Common Frameworks for Regional Competitiveness - Insights from a Number of Local Knowledge Economies
1. Aims of the paper: in this paper we analysed a number of European regions that in the last ten to fifteen years experienced a process of industrial reconversion moving from traditional sectors-based economies to knowledge economies. With the aim of shaping the transformation paths driving their competitiveness recovery, the analysis was conducted on two levels. First, we tried to identify the most relevant factors of competitiveness behind each region’s renewal process and combined them to shape a number of common trajectories of regional competitiveness. Secondly, we outlined a taxonomy of transformation paths followed by each of the territories under investigation in their development process towards a knowledge economy. Interestingly, all regional ‘success histories’ are strongly dependent on the presence of a tri-polar regional innovation system (RIS) ‘gluing’ firms, institutions and academia. 2. Factors and trajectories of regional competitiveness: Some of the factors of regional competitiveness identified in the analysis (exhaustively listed and described in the full paper) are entrepreneurial motivation, managerial skills, access to private and public financing, the presence of a local technical university. By combining the competitiveness factors specific to each regional ‘success history’, we were able to spot a number of trajectories of regional competitiveness : (i) the Nokia economies trajectory, (ii) the knowledge creation upon invitation trajectory and (iii) the Cambridge way trajectory. The first trajectory includes the Nordic regions of Tampere and Goteborg. The leading factors of development of these regions can be brought back to the successful development strategies of Ericsson and Nokia, in turn based on excellent managerial and organisational skills and a strong international orientation. The second trajectory of regional competitiveness refers to Ireland, Scotland and Wales, characterized by an ‘industrialisation upon invitation’ type of growth based on foreign direct investments. The policy of FDI attraction is largely supported by public incentives and owes its success to the leading role taken up by regional development agencies. The last trajectory of regional competitiveness relates to the high tech cluster of Cambridge (UK), emerged and developed essentially thanks to the active role of Cambridge University in nurturing the cluster with human capital of excellence and in allowing the faculty members to commercially exploit their skills and technical know how. The most interesting result of this part of the analysis is that the regions under scrutiny owe their virtuous process of competitiveness recovery to three sets of factors, each originating from one of the three territorial actors making up a regional innovation system – firms, institutions, university – so that behind each regional renewal history it is possible to recognize the presence and the ‘functioning’ of a RIS. 3. A taxonomy of regional transformation paths: Next, we classified the development dynamics of the regions investigated above along three paths of economic restructuring. The first path, here defined as the RIS into process, is typical of industrial clusters in engineering-based sectors such as plant engineering, specialised advanced machinery and shipbuilding. Here the relationship with the RIS is developed at a later stage of the cluster life, as the RIS originates in response to the presence of the cluster. This is the case of a number of regions under scrutiny (Baden-Württemberg and Brabant, for instance) where the regional innovation system was specifically designed to support and strengthen local existing industrial specializations. The second regional development path, typical of industrial clustering in science-based sectors such as genetics, IT and biotechnology, follows the opposite ‘direction’. Here the RIS is the main source of the cluster creation and the cluster develops from the regional innovation system by exploiting all the local resources in terms of cooperation and interaction with universities and local institutions. This is the case of regions such as Shannon and Cambridge (UK), which have followed a transformation process here defined as RIS from process, where the pre-existence of the RIS represents a key factor for the organization of a science-based industrial system. The third path may be viewed as the result of a combination between the two different base ‘entities’ described above. In fact, in regions such as Wales, Tampere, Göteborg and North Rhine – Westphalia, science-based clusters have developed from declining engineering-based sectors, passing through the formation of a RIS. In this respect, the transformation process can be defined as RIS through process. In this group of regions, the regional innovation system acted as catalyst for the local system transformation process, driving the regional competitive repositioning through the development of clusters of innovative and high tech firms. In this respect, the process of territorial transformation has taken place thanks to a ‘systemic effort’ and as a result of social interdependencies among territorial actors.
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