Technological change and regional restructuring in Boston's route 128 area

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the importance of small firm growth and industrial districts in Italy became the focus of a large number of regional development studies. According to this literature, successful industr
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the importance of small firm growth and industrial districts in Italy became the focus of a large number of regional development studies. According to this literature, successful industrial districts are characterized by intensive cooperation and market producer-user interaction between small and medium-sized, flexibly specialized firms (Piore and Sabel, 1984; Scott, 1988). In addition, specialized local labor markets develop which are complemented by a variety of supportive institutions and a tradition of collaboration based on trust relations (Amin and Robins, 1990; Amin and Thrift, 1995). It has also been emphasized that industrial districts are deeply embedded into the socio-institutional structures within their particular regions (Grabher, 1993). Many case studies have attempted to find evidence that the regional patterns identified in Italy are a reflection of a general trend in industrial development rather than just being historical exceptions. Silicon Valley, which is focused on high technology production, has been identified as being one such production complex similar to those in Italy (see, for instance, Hayter, 1997). However, some remarkable differences do exist in the institutional context of this region, as well as its particular social division of labor (Markusen, 1996). Even though critics, such as Amin and Robins (1990), emphasized quite early that the Italian experience could not easily be applied to other socio-cultural settings, many studies have classified other high technology regions in the U.S. as being industrial districts, such as Boston s Route 128 area. Too much attention has been paid to the performance of small and medium-sized firms and the regional level of industrial production in the ill-fated debate regarding industrial districts (Martinelli and Schoenberger, 1991). Harrison (1997) has provided substantial evidence that large firms continue to dominate the global economy. This does not, however, imply that a de-territorialization of economic growth is necessarily taking place as globalization tendencies continue (Storper, 1997; Maskell and Malmberg, 1998). In the case of Boston, it has been misleading to define its regional economy as being an industrial district. Neither have small and medium-sized firms been decisive in the development of the Route 128 area nor has the region developed a tradition of close communication between vertically-disintegrated firms (Dorfman, 1983; Bathelt, 1991a). Saxenian (1994) found that Boston s economy contrasted sharply with that of an industrial district. Specifically, the region has been dominated by large, vertically-integrated high technology firms which are reliant on proprietary technologies and autarkic firm structures. Several studies have tried to compare the development of the Route 128 region to Silicon Valley. These studies have shown that both regions developed into major 2 agglomerations of high technology industries in the post-World War II period. Due to their different traditions, structures and practices, Silicon Valley and Route 128 have followed divergent development paths which have resulted in a different regional specialization (Dorfman, 1983; Saxenian, 1985; Kenney and von Burg, 1999). In the mid 1970s, both regions were almost equally important in terms of the size of their high technology sectors. Since then, however, Silicon Valley has become more important and has now the largest agglomeration of leading-edge technologies in the U.S. (Saxenian, 1994). Saxenian (1994) argues that the superior performance of high technology industries in Silicon Valley over those in Boston is based on different organizational patterns and manufacturing cultures which are embedded in those socio-institutional traditions which are particular to each region. Despite the fact that Saxenian (1994) has been criticized for basing her conclusions on weak empirical research (i.e. Harrison, 1997; Markusen, 1998), she offers a convincing explanation as to why the development paths of both regions have differed.1 Saxenian s (1994) study does not, however, identify which structures and processes have enabled both regions to overcome economic crises. In the case of the Boston economy, high technology industries have proven that they are capable of readjusting and rejuvenating their product and process structures in such a way that further innovation and growth is stimulated. This is also exemplified by the region s recent economic development. In the late 1980s, Boston experienced an economic decline when the minicomputer industry lost its competitive basis and defense expenditures were drastically reduced. The number of high technology manufacturing jobs decreased by more than 45,000 between 1987 and 1995. By the mid 1990s, however, the regional economy began to recover. The rapidly growing software sector compensated for some of the losses experienced in manufacturing. In this paper, I aim to identify the forces behind this economic recovery. I will investigate whether high technology firms have uncovered new ways to overcome the crisis and the extent to which they have given up their focus on self-reliance and autarkic structures. The empirical findings will also be discussed in the context of the recent debate about the importance of regional competence and collective learning (Storper, 1997; Maskell and Malmberg, 1998). There is a growing body of literature which suggests that some regional economies During the 1980s and early 1990s, the importance of small firm growth and industrial districts in Italy became the focus of a large number of regional development studies. According to this literature, successful industrial districts are characterized by intensive cooperation and market producer-user interaction between small and medium-sized, flexibly specialized firms (Piore and Sabel, 1984; Scott, 1988). In addition, specialized local labor markets develop which are complemented by a variety of supportive institutions and a tradition of collaboration based on trust relations (Amin and Robins, 1990; Amin and Thrift, 1995). It has also been emphasized that industrial districts are deeply embedded into the socio-institutional structures within their particular regions (Grabher, 1993). Many case studies have attempted to find evidence that the regional patterns identified in Italy are a reflection of a general trend in industrial development rather than just being historical exceptions. Silicon Valley, which is focused on high technology production, has been identified as being one such production complex similar to those in Italy (see, for instance, Hayter, 1997). However, some remarkable differences do exist in the institutional context of this region, as well as its particular social division of labor (Markusen, 1996). Even though critics, such as Amin and Robins (1990), emphasized quite early that the Italian experience could not easily be applied to other socio-cultural settings, many studies have classified other high technology regions in the U.S. as being industrial districts, such as Boston s Route 128 area. Too much attention has been paid to the performance of small and medium-sized firms and the regional level of industrial production in the ill-fated debate regarding industrial districts (Martinelli and Schoenberger, 1991). Harrison (1997) has provided substantial evidence that large firms continue to dominate the global economy. This does not, however, imply that a de-territorialization of economic growth is necessarily taking place as globalization tendencies continue (Storper, 1997; Maskell and Malmberg, 1998). In the case of Boston, it has been misleading to define its regional economy as being an industrial district. Neither have small and medium-sized firms been decisive in the development of the Route 128 area nor has the region developed a tradition of close communication between vertically-disintegrated firms (Dorfman, 1983; Bathelt, 1991a). Saxenian (1994) found that Boston s economy contrasted sharply with that of an industrial district. Specifically, the region has been dominated by large, vertically-integrated high technology firms which are reliant on proprietary technologies and autarkic firm structures. Several studies have tried to compare the development of the Route 128 region to Silicon Valley. These studies have shown that both regions developed into major 2 agglomerations of high technology industries in the post-World War II period. Due to their different traditions, structures and practices, Silicon Valley and Route 128 have followed divergent development paths which have resulted in a different regional specialization (Dorfman, 1983; Saxenian, 1985; Kenney and von Burg, 1999). In the mid 1970s, both regions were almost equally important in terms of the size of their high technology sectors. Since then, however, Silicon Valley has become more important and has now the largest agglomeration of leading-edge technologies in the U.S. (Saxenian, 1994). Saxenian (1994) argues that the superior performance of high technology industries in Silicon Valley over those in Boston is based on different organizational patterns and manufacturing cultures which are embedded in those socio-institutional traditions which are particular to each region. Despite the fact that Saxenian (1994) has been criticized for basing her conclusions on weak empirical research (i.e. Harrison, 1997; Markusen, 1998), she offers a convincing explanation as to why the development paths of both regions have differed.1 Saxenian s (1994) study does not, however, identify which structures and processes have enabled both regions to overcome economic crises. In the case of the Boston economy, high technology industries have proven that they are capable of readjusting and rejuvenating their product and process structures in such a way that further innovation and growth is stimulated. This is also exemplified by the region s recent economic development. In the late 1980s, Boston experienced an economic decline when the minicomputer industry lost its competitive basis and defense expenditures were drastically reduced. The number of high technology manufacturing jobs decreased by more than 45,000 between 1987 and 1995. By the mid 1990s, however, the regional economy began to recover. The rapidly growing software sector compensated for some of the losses experienced in manufacturing. In this paper, I aim to identify the forces behind this economic recovery. I will investigate whether high technology firms have uncovered new ways to overcome the crisis and the extent to which they have given up their focus on self-reliance and autarkic structures. The empirical findings will also be discussed in the context of the recent debate about the importance of regional competence and collective learning (Storper, 1997; Maskell and Malmberg, 1998). There is a growing body of literature which suggests that some regional economies an develop into learning economies which are based on intra-regional production linkages, interactive technological learning processes, flexibility and proximity (Storper, 1992; Lundvall and Johnson, 1994; Gregersen and Johnson, 1997). In the next section of this paper, I will discuss some of the theoretical issues regarding localized learning processes, learning economies and learning regions (see, also, Bathelt, 1999). I will then describe the methodology used. What follows is a brief overview of how Boston s economy has specialized in high technology production. The main part of the paper will then focus on recent trends in Boston s high technology industries. It will be shown that the high technology economy consists of different subsectors which are not tied to a single technological development path. The various subsectors are, at least partially, dependent on different forces and unrelated processes. There is, however, tentative evidence which suggests that cooperative behavior and collective learning in supplierproducer- user relations have become important factors in securing reproductivity in the regional structure. The importance of these trends will be discussed in the conclusions.
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Metadaten
Author:Harald Bathelt
URN:urn:nbn:de:hebis:30-6008
Series (Serial Number):IWSG Forschungsberichte (1999, 10)
Document Type:Working Paper
Language:English
Date of Publication (online):2005/04/11
Year of first Publication:1999
Publishing Institution:Univ.-Bibliothek Frankfurt am Main
Release Date:2005/04/11
HeBIS PPN:135269652
Institutes:Geowissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geografie, Reisen
Sammlungen:Universitätspublikationen
Licence (German):License Logo Veröffentlichungsvertrag für Publikationen

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