SME Performance, Innovation and Networking Evidence on Complementarities for a Local Economic System
The paper addresses the relevancy of networking activities and R&D as main drivers of productivity performance and ouput innovation, for small and medium enterprises (SME) playing in a local economic system. Given the intangible nature of many techno organisational innovation and networking strategies, original recent survey data for manufacturing and services are exploited. The aim is to provide new evidence on the complementarity relationships concerning different networking activities and R&D in a local SME oriented system in Northern Italy. We first introduce a methodological framework to empirically test complementarity among R&D and networking, in a discrete setting. Secondly, we consequently present empirical evidence on productivity drivers and on complementarity between R&D and networking strategies, with respect to firm productivity and process/product output innovation. R&D is a main driver of innovation and productivity, even without networking. This may signify, in association with the evidence on complementarity, that firm expenditures on R&D are a primary driver for performance. The complementarity with networking is a consequential step. Networking by itself cannot thus play a role in stimulating productivity and innovation. It can be a complementary factor in situations where cooperation and networking are needed to achieve economies of scale and/or to merge and integrate diverse skills, technologies and competencies. This is compatible with a framework where networking is the public good part of an impure public good wherein R&D plays the part of the private-led driving force towards structural break from the business as usual scenario. Managers and policy makers should be aware that in order to exploit asset complementarity, possibly transformed into competitive advantages, both R&D and networking are to be sustained and favoured. our evidence suggests that R&D may be a single main driver of performance. Since R&D expenditures are associated with firm size, a policy sustain is to be directed towards firm enlargement. After a certain threshold firms have the force to increase expenditures. The size effect is nevertheless non monotonous. Then, but not least important, for the majority of firms still remaining under a critical size threshold, policy incentives should be directed to R&D in connection with networking, through which a virtuous circle may arise. It is worth noting that it is not networking as such the main engine. Networking elements are crucially linked to innovation dynamics; it is nevertheless innovation that explains and drives networking, and not the often claimed mere existence of local spillovers or of a civic associative culture in the territory. Such public good factors exist but are likely to evolve with and be sustained by firm innovative dynamics.
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