Chapter 20: They are industrial districts, but not as we know them!
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Beyond the lively debate on the weaknesses and decline of some Italian industrial districts, there is a documented reality of other dynamic localized industries that have not only embraced the opportunities of fast-changing markets and open production networks, but are also weathering the current economic crisis showing an enviable resilience. This chapter explores how close and how far such phenomena are from the classic Marshallian industrial districts of the Third Italy. Our analysis will draw on the literature that has looked at industrial districts as evolving, changing and adapting forms, but it goes beyond the common claim that the modern industrial districts are transforming themselves by mainly basing their competitive advantage on proximity (localized learning) and firm cooperation (trust-based organizations). Indeed, the sustained growth and related resilience of some historical Italian industrial districts is due to a combination of factors: (a) distance ‘learning’ and open models of innovation; (b) the emergence of brands and larger firms to create and control the final market; (c) the anchoring of the value creation stages to locally embedded creativity; and finally (d) the adoption of specific strategies to maintain and to regenerate the skills of the local workforce, in order to translate local firms’ research into new applications and innovations. The chapter will present a review of the current trends across ‘weak’ and ‘resilient’ industrial districts complemented by detailed case studies. New parameters to define ‘evolved and open industrial districts’ will be suggested.

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