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My cluster: personal insights inside Merseyside

In a series of personal insights we have asked individuals why they work in the maritime environments that they do. We asked for a personal opinion about why their cluster, region or maritime city is amongst the best.
My Cluster is about boasting about the power of the people and networks that are transforming and reshaping modern maritime and ocean spheres.

From the Mersey, Liverpool and the North West of England, Steven Jones tells us why capital cities should never get all the lime(street)light.

Maritime clusters are indeed the dynamos which can help companies to win business. Though personally, I think there is something even more important and fundamental on the maritime scene. Indeed, I see myself not as part of a cluster, I am part of a maritime community. Why the pedantic distinction you may ask? Well, to me business is about the strength of connection and the sense of belonging and togetherness within it.

I have spent far too much of lockdown ferreting around online, absorbed in Ancestry.com and confirming what I already sort of knew. I am from a very long line of mariners indeed. From early British officers going foreign flag, to those torpedoed in the war, to Landing Stage Masters, shipbuilders and patented ship bunk purveyors, even a sailor on the Mayflower. My bloodline has been drawn down to the sea in ships, for centuries.

A common enough story for many of us locally, and something which binds us together. A modern maritime community, but with rich heritage running under our collective keels. This perhaps more than ever before has made me think how lucky I am, how lucky we are, how fortunate the companies locally are, and how that makes our city and region shine too. You cannot fake, buy or manufacture real history.

Which means that while maritime clusters are hugely important, and increasingly so. They are not the whole story. They are indeed a vital part of the business landscape, but they need people at their core. They need to be part of the community and not some monolith beyond the reach of all.

Clusters are an effective means of drawing industrial threads together, of generating financial models, assessing economic competitiveness, developing policies, fuelling statistical models and data, extrapolating earnings, and pointing funding towards a developed tapestry of companies. They are great at this, however, that is not where it stops, merely where it should begin. I believe a cluster can only succeed if it has a real and deep sense of community and engagement at its core.

Up the Mersey!The Royal Liver Building on the port bow and Birkenhead on the starboard

It is why I strongly believe it is the community aspect which needs to be the foundation any cluster is based on. It needs to be about people, about a sense of place and the reality as it is, not how it is perceived. So, there cannot be a synthetic version of togetherness and shared interests, the maritime people in an area make the companies, make things happen and influence all around them.

So, a cluster must reflect both the community as corporeal as well as the corporate. Forged of and for the people. Community is the foundation which sees a true coming together of entwined interests and shared goals. Creating something that will keep otherwise disparate industry players together long after the lobbying has fallen silent and campaigns reach their end.

In Liverpool, on the banks of the Mersey, and far into the hinterlands of Wales, the Wirral, Cheshire and even Lancashire, we are blessed with both a dynamic cluster, but so too a real, deep-seated and connected community.

The adage that people do business with people sticks because it is true. That is the strength of the community, which then feeds upwards to create what we can term a cluster. So, this is what makes our region successful; the people within it and the relationships they have. Here, in our community approach, it means that business is not the only focus – there are other aspects of what it means to “maritime”. We embrace artists, writers, and musicians too, not just executives, as our bonds are also about heritage, culture and an entwined past which brings an aligned future.

We have many opportunities for success here because there are people who know each other and feel they can do business together, relationships they can go through to get business done. These connections mean a golden generation of aligned interests, of friendships even, with people being supported and engaged. This gives it strength, purpose and vibrancy, that is the heart and soul of our real clustering, and long may it remain so.

 Steven Jones

Immediate Past President

Propeller Club LIverpool

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