Are Technoparks High Tech Fantasies? Lessons from the Tunisian Experience
The objective of this article is to contribute to the debate on the effectiveness of Technoparks (TP) in developing and emerging economies using the example of Tunisia. This article is based on a thorough desk review and informal interviews with TP entrepreneurs and managers in Tunisia. Setting up “ex-nihilo” ten TPs in Tunisia in the mid-1990s was a political decision. Having signed the Treaty of Marrakesh to enter in a Free Trade Zone with Arab Countries in 1989, and being the first Mediterranean country to enter in a free trade area with the EU in 1995, Tunisia needed to boost its productivity and competitiveness both within the EU and with other Arab states. As a response Technoparks started burgeoning in an attempt to address new economic challenges such as demand for highly skilled labour, jobs for youth, economic diversification, capturing the dividend of new technologies, and boosting regional development. In 1997, Tunisia set up El Ghazela -a competitive Technopark in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Six other TPs followed suit in various priority areas like biotechnology, energy, and agri-business which are still in progress. Tunisia’s eleventh development plan programmed for an additional three TPs in the south and in the west of the country. Of the ten TPs only El-Ghazala is effective. A key success factor was the interaction between government, higher education institutions and multinationals as well as the diaspora which played a crucial role in attracting multinationals. They also effectively linked Tunisian start-up companies to the international value chain of production. El-Ghazala had access to a critical mass of highly skilled researchers and a local labour market. The other TPs failed to put in place some of these necessary prerequisites. This article shows that setting up ten TPs in a small developing country like Tunisia was quite unrealistic. A better strategy would have been to concentrate on three or four specific centres of excellence such as performing universities or industrial zones and leverage the diaspora more effectively.
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