It’s 9 am on a Monday in September and the Convention Center at the City of Knowledge Foundation is packed: businessmen, officials, academics, creatives and above all, many young faces. Sunlight filters through the leaves of the trees that surround it and fills the room through its large windows. The buzz of several animated conversations mixes with the jazz music as attendees mingle; the expectation is palpable.
The reason? The launch of the Creative Industries cluster, an initiative that seeks to bring together business leaders, government and social actors from Panama’s cultural and creative industries to increase the visibility of this sector, boost its productivity, competitiveness and promote innovation.
The City of Knowledge Foundation, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Panama’s Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MICI, for its acronym in Spanish) leads the initiative. With it, Panama aspires to create a space for creative collaboration, emulating powerful initiatives of the same nature in large Latin American cities such as Santiago, Buenos Aires and Bogota.
Here we explore the potential and impact of such a cluster on the development of the country’s creative and cultural sector and, on a larger scale, on the economy.
The synergy of clustering
Richard Florida, an expert on economic competitiveness, demographic trends, as well as cultural and technological innovation, and author of the book “Who’s your City: How the Creative Economy is Making Where To Live The Most Important Decision of your Life”, argues that the place one chooses to live has more influence in one’s life than almost all other decisions. The American theorist believes that behind the true economic forces of the world are not the countries, but clusters that gather in mega cities. In line with this theory, he advises to choose one’s location deliberately.
This is particularly true for people in the creative and cultural industries, which UNESCO has defined as “those sectors of organized activity whose main purpose is the production or reproduction, promotion, dissemination and / or commercialization of goods, services and activities of cultural, artistic or patrimonial content.”
According to Florida, “creative people tend to gather in clusters not simply because they like to be in close proximity to each other or because they prefer cosmopolitan centers with a multitude of amenities” (…), but also because “such a density offers powerful productive advantages, economies of scale and a knowledge spillover” that benefits all.
For some years now, academics have been talking about the strengths of clustering and argue that one of the keys to economic growth lies in the concentration (or clustering) of productive, talented and creative people.
It’s a virtuous circle of sorts: new ideas and productivity are enhanced when we are close to other people with these characteristics, which in turn makes us more productive, generating greater benefits, input and wealth.
For this reason, developing clusters for industries has become a key objective for local economic development, since they have been shown to strengthen competitiveness, increase productivity, stimulate innovative alliances and bring forth opportunities for entrepreneurship.
The IDB representative in Panama, Verónica Zavala, believes that “cultural and creative industries are a source of opportunity and enormous potential” and that this is a good moment for Panama to act and promote this sector as a driving force for growth and an additional alternative for development.
With initiatives such as the cluster of creative industries, launched this year at the City of Knowledge, the gap between interest, intention and actions narrows, but we must quantify that potential to really understand its impact.