Cluster Initiatives

Nuestra amiga y distinguida miembro de RedLAC nos comparte esta nota que preparó hace un par de años con un tema que sigue vigente:

screen-capture-2Marta Marsé – Project manager at The observatoy for industrial prospecting,  Generalitat de Catalunya.

In his book “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” (1990), Michael Porter from Harvard University defines a cluster as a “geographic concentration of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions”. However, the existence of this phenomenon is a great deal older and was identified long time before.

In 1979, the year I was born, professor Becattini published an article in “Revista di Economia e Política Industriale” entitled “Dal settore industriale al distretto industriale. Alcune considerazioni sull’unità di indagine dell’economia industriale” which was a return to Marshallian thinking. This article strongly influenced not only theoretical and applied analysis of economic development, but also industrial policy.

In 1890, Marshall introduced the concept of external economies and established that, in certain manufacturing industries, the advantages of mass production could be achieved by assembling a large number of small producers in a single district, provided that the production process was subdivided into several phases. The proximity of a large number of small firms, specialized in carrying out a particular phase of the production process, encourages investments, makes it easier to train skilled workers and causes ideas to circulate quicker.

Becattini initiated, therefore, a line of research on the industralization process that revolutionized the body of economic literature on external economies and economic growth. This research has become so relevant that it has indisputably influenced modern regional industrial policy and a lot of economists from Italian and Spanish universities have generated some literature on the concept of the Marshallian industrial district.

Joan Trullén, now “Secretario de Industria” in Catalunya, and formerly my lecturer at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “a century later, the perception that certain industrial regions, characterized by the predominance of small and medium-size business, were very good at reacting to economic crises and had highly flexible production, brought the concept of the Marshallian industrial district into the center of the debate on endogenous economic development and the localization of industrial activity”. In many industries, competitiveness is not determined by the size of the company. Geography is of fundamental importance and, under certain conditions, a set of small and medium-size businesses that compete with each other can be more efficient than one large vertically integrated company.

However, in my lessons on industrial policy lectured by Joan Trullén, we used to talk about a wider point of view concerning clusters. I used to talk about anthropological issues and he told me that mixing economics with anthropology would be very useful in the future.

There is a minor debate ongoing between Becattini and Porter (and their followers). I would say that Porter emphasizes a bit more the business aspect whereas Becattini takes into account other concerns. Because industrial districts are social and territorial units that host a series of companies and a community of people, they also have certain characteristics that are not strictly economic. Trullén wrote: “The population’s identification with the district goes beyond sharing collective historical or cultural symbols of identity. The industrial district has an industrial atmosphere, which not only encourages professional training, the transmission of innovations and the rapid communication of changes in price or demand, but also includes a certain number of unwritten rules that govern production-related relationships”.

Becattini thinks that technology is an aspect of the evolution of production that is subject to very rapid changes. Therefore, it is better to consider sociological definitions such as those based on the awareness of belonging to a certain industry. Becattini was interested in Marshall’s idea that the glue that held industrial groups together was the sense of belonging, which included objective components related to common interests and subjective ones referred to historical and cultural aspects.

We always use Porter’s tools to study Catalan clusters. These tools don’t include an exhaustive analysis of social aspects. However, Becattini pointed out that Marshall’s unit of analysis was not the industry as such but the industrial district. Therefore, areas such as: the population density, sociological aspects, the availability of infrastructure and the industrial atmosphere are the likely causes and effects of output growth.

To conclude, whether the phenomenon is referred to as cluster, industrial district or local production system (the most neutral way to say it), they all refer to the same kind of initiatives and share the following characteristics:

–       They are all considered instruments to promote economic development and structural change

–       They emphasize the link between companies and regional technological infrastructure;

–       They stress the role of public organisations as intermediaries and promoters of business networks and joint projects;

–       They highlight the need to improve the ability of companies to innovate and make ways to enhance an interactive relationship with their environment.

–       They concentrate on the need for widening knowledge.

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