The profile and relevance of the TTR-ELAt as a functional region for innovation

The TTR-ELAt cross-border area has many assets to thrive as a strong hub in the global knowledge-based economy. The TTR-ELAt is a dense cross-border area of over 8 million inhabitants, including multiple city and regional growth poles. Most of the member regions have completed their successful transition from declining traditional industries, such as coal mining and steel industries, towards higher value-added and knowledge-based industries and services. Today, several of these regions are among the “innovation leaders” group of regions within Europe. The TTR-ELAt hosts a highly educated workforce and many innovative firms, universities and research institutions, some of which are niche players of international excellence. Philips in Eindhoven, other large R&D-intensive multinationals, and the IMEC research centre in Leuven are among the leading actors in supporting the high-tech orientation and open innovation practices in the TTR-ELAt area. Industrial campuses and science parks promote interaction among firms, research centres and universities, and the public sector (“triple helix” activity) serving as strong nodes throughout the area for innovation-driven growth. With this density of actors located within a radius of 100 kilometres, travel for face-to-face meetings can take place within a day, supporting functionality from an innovation perspective.

The constituent regions of the TTR-ELAt have a strong and balanced potential for innovation, building on similarities and complementarities in high-technology specialisations. Areas of particular strength include chemicals and advanced materials, high-tech systems and health sciences. Even more interesting, this combination of expertise gives rise to opportunities at the intersection of these domains thanks to the pervasive use of ICT and other technologies of wide application. Naturally occurring linkages throughout the area follow a variable geometry, as not all sub-regions are as strong in all TTR-ELAt fields of expertise and most cross-border activities are bilateral between two TTR-ELAt partner regions, not multilateral across all partners.

There remain barriers for the TTR-ELAt to capture the full innovation potential of its resources. Competing definitions for the area (TTR-ELAt, Euregio Meuse-Rhine) and weak branding limit its internal and external recognition as a functional and innovation-intensive cross-border area. The region needs to raise its profile to attract and retain talent, a core resource for this knowledge-based cross-border area. Language and cultural differences continue to play a role in hampering the cross-border flows among some of the constituent regions. There is still a lack of awareness of the assets and actors present on the other side of the border, limiting the benefits of the large and diverse asset base. Highly complex governance issues also limit the potential to capitalise on cross-border resources.

(TTR-ELAt in bold)

Table 9.4. Snapshot of the functional region for innovation: The TTR-ELAt




Region settlement patterns

Metropolitan area Network of small and medium-sized cities

Sparsely populated with small cites/towns

The TTR-ELAt includes several medium-sized cities and their regions in a densely populated area. The Dutch and German areas are located at some distance from their capital areas.

Internal accessibility and flows




The TTR-ELAt extends over a relatively compact territory with good rail and road connections and multiple regional airports. Some inter-connections within the area could be improved, but overall accessibility is not a major challenge.

Industrial and knowledge specialisations

Similar with complementarities



The TTR-ELAt member regions share strengths in three broad fields: health and life science; high-tech systems including ICT and energy; and advanced materials and chemicals. Regional strengths also differ, giving rise to complementarities in knowledge-based activities (such as aerospace in Liege).

Socio-cultural context

Very similar

Somewhat similar


Language barriers are low, with the exception of the French-speaking part of the TTR-ELAt. Cultural differences are reported as sometimes a challenge, even if these are playing a diminishing role in business interactions.

Innovation system interactions


Hub-to-hub On the border

Actors throughout the area co-operate with each other in a variable geometry, due to the multi-polar configuration of the area. Much of these interactions occur bilaterally between actors in two cities or regions within the area.

Level of innovation development across border

Balanced, strong

Balanced, weak Unbalanced

All regions in the TTR-ELAt are advanced in terms of innovation assets and performance.

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