Interview with Ciprian Morcan, cluster manager of the Transylvanian Furniture Cluster in Romania
ECCP: As manager of the first Romanian cluster awarded the Gold Label of the European Cluster Excellence Initiative (ECEI), can you tell us a few words about the path that led to this achievement: how did you build the cluster, what was its evolution along the last couple of years?
CM: In the absence of a coherent national cluster policy, but with a strong private awareness of the fact that enterprises need to collaborate in order to increase their competitiveness in the furniture industry, I got involved early in 2012 in "coagulating" the first core of 22 entities that laid the foundation of the Transylvanian Furniture Cluster and at the end of the process I was elected cluster manager the same year.
From this position, over the past seven years, I contributed to attract more than 20 million Euro for direct investment through the Romanian National Cluster for Research and Production Infrastructure Programme, as well as from other programmes and projects carried out addressing the development of measures for internationalisation, the development of critical needed competencies and skills, support for startups and even for the promotion of alternative public policies, with the direct involvement of almost 100 stakeholders so far.
All this in order to support the development and competitiveness of the furniture industry, one of the main export pillars, both at regional and national level. The furniture industry in our region totals more than 30,000 employees (directly involved in the production of furniture and related components and services), being one of the key industries for growth in the North Transylvania Region in Romania.
Another central point of our activity is related to internationalisation activities such us international conferences, company missions and joint participations to specialised furniture fairs. As I previously mentioned we have a strong implication in the furniture field, therefore we organize company missions during the most important furniture fairs, such as Salone del Mobile (Milan), Furniture China and China International Furniture Fair (Shanghai), Malaysian International Furniture Fair (Kuala Lumpur), International Furniture Fair Singapore (Singapore) and of course we are always present to the SpogaGafa Fair and Orgatec and IMM Cologne Fair (Koln).
Going through the evaluation process and receiving the GOLD label was a necessary step in our cluster development, in order to assess how our cluster organization was performing and what it needed to further grow. Also, we wanted to get the recognition of the impact the implementation of our strategy has in the national industry, through cluster-level projects, on the one hand, but also in the ecosystem of the North Transylvania Region, on the other hand. Moreover, we wanted to showcase a functional model with obvious benefits for the involved companies and local communities, besides further inspiring other local, national and European actors.
ECCP: Do you have a public/private approach in your cluster structure?
CM: Although the cluster initiative is private, I believe that for this kind of structures an efficient and professional public-private partnership is essential in the long-term. In the absence of a clear legislation and healthy collaborative principles, in reality the actual success of public-private projects relies rather on the involved people and less on institutional (formalized) collaboration and some examples demonstrate this at local level. Global competitiveness requires adaptability and flexibility but the rigidity in attitude and processes of public stakeholders combined with a lack of understanding of how to work with the private sector are the main impediments to generating successful public-private projects.
ECCP: What is the story that makes you particularly proud of the work of your team?
CM: The cluster management team was born around a dynamic core of consultants in management, financial and strategic planning. During the last years of our cluster activity, the projects have diversified, have become more and more complex, and currently there are over 40 experts, specialists and volunteers involved in medium and long-term activities on specific projects working closely together with the management team. The peculiarity consists in the interest of the members, and the recruitment of the new staff in the team is constantly made from the members' employees, with their consent and direct involvement. Beyond the professional experiences, the beautiful communities created around the cluster projects bring us satisfaction and encourage us to continue on this road, confirming the benefits of the model.
ECCP: You mentioned that you are involved in a process targeting to change public-private policies in the region/country. Can you tell us more about your activities – and interim results, if available?
CM: Being a cluster manager means direct and constant contact with entrepreneurs and knowing their challenges and their needs. Most of these challenges and needs have common sources and that is how we got the idea to work on a project that aims to change public policies regarding the economic sector. The project is called "8 x S3 = Intelligent Romania", run by Transylvanian Furniture Cluster, Transylvania IT Cluster, AgroTransylvania Cluster. These three clusters represent more than 250 companies, universities and institutions in the industries of furniture, IT and agri-food sectors from Northern Transylvania Region. Our project is, in essence, a way to give voice and visibility to the members of our clusters and a tool to generate legislative changes that can boost the competitiveness of local economy.
Since the kick-off in October 2018, the experts working on the “Intelligent Romania Project” have been identifying priorities through consultations and debates with entrepreneurs from the region. At the moment, we are working on developing alternative public policies regarding the established priorities, namely local and regional governance, dual education and start-ups support, digitization of small and medium-sized companies, local markets and short supply chains support. Also, the need to create a monitoring tool for economic competitiveness has emerged, so the team is working on this aspect as well, planning to present such an instrument for monitoring economic parameters during public events, starting with the month of May 2019.
ECCP: What is the role and benefit of inter-regional cluster collaboration in Transylvania?
CM: Working with the other clusters in the region has become natural in recent years and links us with the desire to impact and generate a change in the collaborative area. Our discussions have turned into common proposals and we are currently running joint projects to develop start-up support ecosystems, develop skills for future jobs and contribute with new public policy proposals.
But the most important common achievement is the creation of the Northern Transylvania Clusters Consortium and the fact that this year we are organizing the 5th edition of the Transylvanian Clusters International Conference (TCIC), which has the focus on the benefits that clusters can bring to the worldwide economy. So far, the conference gathered altogether over 1200 participants and over 200 speakers in the previous editions and provided more than 500 opportunities for connecting entrepreneurs and businesses around the world, during our matching seessions.
ECCP: What is your vision of the European Commission's support for clusters?
CM: My vision on how the European Commission can support clusters in the next period includes 5 strategic challenges that need to be addressed:
1. Increasing the role of clusters in generating and promoting alternative public policy proposals with regional, national and European impact;
2. Involvement of clusters in supporting and developing ecosystems: supporting start-up programs, generating new business models, reshaping classic business to meet current challenges, and integrating these businesses into value chains;
3. Support RDI infrastructures with joint operation (public-private partnerships) and specific tools - platforms for the development of new products and services, resulting from collaborative projects;
4. Involve clusters in generating European partnerships to support business models that address jointly extra-EU markets;
5. Support cluster initiatives for strategic investments aimed to increase competitiveness in priority sectors, assumed at regional, national and European level (sustaining those investments that respond to a challenge identified by a cluster strategy).
While we understand that the European Commission cannot fund directly the core activities of a cluster organisation, there should be funding and tools dedicated to those who excel in their work on the basis of projects. At the same time, intensifying the exchange of experience at European level, through clusters, but directly targeting members of these structures (especially those from the private area), I think it could significantly contribute to greater integration, in the context of modest results of other European public policies.
ECCP: Thank you very much for the interview!
CM: And I thank you for such a great opportunity to introduce our cluster and work!
Interview with Ciprian Morcan, Cluster Manager of the Transylvanian Furniture Cluster / Representative of the Northern Transylvania Clusters Consortium / Vice President of Romania’s National Cluster Association – Clustero.