Nature of International Relations and 1.40

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Industry 4.0 allows HAv members to work more internationally and to cooperate with other international aerospace hubs and hotspots, like Montreal, Seattle or Toulouse. Skype and all modem ICT tools enable distant communication. However, it matters to meet, to have face-to-face contacts; as co-operation with Canada proves (joint meetings at least twice a year). Digitisation stimulates hubbing, facilitates communications with external partners, for instance within the EACP, and reduces the costs of distant collaboration, controlling, and so on. However, besides regarding 14.0 solutions as (1) instruments, they can also be perceived in tenns of (2) knowledge— adopting foreign solutions from outside; like borrowing know-how from leaders (USA) and learning from them.

R&D international relations, fostered in HAv, also aim to develop new platforms of co-operation (like after the A3 50 expires). However, this encompasses, not only R&D projects, but also works on supply chain, and recently, HR co-operation. It has been initiated to grasp more knowledge of how to deal with upcoming digital challenges on the labour markets—how to train, re-qualify and which courses to offer.

HAv has an international strategy, but not in terms of attracting foreign investment. For instance, with Canada, the target is to enter new research projects. The innovative research co-operation is meant as the fust stage; later, the second or third phases would be dealing with discovering market opportunities; and investment, perhaps, can come at the end. HAv focuses on B2B, seeks to help the companies to leant about market possibilities and provide them with contacts. (CR1, 3,6 and 7) ‘We do not have specific competences, but can connect people, act as a matchmaker, to help other firms to connect with local companies, and one day. they might want to invest here’.

The international expansion encompasses various co-operation forms with partners around the globe. Whereas partnerships with Canada, Portugal and Brazil are the most prominent ones, collaboration with the UK (also recently strengthened, due to uncertainty arising from Brexit) or Japan is progressing. Usually, HAv helps and assist firms in the exploratory fust phase of the collaboration, facilitating matchmaking, assisting delegations of businesspeople, providing information on mutual investment possibilities. However, there is no explicit aim to increase the exports of local firms, or then investments abroad, or to attract explicitly more firms to the region. It might be one of the goals and side effects of international partnerships, but it is not featuring high on the agenda. This might also be the result of the peculiarities of the aviation industry, where instant re-location and swift export/import investment decisions are rare. International expansion in this industry is more about the right plugging-in of the global production networks, about establishing network and value chains relations. (CR1, 3, 6 and 7) ‘Aviation is dominated by a few large firms, like Boeing or Airbus, so here, there is less a question of where to relocate, but rather what region fits best into my current project, my needs? We create opportunities to bring projects; we have to be match-makers'. Hence, HAv’s role is not to specifically increase exports or foreign investments, which is, more directly, the task of Hamburg Invest Agency (


The significant challenge, in terms of geographical expansion, lies in the sustainability of these new relations. (CS2) ‘In all these international projects, usually knowledge is being exchanged, but the problem is the sustainability of such collaboration. How to sustain this often, unfortunately, superficial co-operation, which tends to die soon after the funding stops’.

Indeed, it helps to attract other outside firms, to present the Hamburg region like a magnet, an attractive region to invest. However, there is a need to build the bottom-up strategy, which would reflect and internalise the needs of members, not to be imposed top-down. (CO 1) ‘We do not have any measurement, indicators which would be used to assess the impact of international activities on real cluster members performance, but with clusters, it is extremely tricky to capture such processes, to give concrete figures. In fact, the same can be said with other indicators like patents—they often say little about true innovativeness, as they are applied and granted to be hidden from competitors; to be rather kept in the drawer and not applied as innovations. Therefore, using such indicators might be misleading. One has to be careful with handling such measurement’.

There is a growing perception that to be more competitive, films need to bring fresh ideas from outside. It is essential to connect to the outside world and source from international partners. However, as argued by one expert, first, it is necessary to develop and enhance local strengths. (CE2) ‘Endogenous growth comes first, and internationalisation can act as a facilitator of this growth, not aim per se Internationalisation must come from focal players, must be embedded here in the cluster and reflect local needs.

Both the B2B, as well C2C contacts are desired, as firms argue that a cluster needs to have partnerships, with other clusters elsewhere. HAv initiate the partnerships with their peers abroad, within the BMBF project, which fits into the concept of internationalisation regarded as C2C co-operation. The area of collaboration and list of possible partner clusters is, however, always the result of previous joint discussions and negotiations with HAv stakeholders. The EACP co-ordinated by HAv, and pooling more or less selected and established clusters, is tasked with facilitating the joint application and conduct of the EU-funded projects. It aims to secure a more stable fitfure for cluster members, while assuring the continuity of relations.

Cluster experts agree that internationalisation is a vital issue but stress the need to take care that it is a ‘two-way street’. (CE4) ‘It must not be a oneway street, that we provide and share our knowledge, and let, in that way, the competitors to get stronger at our expense. We do not want to train our competitors. It must be “win-win”, that is why Canada has been selected and co-operation with Montreal as an equal partner—they can leant from us; we can gain something from them’.

The international partnerships, supported by the HAv, consequently, focus on creating this ‘win-win’ situation. It also implies that out of many (up to 15 annually) calls and demands to set up partnerships, only a few have materialised. A limited number of MoU signed, reflects the priority given to quality than quantity. (CR1, 3, 6 and 7) ‘We have 10-15 international delegations, but are selective, focus more on quality, we signed only a few MoU, but indeed demand is high’. This approach aligns with the concept of alliance saturation and the negative consequences of reaching the upper limit of co-operation possibilities (Goerzeu, 2018).

Brexit, in the eyes of some experts, as a kind of external shock, may influence the functioning of HAv, perhaps positively, if certain activities are relocated here from the United Kingdom. This suggests that external relations might go both ways and/or be reversed.

On a Final Note

These results confirm the relevance of networking for internationalisation processes, which has been recognised in the literature. In particular, it is the liability of outsiders to the network, which is the reason for uncertainty influencing the internationalisation engagement (Johanson & Vahhie, 2009; Richardson, Yamiu & Sinkovics, 2012) negatively. Assistance offered in clusters is, as this study confirms, of highest importance for SMEs and startups experiencing the liability of unconnectedness (Baum & Oliver, 1991). The results of an anonymous online survey among cluster experts and cluster firms revealed that 66% agree (strongly agr ee and just agree) that digital transformation implies a more international openness of the cluster; 28% remain undecided, whereas 6% do not share this opinion (strongly disagree and disagree).

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