Chapter 7: Innovation and External Knowledge Sources in Industrial Districts: Evidence from an Italian Furniture Cluster
Andrea Morrison INTRODUCTION: INNOVATION IN LOW-TECH SECTORS 1. This chapter investigates the relationships between sources of knowledge – in particular external sources – and the innovative performance of firms. Scholars and policy makers agree that knowledge has become a critical asset for securing competitive advantage for firms and regions. However, the empirical focus has generally been on high-tech sectors and firms. The underlying reasons for this concentration are that high-tech sectors generate higher profits than traditional ones, and that their products cannot be easily imitated. Moreover it is claimed that these sectors can bolster growth in other manufacturing industries and generate significant positive externalities, in particular in terms of technological spillovers. These arguments also imply that wherever high-tech sectors do not emerge spontaneously, public policy should intervene to facilitate their take-off. Indeed, policy measures designed to augment the knowledge content of economic activities and to promote sectors such as ICT and biotechnology have flourished at regional, national and supranational levels. Although we share the view that knowledge is a key factor sustaining firm competitiveness, and more widely, increasing the prosperity of regions and nations, we are sceptical about the often implicit assumption in this argument, which identifies knowledge intensity with high-technology and science. We maintain that low-tech sectors are in many respects just as knowledge-intensive as high-tech ones. The view that knowledge intensity equals high-technology in fact resembles the much-criticized linear model of innovation (Rosenberg, 1982), which describes innovation as a unidirectional process in which basic research is the crucial starting point...
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