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The Northwest Education Cluster: A Continuing Saga

Jim Snyder is Director of the Northwest Education Cluster, a regional trade group based in Portland, Oregon.

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Since my first report on the happenings of the NW Education Cluster we have been busy - with some success. But we still have quite a journey to go as we work towards building a collection of organizations, both public and private, that strive to foster change and progress within the northwest education environment.

Our last meeting offers a case study.

On April 17th we heard the first presentation of a movement titled Accelerate Oregon. This is a new public/private partnership of businesses, educational leaders and policy makers to help improve the K-12 educational environment in Oregon. Lead by funding from Intel, input from the Department of Education and local Oregon Education Service Districts, the program is looking to improve student achievements by driving technology to the local school districts.

It was a great presentation but it left us asking a few questions about how the Cluster could help. The two ways that businesses can help are with funding for Accelerate Oregon now or, potentially, by offering products and services in the future. Since the cluster is self-funding with no money and many of the member businesses have revenue less than $10 million, the latter option looks good to many. An informal poll of the cluster members found that most of the businesses who are members of the cluster derive less than 10% of their revenue from within Oregon. It just seems out of place to have more than 40 businesses located in the northwest that are selling most of their technology products and services outside the state of Oregon. We are hope that Accelerate Oregon will open up some doors for member businesses in the coming months.

Another example of where the Cluster still needs to grow is in creating an overall direction. At the first meeting back in 2003, Fred Phillips, then Dean of the Oregon Graduate Institute's management school, presented a diagram suggesting how the Cluster could grow and issues we might address in the education market. (See below). His ideas are still true today but I sometimes worry that we are still lacking a common goal. One idea that we have explored is having the cluster create a sort of buying consortium where the power of all the businesses can be leveraged. This has been hard to tackle. Just last month, we were offered a nice reduced price on one service an organization was offering but the cluster could not get together to make it happen. The members of the cluster are a diverse group – providing tools to the pre-K market, school districts and adult education so it is hard to find one idea that works for all members.

We have also been approached in the past to make the NW Education Cluster a sub-organization of a larger more organized association. That organization would be better equipped to handle the day-to-day managing of the website, address list, and quarterly meetings. Right now I do most of that work in my spare time with web and creative work donated by members. I have a full time job besides running the cluster, and to take the cluster to the next level might require more work than is currently happening. I am proud of how far the cluster has come but I am not sure about it direction and would welcome any and all thoughts around the NW Ed Clusters’ growing pains – but at least we are growing!

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The NW Education Cluster was founded in 2003 and has over 250 members representing over 40 companies located in the Pacific Northwest.

edbizbuzz readers note: In the interest of full disclosure, my firm proposed a full association-wide site license to K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets Report and associated information service to the Cluster. A group purchase would have driven the cost to each firm down to roughly $200 from the list of $1500/year. We have had similar arrangements with other trade groups in the past - with final pricing based on many factors. In this case, the large number of very small new firms and the small number of current K-12Leads clients were the prime motivations for the very low price offered. We are always open to unsolicited proposals from interested groups.


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