Industry clusters are seen as critical to economic growth and national competitiveness in the United States. They’re deemed so important to the United States that the Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Administration and Harvard Business School maintain more than 50 million data points mapping them.

Research from this US Cluster Mapping shows clusters increase the productivity and growth of existing companies, create jobs and new companies, drive innovation and support the survival and growth of small businesses. Clusters bring together a knowledge-based ecosystem of technology, talent, competing companies, universities and research institutes.

To the west of Sydney all these cluster components will be required if the Australian and New South Wales governments are to fulfil their vision and plan for the 1,700 hectare (4,200 acre) Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis, a self-contained business park built around and integrated into the greenfields Western Sydney Airport. Placed at the heart of the envisioned Western Parkland City that encompasses the established centres of Liverpool, Greater Penrith and Campbelltown-Macarthur, the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis is a focus of development and growth for all levels of government.

The governments have set ambitious targets in the area of Western Sydney industrial policy. Early indications are that the investment required is being planned for and made. An examination of some US cluster examples and the policy settings supporting them provide additional food for thought.

The New South Wales Government is looking to create a series of industry precincts focused on aerospace and defence, food and agribusiness, health, research and advanced manufacturing as part of the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis and is inviting companies to partner with them as anchor tenants. US defence prime Northrop Grumman is the anchor tenant for the aerospace and defence industries precinct.

As a greenfields area on the outskirts of the metropolitan area of Sydney, attracting the right companies to relocate or establish significant presences will be challenging. Such industry attraction has long been a feature of US regional economic policy to the point where competition between US states is now a feature of industry development.

Looking to 2026, when Western Sydney Airport is due to open, and recognising the rapid nature of technology-driven change, now is the time to focus on the technologically-advanced aspects of these target industry sectors. In the United States clusters are hubs of innovation; by attracting those companies at the leading edge of science and technology, and where proximity to an airport is an advantage, the aerotropolis will be setup to succeed. Aerospace is a natural fit. Additive manufacturing — or three-dimensional metal printing — of customised medical devices brings together health and advanced manufacturing for on-demand delivery for surgical needs. Aeroponic production of organic fruit and vegetables, a highly efficient approach of growing plants indoors without soil, could be the model for agricultural exports from Western Sydney Airport.

Attracting a world-class university, as outlined in the plans for the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis, will be crucial. Universities are the principal ideas-sharing venues in global cities and are a key source of future workforce as well. Some of the most famous US clusters, such as Silicon Valley and Boston are as recognisable for their universities as they are for their industry leaders.

Clusters occur organically, reflecting the assets and competencies of a region. The onus therefore on all levels of Australian governments focused on the success of the Western Parkland City is to get the settings right on the mix of technology, talent, competing companies, universities and research institutes. This will give the already nominated precincts within the aerotropolis the best chance to develop into clusters reaping the kinds of economic benefits experienced by the regions where clusters have evolved in the United States.

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