Edited by Giacomo Becattini, Marco Bellandi and Lisa De Propis
Chapter 30: Sectors of Excellence in the Italian Industrial Districts
Marco Fortis and Monica Carminati 1. Introduction The purpose of this chapter is to provide an organic picture of the Italian districts by highlighting the main features of the manufacturing sectors where they are operating. The large number of industrial districts (IDs) and an exceptional number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are actually peculiarities of our manufacturing system, together with specialisation in the so-called traditional sectors (textiles, apparel, leather, footwear, wood and furniture) and light engineering. Regarding the importance of IDs for Italy’s economy there is substantial agreement in the literature on a few objective facts: (a) a strong contribution to employment through their own and allied-industry’s workforce (not only in the manufacturing sector, but also in services); (b) the leading position of the IDs in international trade, both in major sectors and in dozens of niches. Despite this empirical evidence, there are still people who, rather superficially, keep blaming the district system for Italy’s loss of competitiveness and modest presence in the most innovative sectors, which are less exposed to the emerging countries’ competition. This fuels an often confused debate with those who, equally superficially, tend to magnify the IDs’ role and believe that Italy can cope with the economic and technological challenges of the future by merely exploiting the traditional resources of its IDs. This sensitive subject will be taken up again with a couple of observations in the conclusions of this chapter. The chapter starts with an analysis of the structural features of the Italian manufacturing...
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