The purpose of this memo is to report the findings from an exploratory analysis of trade and occupational relationships among businesses in the Pioneer Valley’s Precision Manufacturing sector. The motivation for this work is the interest among economic development professionals in developing an information system that can identify local companies with common interest and needs by examining underlying commonalities in their workforce skills, technological foundations, markets and other types of complimentary attributes. These commonalities may then serve as a common platform upon which to build future inter-firm partnerships. One possible application for this information system is to design more effectively targeted business networking events. Another possible application is to produce lists of businesses that might benefit from participation in targeted support initiatives: such as new workforce training opportunities, technical assistance programs, or upcoming grant opportunities.
Most data source group similar companies based upon their primary product or service. However, many new market opportunities and innovations arise from the cross-fertilization of ideas among firms that may make different things, yet share other common characteristics. Research into inter-firm collaborations, networks, and cluster-based economic development emphasize common production technologies, trade (buyer-supplier) associations, and workforce skills as likely sources of complementary activities. Furthermore, local companies that offer similar products or services often belong to the same trade association and may already be aware of one another, reducing the need for an information system to help bring these companies together. Similarities among firms in different industries are often not as immediately apparent.
Armed with a database that matches firms based upon key characteristics, economic developers can more effectively fulfill their role as information brokers and network facilitators – improving the likelihood of bringing the right people together at the right time. Collecting this kind of information through surveys and interviews can be extremely time consuming, costly, and may be viewed as overly obtrusive by some businesses. There are publicly available data sources that, while imperfect, may reduce the burden of compiling this information. In April of 2009, Dr. Renski volunteered to conduct a preliminary analysis to assess whether publicly available datasets could beused identify potential opportunities for fruitful collaborations among businesses. This memo reports the findings from my investigation.