District leaders as open networks: emerging business strategies in Italian industrial districts
Italian industrial districts are no longer self-contained systems of small firms, where firms' competitiveness is the result of physical proximity and links with global economy are limited to export sales. A new generation of firms is taking the lead, reshaping the form of districts through their innovative strategies focused on R&D, design and ICT. Most of these firms are leaders within their markets and organize their value chains by coupling district knowledge and competencies with opportunities offered by globalization processes. The rise of these open networks contributes to the transformation of industrial districts and the real drivers of the district firm's competitiveness. Based on a survey of 650 Italian SMEs from 41 Italian districts, the paper describes the characteristics of this new firm model, compared to the traditional district one. The paper also discusses implications for districts in terms of innovation dynamics and governance.
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