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The mobility capacity of the manufacturing multinational enterprise: a framework and two case studies


  • Lucas Van Wunnik



In this paper, I try to develop a framework, which presents the factors influencing the mobility capacity of the manufacturing activity of a multinational enterprise (the difficulty/ease with which it can transfer its manufacturing activity from the initial host territory to another territory). I differentiate five factors: (1) the nature (generic vs. specific) of the territorial resources used by the multinational's subsidiary; (2) market access offered by production in the host territory; (3) the durability and specificity of the fixed assets owned by the multinational enterprise in the host territory; (4) other barriers making exit out of the host territory difficult (redundancy costs, interrelatedness of the subsidiary's activity with other units of the multinational enterprise, etc.); and (5) the availability of substitute plants by the multinational enterprise that can take over the production of the host territory's subsidiary. Once the framework is presented, I use it to analyse the mobility potential of the activities of two multinational enterprises: a Taiwanese company (Nien Hsing Textile Co.) that was assembling trousers in Nicaragua (fieldwork in 1998 and 2007) and a Japanese company (Sony) that was assembling television sets and manufacturing cathode ray tubes in Wales (fieldwork in 2000-2001). The study shows the importance, in the short run, of the heaviness of the capital goods used in production as factor limiting mobility. In the long run, however, the degree of specificity (uniqueness) of the territorial resources employed by the multinational enterprise (qualified labour, specialised suppliers, etc.) is crucial. The study shows also the risk of the "no-upgrading trap" of inward manufacturing investment for peripheral host territories. Indeed, multinational enterprises that realise small profit margin activities, and in which labour costs occupy an important share in total production costs, will want to maintain their international mobility capacity to be able to respond swiftly to changes in the configuration of location advantages. Therefore, they will restrict their sunk investments (in fixed assets, in training, in collaborations with local suppliers, etc.) in the host territory. This strategy counters the local embeddedness of the subsidiary and limits its structural economic impact on the host territory.

Suggested Citation

  • Lucas Van Wunnik, 2011. "The mobility capacity of the manufacturing multinational enterprise: a framework and two case studies," ERSA conference papers ersa11p1787, European Regional Science Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwrsa:ersa11p1787

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Susan Helper, 2000. "Economists and Field Research: "You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching."," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 228-232, May.
    2. James Faulconbridge, 2007. "Global shift. Mapping the changing contours of the world economy (5th edition)," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(6), pages 599-779, November.
    3. Jie-A-Joen,Clive & Belderbos,René & Sleuwaegen,Leo, 1998. "Local content requirements, vertical cooperation, and foreign direct investment," Research Memorandum 001, Maastricht University, Netherlands Institute of Business Organization and Strategy Research (NIBOR).
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