CLIPPER (Creating a leadership for maritime industries - New opportunities in Europe) is a joint project aimed at developing public policy instruments to better support the success of SMEs in the maritime industry, where competition with Asian companies is extremely tough. The goal of the project is to develop existing regional structures and to create new ways to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to be competitive and to support their internationalisation and the development of value chains and cluster operations.
The project includes seven regional players ranging from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea, as well as the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), the inclusion of which has provided the project with a direct link to political decision-makers. Southwest Finland is represented in the project by Turku University of Applied Sciences, which is involved in the development work.
CLIPPER is funded by the Interreg Europe funding programme. The active period of the project lasts until mid-2020, with a follow-up period of approximately 1.5 years.
CLIPPER is led in Southwest Finland by project advisor Juha Valtanen of Turku University of Applied Sciences. According to Valtanen, it has been noticed so far in the project that the problems facing the maritime industry and SMEs are quite similar everywhere in Europe.
“For example, the availability of a skilled workforce is a problem almost everywhere. Availability of labour is a two-part challenge: there needs to be a sufficient number of staff, and they must be sufficiently well trained to meet the needs of the modern maritime industry”.
Competitiveness between businesses, as well as research, development and innovation activities (R&D&I) and internationalisation are also common challenges in the regions taking part in the project.
“All the regions have their own kinds of regional and national support instruments for promoting competitiveness and internationalisation. It would be important for SMEs to focus on making changes to value chains – that is to say, in practice, to how companies can develop and transition from being solely subcontractors in the maritime industry, for example, to being producers for other sectors as well”.
“It is also important to develop financial models that go beyond the present types of instruments, which are focused only on support, towards financial or part-ownership financing models. At present, the subsidy systems are so complicated and bureaucratic in their application processes that they require the applicant companies to have access to extensive legal expertise”, Valtanen explains.
In his view, financial and policy instruments are currently too focused on the development curves that are already visible. Instead, Valtanen encourages decision-makers to look more boldly towards the future and to anticipate development needs and opportunities that cannot yet be predicted with confidence.
This project will provide concrete tools and advice for public actors operating in the maritime sector
For the first two years of the CLIPPER project, the participants have familiarised themselves extensively with each other’s practices and structures and with those of other areas. This work has created a basis for further development of existing practices and the development of new support models. Among the approaches that have been used in the exploratory phase are group work, close cooperation between partners, and exchanges of specialists between different regions.
The next step in the project is for regional action plans for the maritime industry to be developed in each of the partner regions. Launch of these is planned for summer 2019, followed by a two-year follow-up period. The background work for drawing up the plan began in summer of 2018.
“In the past few months we have been holding discussions with organisations that are key regional and national players in terms of maritime policy. These include the Regional Council of Southwest Finland, Turku Science Park, the City of Turku, Finnish Marine Industries, the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centre) of Southwest Finland, Business Finland, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, and regional higher education institutions”, says Valtanen. “In addition, we have thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the current policy papers and strategies on which the action plan is based. Maritime policy in Finland is nationally coordinated, so the plan cannot be based solely on regional development work.
It is not about creating a new and disconnected strategy paper – the plan will be based on existing strategies, and must bring forth new ideas and models to help support maritime SMEs more effectively”. “The existing strategies provide only very general guidelines, but the operating plan that will be implemented in this project will provide concrete tools and advice for public actors operating in the maritime sector”.
The action plan is based on good practices that have been observed in different places during the project phase, and on new ideas that have been generated during the various stages of the project.
“The project has found many inspirational practices from different areas. However, on account of regional differences their application to other regions can be tricky. For this reason, we must carefully consider how certain working methods can be tailored to the specific circumstances and needs”.
For example, the project has examined alternative financing options and how to benefit from these in the Finnish operating environment. In addition to financing, there are interesting models for bringing the research community and business community together that could also be considered in Finland. Operating methods used in Southwest Finland have also been of interest in the other project countries.
“It should not be forgotten that we already have many innovative operating models in Southwest Finland, models that others could learn from”, Valtanen says. “For example, Turku Future Technologies, which brings trade and industry together with institutes of higher education, the Blue Industry Park that is currently being built near the Meyer Turku shipyard, and the Maritime Accelerator Program that was launched in the Science Park this autumn, have all attracted interest from the other partners.”
Turku University of Applied Sciences