Industrial Transition in Emilia-Romagna's Cultural and Creative Industry

Summary: The “Associazione Clust-ER Industrie Culturali e Creative (Clust-ER CREATE)”, located in Bologna, assumes the role of a coordinator of the Creative & Cultural Industries (CCI) ecosystem, which is amongst the main innovative ecosystems in the region Emilia-Romagna, Italy. The Clust-ER CREATE was formally established as a registered association in May 2017 and is highly involved in the regional strategies and implementation plans fostering innovation activities and the green and digital transition of Emilia-Romagna. While being a comparably young initiative, the impact of the cluster has already reached a considerable dimension. A major success factor is the well-balanced relationship between policy makers and cluster management, which is based on a strong bilateral commitment and has led to an increase in innovative activity within the CCI ecosystem.

The Emilia-Romagna Region


The region Emilia-Romagna with its capital Bologna is located in Northern Italy and stretches from the Apennines to the river Po. It embraces the nine provinces Bologna, Ferrara, Forlì-Cesena, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Ravenna, Reggio nell’Emilia and Rimini, with about 4.5 million inhabitants. The region is a well-known touristic destination, not just for its nature but also for its cultural heritage with several UNESCO sites and Bologna, the seventh biggest city in Italy, as a new world heritage site. 

Seven universities with more than 150,000 enrolled students are located in Emilia-Romagna – University of Bologna (with campuses in further cities), University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, University of Ferrara, University of Parma, Cattolica University of Piacenza, Piacenza campus of “Politecnico di Milano” and Johns Hopkins University – SAIS Europe.

More than 1,000,000 employees work in more than 400,000 local companies. The region’s economy is characterised by small and medium sized enterprises (about two thirds of all employees work in SMEs). Its GDP per capita is 36,681.6 Euros, which is much higher than the Italian average (29,920.5 Euros) and 17 percent above the EU27 average (31,277.9 Euros).

According to the Eurostat regional yearbook 2022, Emilia-Romagna is amongst the 20 European regions with the highest shares of R&D personnel, which is reflected in the distinct innovation ecosystem: Within the Emilia-Romagna region, over 90 industrial research labs and innovation centres can be found as part of the organised High Technology Network.

The EU Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2021 therefore identifies Emilia-Romagna as a Strong Innovator, whereas in 2019 the region was only considered a Moderate Innovator.

For the upcoming years, the region aims to become an area “where research, innovation and skills are the strategic levers of change, for sustainable and inclusive development”. The Research and Innovation Strategy for smart specialisation 2021-2027 forms the basis for this mission tackling 15 priority areas and 8 strategic specialisation areas: Agri-food, Building and Construction, Mechatronics and Motoring, Health and Wellness Industries, Cultural and Creative Industries, Innovation in Services, Digital and Logistics, Energy and Sustainable Development, Tourism. Addionally, the region introduced a “pact for work and climate”, which was signed by 55 regional stakeholders in 2020, as well as a regional strategy for the 2030 Agenda towards the 17 sustainable development goals. With these strategies, Emilia-Romagna wants to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% renewable energy by 2035.

These three strategies are coordinated in order to enhance the sustainable economic, ecological and social development of the region.

Regional Innovation Scoreboard - Emilia-Romagna

The above mentioned priority and strategic specialsation areas of the Emilia-Romagna region are represented in eight dominant Industrial Ecosystems. The new S3 identifies the tourism industry as an independent area that previously has been included in the creative and culturals industry. All ecosystems encompass players from the smallest start-ups to the largest companies, from academia to research, service providers to suppliers:

1. Agri-Food

2. Creative and Cultural Industries

3. Construction

4. Health

5. Energy Intensive Industries

6. Digital

7. Mobility, Transport & Automotive

8. Tourism

The key strategic challenges of the region forming the starting point of the three mentioned strategies (S3, “pact for work and climate” and the regional strategy for the 2030 Agenda) are:

1. sustainability

2. digitalisation

3. social inclusion

4. well-being and quality of life

5. safety

6. transformation of the public administration

ER Clusters

Clusters play a significant role in the innovation ecosystem of Emilia-Romagna. The so-called Clust-ER Associations were created to enhance the most significant industrial ecosystems in the region and are coordinated by the regional innovation agency ART-ER – Attractiveness Research Territory.

In the past years, seven Clust-ERs were part of the region’s innovation ecosystem (Agrifood, Build, Create, Greentech, Health, Innovate and Mech), complemented by two networks (Motorvehicle and Big Data). In connection with the newly defined priorities and fields of action of the region, two additional clusters were initiated in 2022: Clust-ER Tourism and Clust-ER Urban. The Clust-ER associations of Emilia-Romagna are regarded as the “thematic umbrella”, with the critical mass of interdisciplinary public and private actors working on the development of medium- to long-term strategic directions for the competitiveness of the regional ecosystems as well as collaborative strategic innovation projects with significant regional impact. Currently (2022), the Clust-ERs have a total of 757 members, of which 411 are enterprises, linking 32 value chains within the region.

The Clust-ERs were a central strategic instrument of innovation policy in Emilia-Romagna in the Regional Innovation Strategy 2014 to 2020. The evaluation and monitoring of this phase was able to demonstrate significant contributions of the clusters to the innovation activity in the region. As a result, the Clust-ERs participated actively in the development and design of the new S3 2021-2027 – in their fields of expertise, but also in the superordinate priorities of digital and green transition and resilience. The Clust-ERs are also seen as key actors in the implementation phase of the new S3 and therefore receive financial support from the Emilia-Romagna region as well as support for the developlement of their activities through the coordinating organisation ART-ER.

The Creative and Cultural Industries (CCI) ecosystem in Emilia-Romagna formally consists of five value chains: fashion, design, cultural heritage, multimedia as well as tourism & urban reactivation, while technically eight value chains can be detected:

• “Fashion” including textiles, clothing and accessories,

• “Furniture” including artistic crafts,

• “Heritage” including museums, libraries, archives and cultural heritage,

• “Stage” including live entertainment,

• “Content” including publishing, communication, advertising and content production,

• “Territories” including tourism and territory/urban reactivation,

• “Images” including audiovisual, game, cinema and digital tech,

• “Educational” including training and education.

According to the General Directorate for Knowledge Economy, Labour and Enterprise Emilia-Romagna in 2021, about 93,000 employees were working in 35,000 different units in the CCI in 2019. The former S3-framework enabled the industry to take on a much stronger position within the regional innovation ecosystem: A total of 1,453 funded R&D projects were carried out between 2014 and 2020 with 251 million Euros of total investment and 119 million Euros of public funding. Additionally, 494 new researchers located to the region. These numbers are perceived as results of the regional smart specialisation strategy 2014-2020.

CCI was identified as an industry with great development potential in the region's previous S3, which was confirmed for the subsequent period as well.


Further reading:

• Emilia-Romagna | The New Italy 2021,

• Emilia-Romagna | S3 Strategy,

• Pact for Work and Climate 2020.

• Regional Strategy Agenda 2030.

Clust-ER Industrie Culturali e Creative (Clust-ER CREATE)


The Clust-ER Industrie Culturali e Creative (Clust-ER CREATE) was founded in May 2017 as a registered association and is currently managed by three persons equalling two full time equivalents (FTE). In addition, other consultants may be called in if the tasks require it.

Since August 2020, the cluster carries the BRONZE Label of the European Cluster Excellence Initiative. Its financing mainly derives from public funding (≈ 80 percent) and membership fees (≈ 20 percent).

The Clust-ER CREATE focusses on several strategic priorities tackling the region’s aims in regard to a more digital, green and resilient economy:

  • Observatories and redesign for more sustainability in strategic sectors (e. g. fashion, furniture, packaging, food)
  • Components and technologies for the human body (e. g. wearables, accessoires, protheses)
  • Tailor-made and customisable products
  • Traceability of the production chain and quality in strategic industrial sectors
  • Urban and territorial reactivation through the development of intangible dimensions: events, times, initiatives, public services, local communities
  • Existing cultural heritage promotion and fruition
  • Development and fruition of new cultural contents
  • New tourism for
  • Living laboratories, dissemination and training for social innovation and participatory design, planning public services
  • Support to fragility through culture, creativity, human approach and digital & enabling technologies

Currently, Clust-ER CREATE has 92 members, including 47 companies (of which 36 are small enterprises), 1 SME consortium, 7 training centres, 11 public laboratories as well as 4 private laboratories and 4 private innovation centres of the high technology network of the Emilia-Romagna region. Additionally, there are 18 other organisations, such as foundations (Cineteca, FRI), academies (ABABO, ISIA), San Marino university, municipalities (Bologna, Parma, Carpi, Unione Savio), GA/ER (young artists association), IAAD (institute of design and applied arts), Music-academy (association), Angelica, Aterballetto, Riccione Teatro, Shape, 4CMP and INFN.

The cluster is contractually linked to the regional government. The intensity of cooperation is at a constant high level and is in practice mainly characterised by the close cooperation with ART-ER.

The activities of the Clust-ER CREATE encompass two areas: on the one hand, the cluster management conducts institutional activities, e. g. supporting the regional government by participating in developing the S3 strategy and identifying new competences for the CCI. On the other hand, regular day-by-day cluster activities are carried out: Supporting members of the cluster in developing new business ideas, innovating products and services, setting up new collaborative research projects, etc.

A major offer of the cluster management is the support via feasibility studies. These studies are more or less the framework for new collaborative projects. They include the identification of strategic objectives and key competencies, resources, timetables, budgets, partner structures and the definition of the type of project (e. g. R&D-project, a training course, a new start-up, a collaborative project, a pilot case or the setting up of a demonstrator).

The cluster is well-integrated in the regional innovation ecosystem. Cooperation with R&D-labs secures the scientific competencies, innovation centers offer the technical services needed, start-ups generate new and innovative business ideas and the 11 Tecnopoli of the region Emilia-Romagna provide physical places where research projects can be further developed, demonstration and pilot projects can be set up while scientific as well as technical workshops can take place.

In recent years, the activities of Clust-ER CREATE have brought the needs and issues of the industry more into the focus of regional development, resulting in regional calls for proposals to support collaborative innovation projects in the CCI ecosystem areas being based on the strategic objectives of the cluster. According to the cluster management and ART-ER, it was possible to achieve that the regional calls are overall better aligned with the needs of the CCI.

Furthermore, the cluster management participates in the regional working groups, discussing the priorities and challenges of the region’s economy and elaborating drafts as on behalf of the cluster’s members. While in previous regional calls only one to two R&D-projects in total derived from the CCI ecosystem, there are now proportionally just as many as from the other, more traditional economic sectors (like mechanics, construction, agri-food etc.). This development is a result of the much stronger position, the cluster management and the members were able to take on in the regional innovation ecosystem in the past years. The total number of companies involved in research and innovation projects in the region is significantly higher than before the cluster was established in 2017.

Together with its actors, the Clust-ER CREATE has acitively developed strategic objectives for the CCI ecosystem that are now part of the region’s S3 2021-2027. The members of the cluster played a relevant role in this phase suggesting the main topics and assuring a positive impact on the majority of the cluster participants and the CCI in general. The inclusion of the CCI in regional calls – acknowleding the specific requirements of the industry, differing from those of the other sectors – has also increased significantly due to the work and greater visibility of the cluster.

The region Emilia-Romagna is well-aware of the need for transition towards a green, digital and resilient future, which is reflected in the ambitious strategic goals and the unterlying economic, ecologic and social priorities expressed in the three coordinated regional strategies (1. S3 2021-2027, 2. “pact for work and climate” and 3. regional strategy for the 2030 Agenda towards the 17 SDGs).

The transition of the CCI ecosystem in Emilia-Romagna already plays a crucial role thanks to the innovative practices and priorities of the cluster and its participants, adopted within the value chains. They address the following main areas:

• sustainable use and consumption (advanced design, Made in Italy, warehouse, fashion 4.0),

• accessibility of tangible and intangible heritage (tourism, heritage and museum digitalisation),

• innovative education supporting inclusive training and online education,

• urban reactivation towards smart city planning,

• and innovative digitalisation practices.

In order to leverage the potential of the cluster even more in the future, it would be considered a valuable improvement at regional level, according to the cluster management, to gear the tenders and tools more strongly to the CCI in order to better address the conditions of its actors, which nevertheless differ greatly from the other, more traditional industries (like agri-food, mechanics, construction, etc.). In order to be able to bring the advantages and impact of the Clust-ERs in Emilia-Romagna more strongly to bear on industrial transition at national level, a formal involvement of regional clusters in the national strategies is needed, for example by implementing a board of regional managers with resources for setting up larger demonstrators.

At European level, resources to support the day-by-day coordination among the CCI clusters as well as a support of feasibility studies at international level could increase the impacts of the regional approaches on a broader scale.

Lessons Learned and Transferability

The Clust-ER Industrie Culturali e Creative (Clust-ER CREATE) is one of the key actors in the innovation ecosystem within the region Emilia-Romagna. Its strong connections with ART-ER as well as the regional government enable a close, mission-oriented cooperation in the region, focussing on enhancing innovation and transformative activities amongst it participants. These efforts take place mainly within the framework of the regional strategies that contribute significantly to the 17 SDGs, the EU Green Deal and the Pact for Skills. The importance of the CCI in Emilia-Romagna has been acknowledged by the decision to further involve the Clust-ER CREATE in the design of regional strategies and as a beneficiary of funding programmes in the new phase of the S3 2021-2027.

The cluster has been set up as an integral part of the regional innovation strategy and is actively used by public authorities to facilitate regional industrial transition. One of the cluster's main services to its participants is the support through feasibility studies, allowing an expert-based assessment of new projects and innovative ideas, which is the first step to well-considered public and/or private R&D-investment.

The Clust-ER CREATE has been able to evolve from an industry with great growth potential into a recognised industry with significant contributions to the region’s economic preformance and innovative activity over the past few years.

The cluster is considered a valuable contributor to regional strategy processes by its participants and the governmental institutions. In relation to activities paying into the digital and green transition of the region Emilia-Romagna and its Creative and Cultural Industries ecosystem, the cluster focused on forward-looking topics and projects at an early stage.

The case shows that a well-balanced relationship between policy makers and clusters in a region, based on bilateral commitment, can be an effective lever to jointly address regional, national and ultimately European strategic priorities.