Two things we know about the Welsh economy, from ONS and GVA data, are: it is doing less well than the British average; and that it is under performing in key economic sectors such as ICT, professional services and life sciences, the latter despite substantial Welsh government support and investment.
One of the reasons that I believe the Welsh economy is underperforming in these areas is the lack of science parks.
Throughout Europe and North America science parks have been created over the last 60 years. The worldâ€™s first university research park started in the early 1950s near Stanford University and today there are over 170 science parks in the USA. In 1969, the Sophia Antipolis Science Park in France was formed and has been followed by more in the UK and mainland Europe.
Examples across Britain and Europe include the following:
Exeter Science Park
When it is at full capacity is estimated to employ at least 3000 people. The site offers facilities for science and research in areas including food security, biosciences and sustainable energy sources; and has a number of large multinational companies such as Arabian Industries Energy Solutions â€“ who provide â€œspecialist process engineering packages for the oil and gas industryâ€�, and seeDATA, who are â€œa digital agency delivering software, websites and design.
Bristol and Bath Science Park
The park houses the National Composites Centre (NCC) which facilitates a number of experts and academics within the industrial sector. The NCC is led by the University of Bristol and is an open access area for businesses of all sizes, with offices, workshop space and teaching facilities. Currently, the site is partnered with businesses including Airbus, GKN Aerospace, and Rolls-Royce and is aiming to create 6000 jobs.
Malvern Hills Science Park
In the Malvern Hills set in rural Worcestershire there is a science park that has been successful. Despite having no major population centre near it, the Science Park has employed 300 people in industries as diverse as â€œUTC Aerospace Engineeringâ€� and â€œWorcestershire 5G Test Bedâ€�.
York Science Park
York in a city slightly smaller city than Swansea, has a science park that offers around 137,000 square feet of flexible, high-specification space for growth. Over 100 businesses are currently within it employing 2800 people, including ClearSky Medical Diagnostics.
Pentland Science Park
Pentland Science Park in Midlothian has over 20 commercial tenants involved in Research and Development in life sciences and employing over 200 people, making it one of the major employment centres in the area and companies set up there include BioReliance â€“ a company that provides testing and manufacturing services to pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies; and TCBioPharm â€“ a company that is developing an autologous anti-cancer immunotherapy, formulating a treatment for a wide variety of tumour types.
Lindholmen Science Park
In Sweden, Gothenburg has a science park founded in 2000 with over 150,000 square metres of land and employment for 10,000 people. Lindholmen Science Park is dedicated to research and development in mobile communication, intelligent vehicles and transports systems, and the modern media industry. It has over 375 current tenants include Volvo, Saab and the telecommunications company Ericsson.
Leiden Bioscience Park
In the Netherlands, Leiden Bioscience Park opened in 1984 and focuses its research within the biotechnology sector. It offers 110 hectares of building space employing 18000 people with over 60 companies and knowledge-based institutions, including Janssen Biotech and pharmaceutical research company Galapagos NV.
In Portugal, Taguspark is located on the outskirts of Lisbon and opened in 1992, it covers an area of approximately 150 acres employing 10,000 people, offering several Research and Development labs, innovative start-ups and business incubators in a range of fields such as IT, materials, biotechnologies and fine chemistry with prominent companies including Portugal Telecom and consultancy agency ISQ.
So what about Wales?
The first designated Science Park in Wales did not open until 2018 at Menai on the isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon).
Menai Science Park (M-SParc), a subsidiary of Bangor University, currently has 11 companies ready to move in when the park opens in early 2018. They range from start-ups like Ambionics, a company from Menai Bridge developing life changing prosthetic arms for children, to Loyalty Logistix, developing customer retention and data intelligence services for the automobile industry.
Do Science parks work
Quoting from University world news from May 2011:
â€œClusters of innovative firms are an old phenomenon. In the UK during the first Industrial Revolution, for example, the cotton industry was heavily concentrated in Lancashire within the Oldham-Bolton-Manchester triangle. In more recent times, clusters of high-tech firms, prime among which is Silicon Valley in California, have gained fame and are routinely referred to as role models for promoting innovation, successful commercialisation of research and economic growth. What is it that makes clusters so attractive?
There is extensive empirical evidence for thinking that clusters generate some tangible benefits, such as knowledge spillovers, the sharing of inputs and forward and backward linkages to research innovation, which make firms within the cluster more productive and innovative. Some firms might even never have been founded outside of such clusters.â€�
There are those that believe that the same success can be achieved with clusters without having a formal science park.
We know that Science parks have created jobs, often in large numbers across the UK and Western Europe. The success depends upon have close relationships with or better being led by the local University in areas that the university specialises in.
I believe that whilst science parks will not solve the problem of the Welsh economy underperforming compared to the UK economy, they will take us several steps in the right direction especially if they are located by and run in conjunction with the universities.
All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWAâ€™s disclaimer.
Weâ€™re working every day to bring the right people together and generate the ideas to make Wales a world-leading force.
Weâ€™re independent of government and political parties. We provide a much-needed space for open, transparent debate about the ideas that can make Wales better.
To continue to do this, we need people like you to join us.
Join us today and youâ€™ll be supporting vital work thatâ€™s making our country better than ever.