Book Review (Martin et al. 2006)

Image of the cover of Regional  Competitiveness

Regional Competitiveness

Ron Martin, Michael Kitson and Peter Tyler (Editors)

Routledge: London (2006), 169 pages, Hardcover (£75), ISBN: 978-0415391900.

Reviewed by Andrew Johnston, Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development, Management School, University of Sheffield (29 May 2008)

The overall aim of the book is to tackle the complexity of regional competitiveness, an issue which the editors describe as ‘complex and contentious’. Indeed, the editors state that the book’s purpose is to address knowledge gaps with respect to regional competitiveness, an area which they admit a gap exists between understanding and analysis and policy developments, echoing Lovering’s (1999) criticism of regional studies in general. The material in the book is from a special issue of Regional Studies from December 2004 on regional competitiveness (Regional Studies, Vol 38, Issue 9), plus Michael Porter’s (2003) paper on the economic performance of regions. The papers provide a wide ranging view on regional competitiveness and cover issues ranging from defining the concept of regional competitiveness, examining competition and collaboration, productivity, the role of cities, differences in industrial performance across regions, regional development policy and clustering. Targeted at academics and postgraduate students, each paper appears as an unedited version of that which appeared in Regional Studies i.e. the volume is a hardback version of the special issue.

Each paper forms a chapter of this collection. Written by the co-editors the first of these provides a useful overview of the volume. This introductory chapter suggests that the notion of regional competitiveness may merely be a fad in that the concept is elusive, even flawed. This they argue has resulted in some spurious policymaking choices. It is for these reasons that they argue a framework for analysing regional competitiveness is urgently required. It is to this problem that the following chapters attempt address and in the process begin to construct a framework for understanding regional competitiveness.

Chapter 2 by Boschma highlights the temporal dimension by utilising the evolutionary approach to regional competitiveness. The main argument put forward is that the prosperity of firms is dependent on the intangible assets a region provides. Boschma argues that these assets are highly tacit, with regional economic development a path dependent process in that the present performance of a regional economy is determined to a large extent by previous performance.

Chapter 3 by Budd and Hermis then attempts to build a conceptual framework for regional competitiveness. They suggest that regional competitiveness is the outcome of a number of factors, including the competitive advantage of the firm, the comparative advantage of the economy and the X-efficiency of the region. In this case they state that X-efficiency represents the ability of regional actors to maximise the assets of the region.

In chapter 4, Polenske conceptualises regional competitiveness as a ‘3C’ triangle, comprised of competition, collaboration and cooperation. Here interaction and relationships are placed at the heart of regional competitiveness. Different models are conceptualised depending on whether a relationship exists between the points of the triangle, thus the Italian model is described as being based on competition and co-operation whereas the Japanese model is described as being based on competition and collaboration. Polenske argues that the relationships between the ‘3C’s’ differs across sectors and regions which alters the economic performance of regions. While no empirical evidence is presented the author does note that the model is inherently testable.

Following on from this, chapter 5 sees Gardiner et al suggest that productivity measures can be considered as revealed measures of competitiveness and, as a result, they seek to examine empirical evidence of productivity growth and convergence across European regions. Their main finding is evidence of neo-classical convergence between core and peripheral regions, although at a very slow pace. They suggest that this slow pace of convergence provides evidence that EU regional policies, designed to reduce such disparities, may not be effective in achieving its aims.

Turok then extends the focus on competitiveness to regions and cities in chapter 6. This chapter examines whether cities compete with one another and examines the positive and negative consequences of such competition. Turok then goes on to assess the contributions of factors such as agglomeration, social relationships and untraded interdependencies with respect to the city-region and competitive advantage. He also suggests that city-regions require evaluation as part of the wider economy rather than as free standing entities.

The focus of chapter 7 by Clark et al is on labour intensive industries in less competitive European regions, i.e. those regions designated as Objective 1 or Objective 2 regions under the EU’s regional development policy. The authors focus on the following industries: apparel, leather and footwear, electrical and electronic assembly and automotive components. Their results suggest that some effects (e.g. investment strategies and technology adoption) are determined by the location of the firm, others (e.g. labour costs and labour demand) are determined by the industry while some (e.g. the impact of investment on the workforce and competitive strategy) are influenced by both factors.

Chapter 8 by Malecki focuses on regional development policy and how competitiveness is based on transforming regional economies into knowledge-based economies. After a brief discussion of the nature of competition between places he goes on to discuss the ‘low’ and ‘high’ roads of regional competition, the ‘low’ road involving place marketing and attracting new firms and the ‘high’ road involving increasing levels of innovation and developing the knowledge economy.

The final chapter of the book is Porter’s chapter on the economic performance of regions. This chapter attempts to group industries into three types, traded, local and resource dependent and goes on to analyse their spatial distribution across the US. The distribution of the industries is then compared with economic performance in order to assess the contribution of each to the regional economy.

In conclusion, the material published within the volume makes a significant contribution to the field of regional competitiveness. Indirectly this book will have a large effect on the field of economic geography as these papers will be cited many times by scholars undertaking future work in this area. Yet, the diverse nature of the papers will also provoke debate as to the nature regional competitiveness. The material in this book does not provide a definitive answer or even a definitive analytical framework. Instead, the contributors all highlight the fact that there are a great many factors to consider and demonstrate that there is a great deal of work to be done before phrases such as ‘regional competitiveness’ can be used by academics and policymakers and clearly understood.

However, the main drawback of this book is its aesthetic quality. The formatting is exactly the same as the journal and very little effort appears to have gone into making the book appear to be anything other than a hardback version of the journal. Despite this, the book does contain the complete papers as they were published, therefore the reader can be sure they are reading the full draft. Other edited volumes have in the past presented shortened versions of papers which can result in the various nuances of the work being lost but this is not a problem here. However, anyone with access to the Regional Studies journalcould save £70 and download these papers for free rather than buy the book.

Having criticised the style of this book wish to make it clear that I do not mean to discourage anyone from reading this material; you will not find a better collection of observations on regional economic growth. I recommend that anyone interested in this area to consult the contents of this book as a starting point as you will not go far wrong. I would especially recommend that any first year PhD students undertaking research in this area read this book to understand the broad ideas behind regional competitiveness as well as accessing a wealth of relevant references cited by the authors.

One caveat on these comments is that this recommendation applies only if you are an academic or postgraduate student undertaking research in the area of regional competitiveness or regional economic development. This volume does not offer a user friendly introduction to the area for the uninitiated, which is a major disappointment. Had this been transformed into a text book and the ideas presented in a less overtly ‘academic’ manner then it could have become an essential reader for any course in regional economic development, regardless of the audience.

References

Lovering, J. 1999. Theory led by policy: The inadequacies of the ‘new regionalism’ (illustrated from the case of Wales). International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 23(4): 379-395.

Porter, M. 2003. The economic performance of regions. Regional Studies 37(6-7): 549-578

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