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Last month FTW sat down and talked with Jean- Daniel Tordjman, who is Ambassador for France’s Competitive Clusters. This is an unusual title and Tordjman brings to the job a unique combination of skills that includes a long government career and involvement in international trade and investment. Tordjman visited Washington DC for the Council on Competitiveness’ National Energy Summit and International Dialogue, where he was enthusiastic about the use of nanotechnology in the manufacture of solar energy components. He twice served in the French Embassy in Washington; as commercial attache (1971-75) and as a minister (1985-92).

FTW: How many competitive clusters are there in France?


J-DT: We have 71 competitive clusters with 6,000 firms. A few hundred of these are major multi-nationals, and a lot are small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs), hundreds of research centers and at least 80 universities.

FTW: What was the impetus for the clusters?

J-DT: The French are good at innovation in strategic terms. For example, we’re good in high- speed trains, nuclear, military and space, but we’re not good when it comes to [starting them]. So the idea was not for the French government to decide the priorities. Instead, we asked the people to decide the main elements of future high-tech developments and come to us with projects led by business but with people from the research centers, universities and small firms. So we’ve had 1,400 projects funded by development agencies and local authorities and cities, and 300 are now reaching the commercialization or industrialization stage. So it’s a new approach.

FTW: What the basis for this approach?

J-DT: We took the idea from MIT and Stanford! We wondered why a similar approach wasn’t working in France, and examined various schemes. We decided that the US one was the best! It was the best because US universities are vast and aren’t just university facilities. They put their faculty work in buildings on the campus next to ones for business research. It’s a winning combination, and it’s why I’m very confident of the future [in the US]. But the financial crisis is not over. We’ve not gone deep enough.

FTW: You’ve mentioned the importance of having people with wide experience of the world.

J-DT: You need that insight and experience to understand what are the real forces and who are the people who can create change. If you’re working in France and don’t take care of the bureaucracies, you will be submerged by red tape! But if you’re working with the administration, the red tape will be replaced by red carpet treatment! And that will be a very crucial point for development. Some Americans understand that, but not enough of them. That’s why I mentioned the need to hire people from foreign nations to understand the world market. The US is a world power and you need that [knowledge], and relying on Americans is not enough because we’re not the same. I see some things that the Americans don’t see, and the Americans will see things that I don’t see! So it’s a team spirit. We’re very close, but I’m convinced that if Napoleon had crossed the © Copyright Neil MacDonald, 2009. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.FEDERAL TECHNOLOGY WATCH/OCTOBER 26 2009 Atlantic before, never would we have negotiated in those terms. We were losing our shirts, but Jefferson was remarkable. He knew everything about France and he knew how to work with the French and that was of immense value in those negotiations. It’s why we need a partnership between nations and between individuals, and between the private and public sectors. A purely private businessman needs to know the rules and how government works. So that’s an important message.

FTW: Aren’t there different cultures with the clusters in France, between the local government agencies, cities, universities and SMEs?

J-DT: Yes. The way we’re doing that is to fund the project headed by business but including the other interests. Otherwise it will never work. So that’s our thinking.

FTW: Universities sometimes don’t want to stop doing the research...

J-DT: Exactly! Industry wants to move the research as rapidly as possible to the market. That is the essence of the message. Another one is that the French share with the British and the Americans the privilege of arrogance! We are bold nations. So the Americans must accept that the right way and if there’s a good agreement, we’re very strong allies, extremely faithfully partners, and we’ve got lots of technology and knowledge. We started public-private partnerships during the reign of Napoleon the Third in 1860. We’ve 150 years of experience of public-private partnerships. It’s why in water treatment or in waste management, we’ve got the #1 or #2 companies in the world. They’ve vast experience of dealing with these topics around the world. We’re strong allies, we love the US, and we need to build a lot of things together!


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