Shared, Competitive, and Comparative Advantages: a Competence-Based View of Industrial-District Competitiveness

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Environment and Planning A 2004, volume 36, pages 2227 ^ 2256

DOI:10.1068/a3759

Shared, competitive, and comparative advantages: a competence-based view of industrial-district competitiveness ¨ ¨ Cesar Camison

Department of Business Administration and Marketing, Universitat Jaume I, Campus Riu Sec. ¨ 12071 Castellon, Spain; e-mail: camison@emp.uji.es Received 26 February 2004; in revised form 29 April 2004

Abstract. The author's aim is to construct and validate empirically a theoretical model that allows performance and competitiveness in firms located in industrial districts to be explained. From the strategic perspective adopted, economic revenues are explained by three types of advantage: shared advantages, competitive advantages, and comparative advantages. Neither integration in the district, nor its attraction due to the shared competences within it, are significant predictors of performance. Empirical results indicate that organisational performance is largely explained by the joint effect of firm distinctive competences and cluster-shared competences. It was also found that the greater the degree of a firm's embeddedness in an industrial district, the greater the effect of its distinctive competences on organisational performance. This evidence suggests that firms which are better endowed with resources and capabilities find the development of sustainable competitive advantages easier when they locate in industrial clusters, as they are more capable of capitalising on the potential for economic rents that these clusters offer. Therefore, the internal heterogeneity of the cluster stems from the different patterns of appropriation of shared competences. In addition, firm embeddedness in an industrial district is also revealed as a moderating variable in the relationship between shared competences and global performance/average return on assets, explained by the positive effects of the participation in models, values, and knowledge flows circulating within the cluster.

Introduction My general purpose in this paper is to construct a theoretical model enabling an explanation to be given of the performance and competitiveness of firms located in industrial districts, and to confirm this explanation empirically through a sample of 835 industrial firms in 35 clusters in Spain. This model of industrial-district effectiveness attempts to explain the reasons for the heterogeneity of results among intradistrict firms, among intradistrict compared with extradistrict firms, and among organisations located in different territorial agglomerations. The strategic perspective adopted attempts to explain firm economic rents stemming from three types of advantage: advantages based on competences shared by all companies located in a district; competitive advantages produced by individual distinctive competences; and comparative advantages stemming from the attractiveness of the general environment. Industrial districts have increasingly been recognised as an organisational model that enables small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to compete internationally (Becattini, 1987; Brusco, 1982; D'Aveni and Illinich, 1992; Krugman, 1991; Lazerson, 1995; Wiklund and Karlsson, 1994). Empirical studies such as those by Karlsson and ¨ Klaesson (2000), Becchetti and Rossi (2000), Paniccia (1999; 1998), Camison (2001), and Signori (1994) have provided evidence that firms belonging to an industrial district perform better. However, the wealth of contributions cannot hide the weaknesses in this body of knowledge. I particularly wish to highlight three weak points: (a) the lack of a theoretical model to guide research into the sources of business success and into the possible contribution of territorial agglomerations to this success (Foss, 1996); (b) the problem of business-performance homogeneity or heterogeneity within the district (Becattini, 1990; Brusco, 1990; DeCarolis and Deeds, 1999; McEvily and

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