The Spatial Extent of Agglomeration Economies: Evidence from Three U.S. Manufacturing Industries
The spatial extent of localized agglomeration economies constitutes one of the central current questions in regional science. It is crucial for understanding firm location decisions and for assessing the influence of proximity in shaping spatial patterns of economic activity, yet clear-cut answers are difficult to come by. Theoretical work often fails to define or specify the spatial dimension of agglomeration phenomena. Existing empirical evidence is far from consistent. Most sources of data on economic performance do not supply micro-level information containing usable geographic locations. This paper provides evidence of the distances across which distinct sources of agglomeration economies generate benefits for plants belonging to three manufacturing industries in the United States. Confidential data from the Longitudinal Research Database of the United States Census Bureau are used to estimate cross-sectional production function systems at the establishment level for three contrasting industries in three different years. Along with relevant establishment, industry, and regional characteristics, the production functions include variables that indicate the local availability of potential labor and supply pools and knowledge spillovers. Information on individual plant locations at the county scale permits spatial differentiation of the agglomeration variables within geographic regions. Multiple distance decay profiles are investigated in order to explore how modifying the operationalization of proximity affects indicated patterns of agglomeration externalities and interfirm interactions. The results imply that industry characteristics are at least as important as the type of externality mechanism in determining the spatial pattern of agglomeration benefits. The research methods borrow from earlier work by the author that examines the relationships between regional industrial structure and manufacturing production.
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