- 2004, 09
Internationalisation : threat or opportunity for the survival of the Italian district model?
- National borders in Europe have been opening since 1992 and the Union is expanding to embrace more countries prompting enterprises to consider alternative and more attractive locations outside their home country to handle part of their activities (Van Dijk and Pellenbarg, 2000; Cantwell and Iammarino, 2002). International relocation is becoming more and more popular even for small and medium-sized firms that are involved in a growing internationalisation process, mirroring the path of multinational enterprises. Italy, like other industrialised countries, is experiencing a fragmentation of the production chain: firms tend to shift high labour-intensive manufacturing activities to areas characterised by an abundance of low-cost labour (i.e. Central Eastern Europe, India, South East Asia, Latin America, Russia and Central Asia). The internationalisation process by Italian district SMEs has assumed significant dimensions. It has become a relevant topic in recent economic debate because of its consequences for the local context and, in particular, the implication for the survival of the Italian district model (see, among others, Becattini, 2002; Rullani, 1998 and Cor, 2000). The purpose of the paper is twofold: it aims at (i) identifying the managerial approaches to the internationalisation process adopted by the Italian district SMEs and by the Industrial District (ID) itself and (ii) at investigating whether the international delocalisation to the South Eastern European countries (SEECs) constitutes a threat or an opportunity for the Italian district model. The paper is organised as follows. The general introduction is followed by a description of the evolution of the internationalisation processes in Italy over the last three decades. Section three presents a discussion of the internationalisation strategies adopted by Italian SMEs. Section four focuses on the internationalisation process of the Italian industrial districts SMEs. A review of the studies on the subject is offered in section five. Section six presents a qualitative study on the internationalisation process as undergone by sports shoes manufacturers in the Montebelluna district, in north-east Italy. This study shows different managerial strategies to the internationalisation process and emphasises that the motivations can evolve over time, from originally cost-saving to increasingly market-oriented or global strategies. On the basis of a literature review, section seven investigates whether internationalisation constitutes a threat (i.e. loss of jobs and knowledge) or an opportunity (i.e. enlargement of the ID, update district s competitiveness) for the district model. Finally, some summarising remarks in section eight conclude the paper.