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Regional competence and economic recovery: divergent growth paths in Boston's high technology economy


  • Harald Bathelt


Since the 1960s, the growth of high technology industries in Boston's Route 128 region has attracted the attention of academics, planners and politicians. What was especially remarkable about the region was the capability of its economic base to recover from major structural crises. Owing to this ability, the region is often looked at as being an American example of an industrial district. In contrast to Silicon Valley, however, Boston does not readily fit into the definition of an industrial district because of the dominance of large, vertically-integrated producers and the proprietary nature of high technology production. In the late 1980s, Boston was hit by an additional structural crisis when the minicomputer industry lost its competitive basis and defence expenditures were drastically reduced. As a result, almost 50000 high technology manufacturing jobs were cut between 1987 and 1997. This paper aims to identify the forces behind the region's economic recovery in the mid-1990s and relate these findings to the discussion of the importance of collective learning processes in industrial production and the development of localized competencies. In the literature, it is argued that firm-specific competencies and learning processes can lead to a regional competitive advantage if they are based on localized capabilities (e.g. specialized resources, skills, conventions and institutions). The author will demonstrate in an explorative way that the economic recovery of the Boston region is related to a number of specific forces that differ greatly between the subsectors of the high technology economy. I will also provide tentative evidence of how the willingness to co-operate and engage in interactive learning processes has encouraged economic recovery.

Suggested Citation

  • Harald Bathelt, 2001. "Regional competence and economic recovery: divergent growth paths in Boston's high technology economy," Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(4), pages 287-314, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:entreg:v:13:y:2001:i:4:p:287-314
    DOI: 10.1080/08985620110067502

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Giovanni Dosi & Christopher Freeman & Richard Nelson & Gerarld Silverberg & Luc Soete (ed.), 1988. "Technical Change and Economic Theory," LEM Book Series, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy, number dosietal-1988, August.
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    3. Andrés Rodríguez-Pose & Riccardo Crescenzi, 2008. "Mountains in a flat world: why proximity still matters for the location of economic activity," Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Cambridge Political Economy Society, vol. 1(3), pages 371-388.
    4. Arne Isaksen & Franz Tödtling & Michaela Trippl, 2016. "Innovation policies for regional structural change: Combining actor-based and system-based strategies," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2016_05, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    5. Höglinger, Christoph & Sinozic, Tanja & Tödtling, Franz, 2012. "Emergence, growth and transformation in local clusters - Environmental industries in the region of Upper Austria," SRE-Discussion Papers 3680, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
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    7. Qi Guo & Canfei He, 2015. "Evolution of Production Space and Regional Industrial Structures in China," Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography (PEEG) 1521, Utrecht University, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Group Economic Geography, revised Jul 2015.
    8. Junsong Wang & Martha Prevezer, 2015. "Related variety in Chinese cities: local and Foreign Direct Investment related variety and impacts on urban growth," Working Papers 59, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
    9. Tödtling, Franz & Lehner, Patrick & Trippl, Michaela, 2004. "Knowledge intensive industries, networks, and collective learning," SRE-Discussion Papers 636, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    10. Tödtling, Franz & Trippl, Michaela & Lengauer, Lukas, 2008. "Towards regional knowledge economics. Routes and policy options," SRE-Discussion Papers 266, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    11. Benner, Maximilian, 2009. "What do we know about clusters? In search of effective cluster policies," MPRA Paper 43848, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2009.
    12. repec:eee:tefoso:v:136:y:2018:i:c:p:59-87 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Hervas Oliver,Jose Luis & Gonzalez,Gregorio & Caja,Pedro, 2014. "Clusters and industrial districts: where is the literature going? Identifying emerging sub-fields of research," INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) Working Paper Series 201409, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV).

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