Building and Maintaining International Industry Clusters: Galway's Medical Devices Cluster

Expert Panel Discussion


Aras Moyola, NUI Galway 18:00 :: 4th March 2010

An expert panel will discuss the significance of building strong international industry clusters as a critical element in growing economic activity within regional and national economies. Industry clusters are geographic areas where there is a concentration of industrial activity supported by government, regional and national actors such as universities and development agencies. This concentration of companies within an industry cluster enables and sustains individual companies to compete effectively in national and international markets. In theory, industry clusters provide companies with opportunities to gain greater economies of scale, to increase levels of productivity, to access new market opportunities and to participate in basic and applied research and development. In addition, companies benefit from having access to a highly skilled and talented pool of workers. The concept of industry clusters has formed the basis for economic policy development in many regional and national economies.

The development of the medical device sector in Ireland and particularly the Galway cluster typifies the nature of economic growth that the country has experienced over the past two decades. With fifteen of the world’s top twenty medical technology companies having significant international operations in Ireland (IDA Ireland, 2010) combined with a smaller base of indigenous companies, they employ an estimated 24,000 people in approximately 140 companies (IMDA, 2010). There is a significant regional dimension to the Irish medical devices sector with almost 40% of total employment in the sector in the West of Ireland (Forfás, 2008, p.23). As a result Galway has been recognised as a “focal point for many device firms” (Stommen, 2005, p.1) and “one of Europe’s leading industrial clusters” (Brown, 2005 p.11). The Galway medical devices cluster is characterised primarily by trading linkages on a global scale. The local cluster is vibrant and dynamic with a clustering effect occurring through university-industry linkages, the development of a pool of skilled labour, knowledge transfers in the form of start-up firms, the growth of supplier firms and most significantly, the development of a regional and international reputation through the presence of Boston Scientific and Medtronic (Giblin, 2007, 2010). Being export driven with world class product development and manufacturing, strong and vibrant university industry linkages all have been contributing factors to the development of Galway’s medical device cluster, which is an exemplar of modern high-tech regional clusters.

Facilitated by Mr. Mark Little, Journalist and Author

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