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Development of Clusters in Poland

Empirical study

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International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development
Volume 5, Issue 5, December 2019, Pages 15-25

Development of Clusters in Poland

DOI: 10.18775/ijied.1849-7551-7020.2015.55.2002

Lilla Knop

Silesian University of Technology, Poland

Abstract: The current study results attribute great importance to the role of clusters in innovation and competitive development creation. While seeking not so much the operational solutions, but the main components that form the cluster management process, it was noticed that a cluster – despite being already well- defined— does not come into being together with the declaration, willingness, initiative or the signing of the document. The creation and development of clusters is a long term process that can last for years and is exposed to a number of strategic obstacles. The experience both on a national and global level relating to the dynamics of the development of clusters show how difficult this task is, especially in a knowledge-based economy. The development of specialization and knowledge in clusters is no longer linear in nature, based on knowledge generated by the function of research and development of an individual company. It is defined as the result of a process of interaction through inter-organizational relationships, providing access to various types of resources. The article assumes that clusters in Poland after the quantum boom, are moving to the next phase of development based on improvement of activities. The aim of the article is to present the dynamics of cluster development in Poland. The research was done in 2015-2017, but the research period covered the years 2003-2016. Besides basic information on: number of clusters, year of creation, number of cluster members etc., the article analyzes cluster specializations against the background of smart specializations being developed in regions in Poland. Furthermore, the article presents the preliminary results of research on meeting management standards by Polish clusters. The research was based on PARP (The Polish Agency for Enterprise Development) project data and own studies.

Keywords: Competitive development, Development of clusters, Operational solution, Management standards

Development of Clusters in Poland

1. Introduction

For over 100 years clusters have constituted the basis for discussions on the benefits and their impact on the development of the economies of countries and regions. From the Marshal’s (1986) assumptions until today, the theory of clusters has rapidly developed. Assuming a synthesis of the theory of clusters description one may assume that from the standpoint of evolution, clusters can be assessed in terms of four strengths: cluster as a strength of a region describing aggregations as well as regional and local specialties; cluster as a strength of a sector or inter-sectoral relations forming the competitive edge of companies and business networks; cluster as a strength of inter-organizational relations based on social capital and trust; cluster as a strength of knowledge, its collection, exchange and creation of knowledge network (cluster as a knowledge hub, whose value is achieved with well-configured network resources). Significance of individual “strengths” has revealed together with clusters development, thus the “question what is the level of development of Polish clusters”, i.e. which of the approaches to clusters is visible in the Polish reality. At the moment, “clusters vogue” both in Poland and Europe slowly weaken.

There are initiatives, which notice the benefit from long-term cooperation and mostly those which have been developed for many years and not based on financial projects from structural funds. Now is the moment to verify the number of clusters in Poland and assess their effects. Purpose of the paper is the assessment of clusters development in Poland. An assumption (hypothesis) is thus adopted that strength of clusters in Poland is emphasized from the perspective of regional development however through the prism of companies competitiveness and innovativeness growth. Studies were conducted in 2015 – 2017 and are the result of implementation of a project for PARP (Polish Agency for Enterprise Development) and own thorough studies performed in 2017. The studies consisted of three phases: Phase 1: verification of clusters number in Poland and presentation of the main characteristics; Phase 2: characteristics of clusters specialization on the background of regional smart specializations; Phase 3: assessment of management standards in clusters.The studies used the basic quantitative analyses and expert assessment.

2. Strength of Clusters – Development of Clusters Theory

A large number of cluster definitions does not facilitate the task concerning creation of suitable synthesis and rather indicates to the complexity of the issue, the diverse nature and approach. The process of development of cluster understanding resulted in synthetic approach to its definition. Using the assumption I.R. Gordon and P. McCann (2005) and S. Iammarino and P. McCann (2006) and own approach (Knop 2013,2014), you can organize the cluster definitions in accordance with the motto that “cluster is the strength”:

  • “Strength of a region” understood as a classic agglomeration (group) concerning concentration of industry, with an important role of the administration as well as local and regional authorities (Marshall 1986; Perroux 1950; Krugman 1991; Cooke 2001). Using this approach, the labour market is a reflection of possibilities of using the economy of scale and an indication that the external effects are the result of both the activity of the local market and the spillover effects. The critical determinants of such cluster understanding include: proximity, critical mass and currently regional smart specializations (RIS 3, 2012);
  • “Strength of sector and complementary sectors” means an industrial complex that groups companies on a given area and focuses on specific relationships in terms of sales and purchases of businesses that seek to reduce transaction costs and improve the competitiveness (Porter 1990; Miles et al. 1992; Enright 1996; Rosenfeld 1997). Critical determinants of such understanding of a cluster are: sectoral cluster specialization, cluster competitiveness, development of competitive technology, cooperation synergy effects;
  • “Strength of relationships” understood as a social network (Castells 1994; Chow 2008; Stachowicz 2006), otherwise model of a “club” concentrated on social ties and trust that facilitate cooperation and innovation; emphasizes the activity of different organizations, with particular distinguishing the civil society. Critical determinants of the cluster are: interdependence, confidence, social capital, relationship.
  • “Strength of knowledge”, i.e. knowledge hub (Dahl 2004; Maskell 2001; Kogut 2000; Olko 2016), based on the cooperation of scientific and research organizations with business, in order to develop new knowledge and revolutionary innovations. Critical determinants of clusters are: knowledge management within a cluster, cluster value, configuration of resources in a cluster.

The development of the cluster concept indicates the dominance of understanding clusters as agglomerations in a particular territory, understood from the perspective of smart specializations. It moreover stresses the importance of competitiveness of the group and its individual entities and as a result sets the role of companies, as emphasized by M. Porter (1998). The author noted that feature of the cluster is the fact that it constitutes a genuine and effective organizational form and its increased efficiency is disclosed in three ways: improves the performance of business included in it; enhances the ability of companies to innovation; encourages the creation of new economic businesses. Thorough understanding of a cluster as a social network and the development of a knowledge-based economy has extended the research and practical applications by the importance of the cluster value. Cluster as a knowledge hub is a “strength” that draws the attention of the contemporary clusters. The role of innovation and horizontal relationships grows, which represents the grounds for revolutionary solutions (e.g. nanotechnologies in medicine or nanotechnologies in chemistry). Finding the cluster strengths as “specific knowledge hubs” means the use of network approach (Inkpen 2005; Kogut 2000; Czakon 2012; Ryszko 2016) and focus on the social coordination of activities based on common values in the network. Coordination assumes management of relationships of inflow and flow of resources (in particular knowledge resources) available to the members of a cluster. The result of these actions is growth of innovativeness of entities within a cluster, cluster innovativeness as well as innovativeness of regions that is emphasized in the smart specializations.

3. Clusters in Poland – Assessment Attempt

An attempt to make an inventory of such structures as clusters is always complicated. Mainly, in order to do so, one uses the existing database (global, European, national and regional) to which clusters apply themselves. One can also use database of projects in which the clusters have participated. Each similar action brings closer to determination of the clusters number, thus their size or specializations. In 2015, an attempt to perform full inventory of clusters existing in Poland was performed upon the order of PARP (Polish Agency for Enterprise Development). The next expert verification was made at the end of 2017. The purpose of the work was primarily verification of the list of over 800 clusters that were recorded among other things: in European, national and regional databases, supplemented by the expert opinions and the interested clusters themselves. The second objective was the determination of the level of compliance with cluster management standards – the criteria adopted by PARP (Polish Agency for Enterprise Development). The level of compliance with clusters management standards is intended to assist in the process of obtaining the status of National Key Cluster, thereby attracting additional public funds for its development. The studies consisted of three phases:

  • Phase 1: verification of clusters number in Poland and presentation of the main characteristics: number of clusters, time of their origin, number and diversity of entities in the clusters and organizational forms of clusters;specializations;
  • Phase 2: characteristics of clusters specialization on the background of regional smart
  • Phase 3: assessment of management standards in

The studies used the basic quantitative analyses and expert assessment.

3.1 Phase 1 – Basic Characteristics of Clusters in Poland

The first phase of the study focused on making an inventory of clusters and presentation of their basic characteristics, in accordance with the assumption that the clusters are “strength of regions” and national economy. From the initial number of over 800 records in the base of cluster/cluster initiatives operating in Poland, 294 clusters and potential clusters have been identified. This research stage, following the rejection of the duplicate records, was based on CAWI and CATI. The CATI studies have assumed contact with clusters which have not responded to the electronic survey and also represented completion of data that clusters have not submitted. As a result, 214 clusters that meet the basic criteria have been identified:

  • Cluster has valid, at least one of the documents: confirming the existence of cluster formation;
  • Cluster has specified, unambiguous economic specialization;
  • Structure of cluster’ members is differentiated;
  • Coordinator of the cluster plays an active role in the cluster i.e. provides continuous and periodical services on behalf of the members of the cluster (at least once a quarter);
  • Communication and information exchange within cluster is up to date and regular and takes place via: (1) communication platform (e.g. Intranet, newsletter), (2) business and/or integration meetings, (3) or other forms of information flow.

The 214 clusters were further studied in the context of their maturity. Research in addition to the basic address and contact information included: data concerning year of establishing as well as organizational and legal form; number and structure of the entities in the cluster; specialization of the cluster; affiliation of the cluster to external national and international structures; characteristics of infrastructure of the cluster.

The number and year of establishing clusters in Poland

The beginning of an informed process of creating clusters in Poland may be the date of accession of Poland to the EU, i.e. 2004 year. Figure 1 shows the number of clusters established in individual years. Before 2004, two key clusters have been established that until today are the benchmark for others, these include Dolina Lotnicza (Aviation Valley) and Klaster Kotlarski (Furnace Cluster) in Pleszew. The first significant increment of clusters creation in Poland took place in 2007, when 24 clusters have been established. This was the time of wide promotion of clusters and cooperation networks in Poland. The promotional activities were supported with significant resources, especially for “creation of clusters’, which caused that a considerable part of the clusters was a top-down type (Fromhold-Eisebith 2005). Most clusters were founded in years 2011-2012 – 75 clusters. This was the “boom” period for clusters. On the one hand, the number of newly established clusters was related to creating the clusters identified as a project objective and on the other, this was an attempt to cope with recession on the market.

Figure 1: The number of clusters created in Poland 2004-2015. Source: own elaboration.

One emphasized the meaning of clusters within a competitive and innovative development of sectors and regions (cluster as the strength of a sector and region). However, the least number of clusters was established in 2015 which implies the dropping tendency of clusters number being established within a single year. In accordance with the premises of the European cluster policy resulting from past observation of existing clusters in Europe, we do not need more of them, however clusters of higher quality are necessary (EU 2010). The actions resulting from the cluster policy adopted in Poland are aimed at concentration on the key initiatives in the country and regions, which will lead to a reduction in the number of clusters. At the same time it is assumed that one will strive towards strong, innovative clusters, resulting in granting the status of the National Key Cluster.

Number and Variety of Clusters Members in Poland

Small clusters (up to 40 members in total) is the largest group in Poland represented by 136 clusters with 49 of them having less than 20 members – fig. 2. Large number of small clusters in Poland results from the cluster policy, which supports small consortium projects (min. 15 entities, including min. 10 enterprises). However, there are also large clusters, which evolve noticeably faster. The largest cluster in Poland in terms of the number of members is the Metal Processing Cluster (Klaster Obróbki Metali) in Podlaskie Province, which includes over 200 members. In terms of the turnover value, there is the Aviation Valley (Dolina Lotnicza), whose number is also impressive from the standpoint of other clusters in Poland – it has 95 members. Despite the large number of members, the approach to cluster management and commitment of members causes that it is a reference for others.

In accordance with the concept of triple helix (Etzkowitz et al. 1995), innovative environments, including clusters should integrate the representatives of the three environments: business, science and administration. The adopted research assumptions included also entities such as: enterprises (broken down to: micro-enterprises, small, medium and large enterprises), business environment institutions and scientific entities and other organizations.

Figure 3 presents the structure of entities based on 214 clusters. As expected, the most numerous group is the enterprises (including less than ¾ entities are enterprises). Among the enterprises, the micro-enterprises (34%) are the most numerous group, then – small enterprises (21%), medium-sized enterprises (12%) and large enterprises (6%). Business environment institutions and scientific entities represent 7% of entities structures, and other entities is 14%.

Analysis shows a large diversity of entities in clusters, unfortunately examining the activity of individual groups of entities in the clusters is much more difficult. The carried out focused interviews show that the scientific entities are the least active. The partial cause of this is the fact that in Poland in the cluster policy it is assumed that a cluster exists, if its structure includes enterprises and scientific entities (scientific entities were included, because they had to be present in a project). They do not always identify with the activities of the cluster, particularly if they do not see any benefits from it.

In the identification of clusters, one also noted the formal clusters, i.e. the scope of formal relationship. Among the studied population, the most common form of relationships is legal arrangements (ca. 55%) and association (37%), other forms: are foundations and capital companies. Provision of the organizational and legal form is the requirement put before each cluster during registration in to the base and when applying for funding on different level. It is also the grounds for the organization of activities in the cluster on the basis of the declaration of cooperation submitted by the organization.

3.2 Specializations of Clusters on the Background of Regional Smart Specializations

The attempt to asses Polish clusters from the standpoint of sector strength, inter-sectoral relationships and innovative challenges (cluster as a knowledge hub) was based on an analysis of clusters specialization and comparison with regional smart specializations, which decide about innovative development of the regions. Figure 4 shows the grouped clusters specializations. The most clusters is present in the widely perceived ICT sector – 27 clusters. In second place in terms of the number of clusters (23 clusters) are specializations related to industrial processing covering clusters operating in the sectors of metal processing, foundry, welding, etc. Number of medical and pharmaceutical sector related clusters is the same. These are key developmental sectors. Despite the large cost of activities and difficulties in cooperation, three clusters are distinguished in the cluster policy of Poland. In the construction sector, 22 clusters are present. Within its framework, energy-efficient, passive and intelligent construction is a special subgroup. Power sector as a specialization takes the next position and covers mainly technologies concerning renewable energy sources (RES). This specialization includes 21 clusters in the analyzed group. In practice, there are no commercial power sector clusters in Poland. Relatively well noticed is tourism as a specialization of clusters – it is represented by 13 clusters and includes in addition to the traditional tourism related to the place, also medical and resort Services for the businesses also include 13 clusters, however scope of such services concerns development of entrepreneurship, innovation as well as financial and managerial support. This specialization is mainly of service nature.

The food industry, which as a sector includes value chain from crops and livestock to processing, storage and distribution of foodstuffs, is represented by 12 clusters in Poland located in several regions of Poland, but mostly in Greater Poland Province. The creative sector covers 11 clusters. This is a differentiated and emerging sector which plays a significant role in Poland. 10 clusters represent specialization related to protection of the environment. Aviation (6 clusters) includes the manufacture of planes, helicopters and other aircraft and components for aircraft production (especially engines), and maintenance services for the aviation. It is a sector, development of which is based on clusters in both the US and in the whole of Europe. The remaining specialties including at least 5 clusters are as follows: transport and logistics and the automotive sector. The remaining specializations of clusters are related to chemical, printing, ship building, furniture and photonics industry.

Specialization of clusters were compared to the development of regional smart specializations. The key assumption of the smart specialization is identification of individual potential of a given region and its utilization in order to create a competitive edge of a region and companies within a given field (RIS3, 2012)). The concept of smart specialization is based on four main assumptions:

  • It is necessary create the area of research and innovation of suitable size, which will allow for competing to international
  • The process of smart specialization identification is not a bureaucratized process, but is based on discovering and focusing on these areas of science and innovation, which are complementary for the social and economic circumstances and resources of a given region.
  • The essence of the concept of smart specialization is not promoting so called general purpose technologies (GPT) but their application, e.g. nanotechnologies in chemical industry.
  • The method of smart specialization implementation has a spaced apart character, based on the process of entrepreneurial discovering. This cannot be an arbitrary decision of public administration.

Table 1 presents specializations specified by regions. Each region was based on different selection methodology, however during their determination, clusters, as structures, which satisfy the four indicated assumptions, play the key role. Moreover, within the Polish cluster policy, National Key Clusters emerge – there are clusters of significant importance for the economy of the country and international competitiveness. National Key Clusters are identified on national level, among other things based on criteria concerning: critical mass (associating effectively operating, competitive economic entities, high quality scientific entities and effectively operating business environment institutions), development and innovation potential, generating added value both for the beneficiaries of the cluster and the state economy; current and planned cooperation as well as experience and coordinator potential; emerging role within the economic development of the country through improvement of products quality, level of innovativeness, quality of education, quality of life, etc.; relationships with the state development direction, in particular with smart specializations.

Among the provinces that affect population of clusters in Poland to the highest extent, Silesian Province (37) and Masovian Province (35) must be distinguished. The middle group with 15 – 20 clusters is represented by Lower Silesian, Lesser Poland, Subcarpathian and Greater Poland Provinces. The last group includes provinces with less than 14 clusters.

The analysis shows that provinces in general have used the clusters potential in the process of smart specialization identification. Major part of the regional smart specializations includes clusters, including National Key Clusters. The exception is Silesian Province with three National Key Clusters but only one uses smart specializations. However, it is necessary to mention that there are works in progress concerning development of smart specializations in this region, related especially to the area of production and processing of materials and aviation sector. In 5 provinces: Lubuskie, Łódzkie, Opolskie, Warmińsko-Mazurskie i Wielkopolskie, there are no key clusters. This is not usual, especially for Greater Poland Province, which is among the leading provinces of developmental regions.

Table 1: Regional smart specializations and associated clusters

Number of clusters in


Regional Smart Specializations and number of associated clusters (…) including National Key Clusters
Lower Silesian
16 ICT (1); medicine/pharmacy (4) NUTRIBIOMED; chemistry (2); mining industry (3); electronic (1); automotive (1)
5 ICT (1); healthy food (1); innovative agriculture (-); medicine/pharmacy (1); chemistry (1) Bydgoszcz Industrial Cluster; creative industries (-); logistics water and land engineering (-); eco-innovation (-); automotive (-)
11 ICT (2) Eastern Cluster ICT; biotechnology (3) medicine/pharamacy (1), power engineering (2)
5 biotechnology (-); services for business (1); quality of life/turism (1); innovative industry (2)
8 ICT (1); healthy food, innovative agriculture (1); medicine/pharmacy (-); power engineering (1); architecture/construction (2); textile industry / design (-); innovative industry (2)
Lesser Poland
15 ICT (1); biotechnology (1) LifeScience Cluster; metal industry (1), power engineering (5) Sustainable Infrastructure Cluster; chemistry (-); electronic
35 healthy food (2); intelligent management systems (4) Masovian ICT Cluster; modern services for business (4); high quality of life (8)
3 chemical (sustainable) technologies (1), sustainable construction and wood technologies (1), technologies of machine and metal industry (-), technologies of the energy industry (-), agro-food technologies (-), processes and products for health and environment protection ( 1)
17 aviation and cosmonautics (2) Aviation Valley; quality of life (6); automotive (1); ICT (2)
11 agro-food industry (1), metal and machinery industry (2) Metal Processing Cluster; boatbuilding industry (-),medical sector and life sciences (1); eko-innovation and related sectors (3) Eastern Construction Cluster
12 offshore and port-logistics technologies (2) „North-South” Logistics & Transport Cluster; interactive technologies – ICT (1) ) Interizon ICT Cluster; eco-efficient technologies (4); medical technologies (2)
37 power engineering (9); medicine (2) MedSilesia; ICT (4); Polish Aluminium Cluster; Silesian Aviation Cluster
Holy Cross
8 foundry and metal industry (-); modern agriculture and food processing (-); resource-efficient construction (2) Cluster of Waste Management and Recycling; health tourism (3); ICT (1); trade and congress industry (1); sustainable energy development (1)
3 high quality food (-); furniture and wood industry (1); water economy (2)
Greater Poland
16 bio-materials and organic food (3); the interior of the future (1); future industry (2); specialized logistics processes (-); ICT (5); modern medical technologies (-)
West Pomeranian
12 bio-economy (1) Chemical Cluster “Green Chemistry”; maritime activities and logistics (3); metal and machinery industry (2); services of the future (ICT, creative industries) (2); tourism and health (3)

4. Assessment of Clusters Management Standards in Poland – Phase 3

The assessment of satisfaction level of clusters management standards was performed in order to evaluate the level of tasks organization within the cluster, scope and completeness of resources and processes implemented within a cluster as well as the element of services in aid of the cluster members and cooperation with environment. By implementing the objective of the paper, I tried to answer the question concerning the level of cluster organization as a knowledge hub. The main body subject to evaluation was cluster coordinator. Direct interviews have been conducted in 64 selected clusters (among 214). The tool developed by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP) “Cluster management standards. Coordinator self-assessment tool” was used. According to the assumptions of PARP, cluster management standards are divided to 5 areas, 19 subareas and 36 indicators conditioning its satisfaction (Piotrowski 2014). Assessment of cluster management standards concerned the following areas:

  • Cluster organization (cluster organizational grounds and cluster strategy).
  • Resources (financial resources, infrastructure, human and information resources).
  • Processes (marketing and public relation, internal communication, cluster development, R&D, sustainable growth).
  • Services in aid of cluster members (external funding, market activities, exchange of experiences and networking, development of human resources, internationalization).
  • Cooperation with environment (cooperation with self-government, scientific entities, other clusters, cluster recognisability).

Among the verified clusters, 30 of them satisfied the standards. Collective results concerning all clusters are presented in figure 5.

General level of standards satisfaction is relatively high – it is 91% for all analysed areas. Such high level of standards satisfaction is probably the result of targeted selection of clusters for verification of standards, because not only the initiatives that met the subjective and activity criteria were selected but also these which have experience and relatively large number of members. The level of standards satisfaction among individual areas was very similar. The highest value was attained by cooperation with environment (94%), cluster organization (93%) was the second. Very similar result is manifested by the area of processes in the cluster – 92%, the last place from the standpoint of standards satisfaction level is taken by the services in aid of cluster member and resources, with the level of 89%. Of course, all key clusters met the management standard but 7 of them were excluded from the studies (they already obtained a status before the studies).

In case of satisfying the standards, there are the following problems: standard related to possessing multi-language information about a cluster, missing financial plans, lack of current strategy of development and its monitoring. These however were easily solved problems.

5. Limitations

The paper does not include studies within the scope of assessment of Polish clusters as a “strength of relationships”, because this necessitates detailed research between members of a single cluster. Such studies in Polish creative clusters are included by S. Olko in his monograph (Olko 2017).

6. Summary

Polish clusters are agglomerations which play special role in regional development (“strength of a region”), which is interpreted under contemporary conditions. Combining the growth of competitiveness (“sector strength”) and innovativeness (“knowledge strength”) puts the clusters in the lead of economic development of the country and region. Verification of the hypothesis allowed to formulate several final conclusions, which are the result of research carried out in individual phases:

  • Phase The number of clusters in Poland is stabilizing, with the simultaneous increase in the number of innovative clusters, which results in an increase in the number of National Key Clusters. In addition, the analysis showed a large diversity of entities in clusters working in Poland. The largest population are microenterprises and they are the most active. What is disturbing is the poor activity of scientific units, which assess the benefits of participating in clusters lowly. To a large extent, the innovativeness and competitiveness of clusters is based on the “ingenuity” of enterprises.
  • Phase 2. The analysis shows that provinces in general have used the clusters potential in the process of smart specialization identification. Major part of the regional smart specializations includes clusters, including National Key
  • Phase An analysis of cluster management standards has shown that clusters in Poland are improving their skills in managing such structures. The research was carried out in selected clusters. Certainly, an important complement would be to cover all identified clusters in Poland with research.

Still growing knowledge concerning clusters and awareness of benefits cause that enterprises and scientific entities take prudential actions within the clusters. Such situation will verify the number of clusters in Poland. One may assume that within the next 5 years, not more than half of the verified clusters will remain on the market, but they will be significantly stronger.


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