Course Introduction: Overview, Format, and Objectives
Laying a Foundation for Economic Modeling
Methods for Researching the Competitive Strengths of a Region
Workforce and Growth: Using Data to Tell Your Region's Labor Market Story
Mapping Industry Clusters, Analyzing Interdependencies, and Identifying Targets
Tools for Evaluating and Communicating Economic and Fiscal Impacts

Activity: Exploring Pre-defined Clusters Using

Using pre-defined clusters can deepen your understanding of the interdependencies that fuel your regional economy. Viewing cluster data through an interactive mapping tool allows for quick drill-downs and comparisons. In this demonstration, we’ll tour the data available for analysis via Michael Porter’s cluster mapping project,



The region: Norfolk, Nebraska, metropolitan statistical area.

Go to Using the regional search tool, search on Norfolk, NE (the “micropolitan area”).

It should take you to this page.

Using the tool, we hope to gain insight into the following questions:

  • What makes Norfolk’s regional economy unique?
  • What is driving wealth creation in the area?
  • What existing assets could be leveraged?
What makes Norfolk’s regional economy unique?

To address this question, let’s go directly to the cluster dashboard that appears halfway down the profile page. (It can also be accessed through the “Cluster Portfolio” tab at the top. From the Cluster Portfolio, we can see that basic (export) industries make up less than 20 percent of the regional economy. The leading export-industry cluster is Distribution and eCommerce, followed close behind by Transportation. While our data only extends to 2017, we know that due to Covid-19, Distribution and eCommerce is rapidly expanding. Let’s learn more about what this cluster looks like in the region.


Here’s the bar graph view of clusters by employment (outside of the dashboard). When you click on any of the individual clusters, you’re taken to a page that breaks down the sub-cluster. This blow-up shows the sub-clusters that comprise Norfolk’s important Distribution and eCommerce cluster. Green-highlighted clusters are basic industries that export beyond the region.

What is driving wealth creation in the area?

We will need more information before we can truly address this question. But as a starting point, let’s further examine specialization within the Distribution and eCommerce cluster.  Clicking on the “Specialization” tab shows the us a bubble plot along a timeline, with green or red signifying employment share lost or gained over time–and the size of the bubble indicating magnitude of the change. In Norfolk’s case, it appears that Wholesale of Electrical and Electronic Goods may be a significant emerging sub-cluster strengthening the region’s highest-employing cluster. Other export industries could be explored similarly, to identify which parts of those clusters are fueling economic gains.


What existing assets could be leveraged?

Different analysts might come up with different answers. One way to approach the question is to look at a map of the cluster’s linkages to other clusters in the region. (Scroll down to just below the Cluster Portfolio, and you’ll see a cluster diagram showing linkages. Is the network robust and diverse? If so, some assumptions may be made about the regional assets that could scaffold further development of the cluster. Here’s what the cluster map shows us when we hover over the Distribution and eCommerce bubble for Norfolk. It appears to be a diverse and well-developed cluster. While more analysis is needed, it is likely that Norfolk’s system of industries is well-positioned to support the needs of a growing Distribution and eCommerce cluster (e.g., constructing warehouses, transportation, financial and insurance services, education, etc.)

And, sure enough, clicking on the cluster bubble shows us a diagram of its cluster linkages, color-coded to reflect the strength of its connection to other clusters. Norfolk’s existing assets should prove a real boon to the region as it positions itself to make the most of the national growth in Distribution and eCommerce.

Now, try it for your region!

Use the tool to answer the same three questions for your region–viewing your local economy through the industry cluster lens.

  • What makes your regional economy unique?
  • What is driving wealth creation in the area?
  • What existing assets might be leveraged?