Tilburg University Society

Brabant is unique thanks to all the ‘human capital’ in the audience here

On January 30th, 2014, the first Cobbenhagen Summit took place in the Cobbenhagen building of Tilburg University.
Urban economist Edward Glaeser, EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Shell top executive Dick Benschop also gave key notes.

Commentaries were given by Governor Wim van de Donk, Tilburg Mayor Peter Noordanus, the future chair of the Employers' Organisation for Brabant and Zeeland, Peter Struik, and President of the Executive Board of Tilburg University, Koen Becking. Commentaries and discussions were held under the Chatham House Rule.

Edward Glaeser

"Brabant is unique thanks to all the ‘human capital’ in the audience here"

Urban economist Edward Glaeser, well-known author of the New York Times bestseller Triumph of the City, was a guest of honor at the first Cobbenhagen Summit, which took place at Tilburg University on January 30, 2014. “Popular economics of the best sort”, a reviewer wrote about the book in The Economist. And what an orator! This Harvard professor once again confirmed the image of high profile American professors as guaranteeing an interesting presentation.

This passionate scholar paid tribute to North Brabant before an elite group of approximately 90 CEOs, representatives of local governments, and entrepreneurs. The province’s abiding economic success has not gone unnoticed, even in the United States. “Brabant is unique thanks to all the ‘human capital’ in the audience here”, Glaeser says.

Edward Glaser: "Social innovation should not be ignored since technology is useless without an interactive community".

Many conurbations are faced with a downturn sooner or later, for instance, because monoculture makes the city and the region vulnerable. We all know the stories of complete branches of industry that relocate to low-wage countries (ship-building, steel, and textile industries), draining the economic and cultural life out of the regions thus left in the lurch. Detroit after the collapse of the car industry is a very poignant example. Urban areas with more small-scale industrial diversity are less vulnerable, enabling them to take a blow. Because they are more flexible, they are more able to change with the times and set out a new course. Politics has very little impact here. Governments hardly play any role in companies’ decisions on where they base themselves.

As a conurbation of five cities, Eindhoven, Tilburg, Breda, Den Bosch, and Helmond plus the hamlets and villages in between, Brabant is such a powerful and dynamic region. It is no coincidence that it is referred to as the driving force of the national economy. And not only those five cities. The small towns and villages within conurbations are the grassroots of a nation’s economic growth. “The growth of the nation depends not on cities, but on its villages.”

The secret of Brabant’s success as it was explained to its leaders and entrepreneurs implied the advice to continue along the same lines: away from monoculture and further along the path of diversity, creativity, and technological innovation. However, social innovation should not be ignored since technology is useless without an interactive community. We become smarter through contact with other people. This is precisely the reason why cities are so successful. The proximity and physical clustering of creative minds, through face-to-face interaction, brings out the best in us. Therefore Glaeser’s advice, echoed by companies like Google and other Silicon Valley firms is: do not work from home, go in to work. It adds value. Glaeser thus debunks the myth that cities are bad for the environment. On the contrary, cities are pioneers of sustainable solutions. Finally, education is an important factor. Successful regions/conurbations always contain universities. As does Brabant with Eindhoven University of Technology and Tilburg University. The way forward for Brabant is to work together and join the strengths of technological and social innovation. Watch the video.

Johannes Hahn

Universities play an important role in city and regional strategies

Johannes Hahn the EU Commissioner on Regional and Urban Policy, agreed with Edward Glaeser that "the role of cities and universities is the key for success", and added: "but that's nothing new for Brabant!"

Hahn illustrated how important cities are. In 2010 the population living in urban areas has exceeded those who live outside. It is expected that by 2030 cities will account 60% to the population. In Europe already 7 out of 10 people live in or around cities and more than two thirds of GDP is generated in cities. Cities are the home of business and entrepreneurship. They host research and innovation, education and training. Cities are places of prosperity, jobs, culture, opportunities, diversity, dialogue and democracy. You may call cities the engines of the economy. But cities also account for high rates of poverty, unemployment, crime and pollution. Many cities face an ageing and shrinking population.

How can those threats be turned into positives? Hahn underlined new forms of governance and solutions for urban mobility, energy efficiency and environmental degradation. Each city has the potential to become one big lab generating ideas and developing solutions.

City networks such as Brabant Stad are important contributors, facilitators and implementers of the regional strategies and in particular in the context of the urban dimension. Hahn stated that the success of the Brainport strategy has already proven that the region is able to cross many administrative, political, organizational and cultural barriers in order to set common goals. The region builds further upon this strong tradition of triple helix cooperation. The same successful model was used to define, implement and monitor a smart strategy called ‘the art of combining’, which is strongly aligned with the Top Sector Policy, based on the strengths of the region and on existing programs and initiatives. Such a strategy cannot be designed and implemented without the involvement of the higher education institutions and of the city authorities. Universities play an important role by providing the evidence base that allows regions to set the right priorities. The role of the cities and of the universities is the key for success. But this is, Hahn said, nothing new for the Netherlands and its Southern region.

Speech by Johannes Hahn "check against delivery". 

Dick Benschop

Innovation is the key to productivity

The structural factors that determine the growth potential of our economy, Dick Benschop says, are the labor supply (running back) and labor productivity (slowing down). Productivity is the essential question and innovation in turn is the key to productivity.

Benschop at random lists some other factors which influence the Dutch innovation strategy.

  • Women’s participation (runs back)
  • Megatrend: shift to the East
  • Economic growth outside the EU
  • Education
  • Population growth (worldwide from 7 to 9 billion)
  • Urbanization (50% in cities)
  • US remain driving competitive force
  • Diversity
  • Creativity

Benschop argues that we underestimate the power of competition and questions whether we are putting enough effort in innovation. We have to focus on Top Sectors, a good business environment, cooperation between government, industry and research institutes (triple helix), open innovation... and money. The top executive of Shell ended up with some crucial questions which have to be answered: do we understand the geographical dimension of innovation? What is the relation between manufacturing and R&D; and what the optimal combination which stimulates innovation? And what are the key factors of competition in a worldscale strategy? You have to ask the right questions in order to get the best answers, according to Benschop.

These questions were input for the subsequent discussion (held under Chatham House Rule).

Koen Becking

For the commentary of the host partner, Tilburg University, represented by Koen Becking, President of the Executive Board.