Can Marshall’s Clusters Survive Globalization?

by Giulio Buciuni & Gary P. Pisano

Overview — When and why do manufacturing clusters survive globalization? According to case studies and analysis contained in this paper, 1) cluster decline is not an inevitable consequence of globalization, yet 2) once an industrial commons has eroded and a supply chain has disaggregated, it is very difficult to rebuild. Among the managerial implications of this research, managers needing to make long-term commitments toward supply chain configurations can be helped by understanding how location matters to manufacturing performance.

Author Abstract

It is widely presumed that in today's globalized economy, the value of geographic clustering of manufacturing industries is no longer valuable. Manufacturing is represented as a highly mobile "commodity" that can be sourced from anywhere in the world where factor costs are favorable. This paper re-examines this assumption and suggests that not all manufacturing is highly mobile. We suggest that manufacturing sectors should be viewed along a continuum from highly mobile to highly "sticky." Manufacturing clusters can decline for two completely different reasons. The first is a change in technology that reduces the value of co-location (stickiness). This tends to lead to the decoupling of design and production activities and to a broad geographic diffusion of manufacturing. The second is a shift in the relative comparative advantage of clusters located in one region versus another. Under this scenario, geographic concentration is still valuable, but the center of production activity can shift from one location to another. The paper then analyzes how firm supply chain strategies impact stickiness and the survival manufacturing clusters.

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