers and universities are involved.
The Italian energy sector has proved resistant in a difficult time, and among the companies that are part of LEC, 65% had an increase in turnover from 2010-2012. Opportunities are constantly being created, for instance by the 900 million euro incentives that were officially published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale (the official journal of record of the Italian government) in January 2013 to stimulate thermal renewable energies such as biomass, heat pumps, solar thermal and energy efficiency improvements in public administration.
In March 2013, LEC became the first Italian cluster to obtain the Bronze Label from the European Cluster Excellence Initiative, an achievement that gives the cluster a competitive advantage in the run-up to the European Funding Program 2014-2020. When obtaining the certificate, the president of LEC Alberto Ribolla stated “We are very proud to be the first Italian cluster to achieve this recognition. It confirms our strategy and is a successful example of how cluster networks increase productivity and innovation (..). The Bronze Label represents a competitive advantage, upgrading us from regional and national level to interact internationally with the world’s best cleantech clusters. This represents only a first step, as we are striving to obtain the Gold Label”. As the EU will focus investments on Europe’s leading clusters, the Bronze Label directly benefits the LEC’s SMEs as they now have a greater chance of obtaining funding for research and innovation.