'The competition for creative people, innovative companies, young researchers - the assets which are key to innovation capacity - is taking place today at the regional and sometimes local levels,' EU Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner told participants at the IANIS+ annual conference in Spain on 15 June. The Commissioner took three messages to the regional representatives present: invest in creating a regional brand so as to attract the best brains and money; invest in establishing internal networks and links to the external world; and invest in information and communications technologies (ICT) - the most effective way of accelerating any catching up that needs to be done. Economic development is increasingly driven by the availability and concentration of resources such as academic institutions, innovative businesses, and the way in which they interact with one another. But a region must also be attractive in other ways in order to attract the best knowledge workers and their families. Regions should address this by establishing a unique 'regional brand', said Ms Hübner. Ensuring that a region has other attractions, such as good roads, a developed business environment, local skills, and research facilities, requires an integrated approach, accompanied by an investment mix. 'Therefore the second message I would like to pass to you is that your development strategies [...] should not only focus on investment in business R&D [research and development] infrastructures, but also on the various internal and external networks of relationships,' said the Commissioner. Internal networks are particularly important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But regional economies must also foster links with European and global networks, which provide a connection to the external world and allow them to measure their strengths and weaknesses against global challenges and opportunities. 'As surveys show, this is not always understood by the less advanced regions, which often think their main competitors are the neighbour regions [rather than those in emerging Asian economies, for example],' said Ms Hübner. The Commissioner's third message to the conference concerned the value of investing in ICT, as well as the information networks that it can create. ICT provides the most efficient tools for catching up with the better-performing regions, and for overcoming the barriers to innovation encountered by remote or rural areas. 'ICT is a chance for European regions lagging behind to leapfrog into a new stage of economic development,' said Ms Hübner. Many regions have already begun channelling resources into ICT. The Commission estimates that between 2007 and 2013, almost 5% of cohesion policy resources, or €14 billion, will be invested in actions directly linked to the information society. This represents a new shift away from infrastructure and towards services. The Commission is also planning to disseminate some of the best regional innovative projects around Europe through its Regions for Economic Change (RFEC) programme. The RFEC will be delivered through the future INTERREG IV and URBACT II programmes, which the Commission hopes to adopt in early autumn.