- Fostering innovation
- Support of companies' growth
- Territorial coordination
Pole de compétitivité
French competitiveness poles or clusters operate in delimited geographic areas. They can be either regional or inter-regional. They are active in most activity sectors, including emerging technologies (for example, nanotechnology, biotechnology, ecotechnology) as well as more established sectors (for example, automotive and aerospace).
French competitiveness poles or clusters promote the development of collaborative projects in research and development (R&D) that are particularly innovative. They also support the development and growth of their member companies thanks to the marketing of new products, services or processes resulting from research projects. To this end, they bring together large and small firms, research labs, specialised suppliers, educational and training providers, working in partnership in a particular field and in a specific region or territory. Public bodies (at local, regional or national level) are also associated to the poles. Competitiveness poles are recognised by the French government and defined in the 2005 Finance Law (loi n°2004-1484).
Linking industrial policy with research and innovation policies, they are formed to reinforce the competitiveness of the territory and the enterprises belonging to the pole, encourage innovation and stimulate the creation of new businesses in the area. Certain skills and competencies are sought out, and efforts are made to match training courses with skills required by companies.
The competitiveness poles are funded by the Inter-ministerial Unique Fund (Fonds Unique Interministériel), which is a financial programme funded by several ministries and managed by the public investment bank BPIfrance. Other public funding is dedicated to the governance structures of the poles, which is mainly funded by the state. They also benefit from the support of public entities such as the National Agency for Research (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) or BPIfrance, and various other measures such as tax exemptions. Regions are also a significant provider of funds for the projects developed by competitiveness poles.
- Local funds
- Regional funds
- National funds
Research lab and training providers
In 2019, the government labelled 48 competitiveness clusters for the period 2019-2022. Eight other clusters got only a provisional label for one year (2019 to 2020) as they did not fully comply with the selection criteria. This represents a decrease in the number of clusters compared to previous years/phases, in line with the government will to rationalise the tool and make it more efficient. In 2018, there were 67 competitiveness clusters and 71 in 2016, but prior to 2019, the decrease could be explained by the legal reform of the number of administrative regions since 1 January 2016 (from 26 regions to 18).
From 2005 to 2018, almost 4,000 innovative projects have been carried out by the competitiveness poles. According to the Ministry of economy, in 2019, 11,000 companies and 1,300 research and training organisations were globally involved in the 56 clusters spread throughout the country. On average, each pole has 200 members and their average budget amount to €1.5 million but there is a wide diversity of situations, some poles putting together 100 members and others more than 1,000. Some 73% of these firms are small enterprises, 15% are medium-sized firms and 12% are large companies.
A report published in 2017 by France Stratégie points out that, during the period 2007-2012, one may show a positive effect of the competitiveness clusters on the self-financing of expenditures in research and development performed by company members of a pole. In other words, companies involved in a cluster invest more in research and development than others. This positive leverage is stronger for SMEs than for large companies and shows that competitiveness clusters partly (other instruments such as the research tax credit have also a role in this respect), but clearly contributes to foster innovations.
In terms of employment effects specifically, the report stresses that firms belonging to a competitiveness pole hired 2.4 additional people in 2007 and nearly 6 additional people in 2012 compared to a non-pole member with similar observable characteristics.
The finding related to job creation appears to be supported by an earlier ‘Evaluation of the competitiveness poles’ (2012) carried out following completion of the second implementation phase (2009-2011). Through a survey of 2,388 pole members, business owners were asked whether they believed that membership of the pole had helped with the retention of existing jobs in the period from 2009 to 2011. Of the 1,174 that responded to this question, 84% considered that joining the pole had enabled them to maintain jobs and 43% said that it had helped them to retain more than 50% of jobs. Regarding job creation, 2,041 firms provided responses to the survey. Of these, 66% reported having created jobs through their membership of the poles. 14% of member enterprises indicated that this job creation rate was higher than 25%. In contrast, 34% of enterprises did not report any job creation. No information was provided on the types of jobs or their characteristics.
Strengths include: the identification of characteristics of the local labour market and firms' skills needs, a built-in option of trying and testing different approaches within a region, flexibility, the willingness of training providers to adapt their offers to identified needs, the involvement of all shareholders, the fact that a good level of trust is established between the suppliers and SMEs. The involvement of and funding from local state administration also played a crucial role. Proximity of key players with each other facilitates contacts being built. This also leads to the input of expertise from actors of different economical areas and the pooling of knowledge. Finally, the development of European and international partnerships is facilitated thanks to a dedicated public agency, Business France, which supports all the poles in such development.
A report published in 2012 by the Commissioner to Investment underlined some key weaknesses of the competitiveness clusters, for example:
- too many sectors of activity are covered by the competitiveness poles, while a more concentrated scope should be more efficient as the concerned poles would receive more funds; In respect to this point, it's worth noting that, since 2012, mergers between poles occured and were encouraged by the latest implementation phase (2019-2022)
- the poles lack in efficiency when putting the innovations on the market, as they essentially focus on R&D but not on marketing and distribution; this observation is confirmed by a more recent study carried out by France Stratégie;
- large companies are not always involved in the poles.