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‘Precisely because things are going so well in Brainport Eindhoven, it is important to link the power of today to the challenges of tomorrow’. Arnold Stokking, Managing Director Industry at TNO and initiator of the future exploration of Brainport Eindhoven; where are the opportunities for the region when it comes to innovation and new business models in 2038? In this biweekly column, Stokking and those directly involved explain the important aspects from this future exploration. Here are the previously published Brainport columns.

Regardless of where our exploration of the future leads us, one thing is already clear to me: we must invest and hold each other’s hands in chosen directions. Together, just as we did it at the end of the nineties when Brainport was founded, with our specific high-tech ecosystem as a successful outcome. Unfortunately, I see many politicians at home and abroad who believe that market forces will regulate the future, even in the current global digital age. According to that philosophy, general measures, such as stimulating by means of generic tax benefits, are sufficient. The question is what the result will ultimately be regarding distinctive capacity and to what extent these resources evaporate into higher short-term profits? Targeted investment in economic infrastructure is much more sustainable. Government stimulation in the form of general cost reduction is like negotiating on price, anyone can do that and therefore it inevitably leads to a race to the bottom in international competition. In the end, that competition only has losers. I, therefore, call for a joint race to the top.

A company that is deeply rooted in our ecosystem and therefore rose to unprecedented heights is ASML. Because of these roots, such a world player remains in our Brainport region, together with the many companies associated with ASML within this manufacturing industry. The same can be seen in IJmuiden, where a whole specialisation chain has been created around Tata Steel. These are two examples showing how important and sustainable an integrated infrastructure is as a distinguishing feature of an economic region. Technology, supplies, knowledge, education and a stimulating government; everything must come together. Only with this concentration can we win the battle as a high-tech region. Ultimately, this is about the business climate, a thing of major importance for Brainport Eindhoven: we need to attract companies in a targeted way, and that can only be achieved if everything is right in terms of content and environment. Brainport Eindhoven is only really attractive if we invest in its distinctive capacity. The region simply cannot be everything for everyone, we have to choose and focus on those choices.

In this way, we not only guarantee economic progress, but it also enables us to meet the social challenges we face. They are so great that we have no choice but to tackle them together. In this respect, we already have a strong starting position as a region, but also nationally. For example, there are many initiatives around field labs that help companies, often SMEs, to become familiar with and experiment with the inevitable digitisation. There is also a growing insight that major issues surrounding CO₂ emissions cannot be solved by companies alone, but that sharing knowledge and joint experimentation are necessary. In fact, there is virtually nothing that does not benefit from further development of ecosystems with experimental possibilities; think of smart mobility, challenges in healthcare or safety. It is therefore not very difficult to identify the subjects in our scenario analyses. These will be subjects that we are already strong in as a region, where there is a great challenge, and where there is a market for.

The importance of innovation policy is, therefore, greater than ever in terms of our future-proofing. What’s more, it is also the force that drives Brainport Eindhoven’s business climate. If we invest in an ecosystem that builds on this, we will become a magnet for new, inherent activity. But ecosystems do not develop and grow by themselves. They require direction, commitment, knowledge, marketing and money, a lot of money, from many parties at once, public and private. The government has a role to play in driving these public and private efforts with resources. Consortia form and choose the subjects. The government should not act from the Ministry of Finance via tax authorities, but from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Change to encourage public-private partnership structures. The more successful this becomes, the stronger the ecosystems and the better the regional and national business climate.

In order to map the future of Brainport Eindhoven as broadly as possible, all ideas are more than welcome. If you would like to contribute ideas, please contact us at [email protected]