The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area will be opening its Jura site on 25 October. Claude-Henri Schaller, Director of the Office for the Economy and Labour and Vice President of Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area AG, is convinced that the Innovation Park can make a major contribution to the diversification of industry in the Jura and will create stronger ties between industry and research.
BaselArea.swiss: Is it fair to say that the Jura is a watchmaking canton?
Claude-Henri Schaller: I would go as far as to say that there is no such thing as a Swiss watch that isn’t at least partly made in the Jura. The watchmaking industry was the first sector to become established in the Jura – and it still defines the canton today. Currently, around 44 percent of jobs in the Jura are in the secondary sector, more than in any other canton. The international groups Swatch, Richemont, LVMH and Festina all have production sites in the Jura canton. Rolex also works with a lot of local suppliers. But our businesses are also applying their watchmaking expertise to other fields. The medtech sector is growing in importance here.
Is its strong focus on the precision engineering industry a strength or a weakness for the Jura canton?
The canton’s heavy reliance on the industry has pros and cons. On the one hand, export problems have a direct and marked effect on us. On the other hand, when the economy is booming we quickly feel the effects. The economic cycles in the Jura are shorter than in other regions. The unemployment rate can rapidly go up, but can quickly fall again. And we put our extensive expertise in precision engineering to good use in the medtech, mechanical engineering and aviation technology sectors. But our aim is to encourage further diversification in the businesses here.
Why is diversification so crucial to the Jura?
If the watchmaking industry is going through a bad patch, businesses need to have other options for growth and winning new markets. Diversification also creates other societal and economic opportunities: we are currently investing heavily in advanced skills training – we have one of the highest graduate qualification rates in the country. But this investment is not currently paying the dividends we would have liked. By fostering innovation in the Jura canton we are creating opportunities in the fields in which we excel. That enables our businesses to grow – and has positive repercussions for society as a whole. We want to ensure that our highly qualified workforce stays in the Jura or comes back to us.
So there’s room for improvement. Where does the canton intend to start?
In an SME, the boss does more or less everything themselves – carrying out research, generating sales, searching out innovation and new markets. Currently, companies are doing their research and development in house, usually behind closed doors. They are very secretive about it. Although we have the Haute Ecole Arc Neuchatel Berne Jura, we don’t have a research centre specifically for industry. That means that at the moment we’re not getting involved in research early enough or closely enough. But innovation is not about universities or businesses working alone any more. To come up with innovative solutions, industry and academia must work together more closely. The Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is an important building block in this.
In what way?
The political authorities in the Jura canton are pursuing three goals. We want to encourage innovation, support the diversification of industry and foster collaboration between research centres and businesses. With the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area now in the Jura, we have the opportunity to improve the research infrastructure and create closer ties between business, research, science and technology universities and the canton.
What role will the Innovation Park in the Jura play?
The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area has sites in Basel, Allschwil and now in Courroux in the Jura canton. The site here has the potential to become an enabler, promoting and organising links and projects at supracantonal level. A Jura-based company is now perfectly able to start up a project with Basel University Hospital on the Allschwill site, while a Basel-Stadt project can also make use of the resources in the Jura. With its specialisation, the Jura is a valuable addition to the expertise available in the Basel region. That’s also promising when it comes to developing new products.
How will you convince businesses to collaborate more and to use the Innovation Park in the Jura?
To reach as many SMEs as possible, we are working closely with the Chamber of Commerce, and together with BaselArea.swiss we have formed an advisory board. It’s up to representatives from industry and research to engage with the process of mutual exchange. Of course, we also need to keep businesses informed, working hard to explain the options open to them. The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is of course all well and good as a political initiative, but the proof of the pudding lies in tangible projects and results. That’s why our job now is to identify, organise and see through suitable projects.
What sort of projects does the Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area have in mind?
The innovation park concept is eminently suited to the Jura and our economy. Our businesses are keen to discuss concrete projects, and by working with research institutes they can get them up and running. On the Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, we are initially concentrating on the healthcare sector. We’re looking at how to improve the organisation of the healthcare sector in the surrounding regions. This may entail innovative processes or new solutions. One project is tackling the shortage of doctors. We are working with nursing staff to come up with innovative solutions for how nurses can take on a wider remit. I am convinced that the healthcare industry has enormous potential for the future. Other projects under the Industry 4.0 banner are set to follow.
What makes you think the Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area will be a success?
There’s been an awful lot of interest in creating an Innovation Park in the Jura, much of which has come from businesses. Our first tenant, the IT security firm NextDay.Vision, signed up even before we were open. And we have all the skills required to run an innovation park. In addition, BaselArea.swiss is firmly established in the canton. A network is already in place. I am confident that with the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area we can get something good going here. What’s more, the Innovation Park’s remit is not just to help Jura-based businesses work together – we are open to the entire Basel region. I am very optimistic. The Jura already has a far-reaching reputation for its industrial know-how, and that’s something the Innovation Park can build on.
Interview: Annett Altvater