The question of how to shape regional policies to incubate, support, and sustain emerging manufacturing technologies and spur job creation has become the subject of extensive debate in the wake of the global recession. This research network proposal, Rethinking Regional Manufacturing Policy, engages scholars studying recent developments in manufacturing policies in advanced industrialized countries including the shift towards comprehensive regional strategies to support advanced manufacturing. In both the US and UK, policymakers are particularly concerned to link research and design functions to local production networks. This goal places new emphasis on regional institutions focused on innovation and technology transfer. In pursuing this goal, policymakers remain attuned to basic determinants of the health of an enhanced manufacturing environment, including property development strategies, brownfield remediation, and human capital development policies. Unfortunately, there exists no fixed map or menu of key institutions and actors. Instead, the composition of regional manufacturing governance networks varies from one region to the next, in terms of both its membership, the thickness of institutional supports, and the scalar organization of governance bodies.
Adequately mapping these regional governance structures is an essential component of understanding the regional and employment outcomes of innovation, as is understanding the sector-wide developments – offshoring, reshoring, supply chain extension, occupational restructuring, the development of additive manufacturing, and growing markets for “urban” and “locally” made products – that determine local manufacturing employment outcomes. This research network focuses on supporting and exchanging research on how public policy at the local and regional scale improves manufacturing resilience, encourages the adoption of new models of production and consumption, and enables the ongoing viability of older industrial cities and regions.
Our proposed RSA Research Network will connect leading scholars engaged in rethinking manufacturing policy at the regional scale. The network will focus on reconnecting innovation policies and production policies to regional-scale institutions and intermediaries, ranging from research and development infrastructure to labor market intermediaries. The organizers seek to expand on existing collaborations and informal networks using the formal comparative framework offered by the RSA Research Network.
Initial discussions involving Network organizers point to several motivating questions and policy-relevant research themes:
- Have some regions in North American and Europe regions better integrated production and innovation activities in manufacturing? What explains the success of these regions?
- Is there a role for pivot institutions in supporting manufacturing development and regeneration? If so, what are these institutions and how do they vary across national and regional borders and in the context of different manufacturing industries?
- How are skill formation systems, and the role of human capital and other labor market policies, changing within regional manufacturing networks?
- Is micro-manufacturing or the ‘maker’ economy a new phenomenon? Is it a sustainable model? Is there a role for policy intervention to support production scale up? Is this role different from other forms of manufacturing support?
- How are initiatives promulgated by central governments, such as the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership in the U.S.– performing in the current environment? Can frameworks imposed from above catalyse regional and local institutions around the potential of advanced manufacturing?
Building on an earlier RSA Research Network, The Role of Old Industrial Knowledges in Economic Development of Post-Industrial Regions (ROIK) and extending that discussion to include insights from North America, we ask how old industrial legacies enable new directions in advanced manufacturing at the regional scale. The access of incumbent manufacturing workers to new advanced manufacturing jobs stands as an especially important question. More broadly, what carries forward from the past, and what is left behind? And what are the implications for shared prosperity?
Our proposed format combines a full day symposium followed by a day long research workshop and half day of site visits, to be held over three consecutive days. The symposium sessions will be organized around two or three major themes, with time for both paper presentations and panel discussions. The first symposium session will include presentation by members of the core organizing group, along with other speakers listed above. Our goal is to invite new presenters to join us for the second and third symposium events thereby enabling us to further expand our network reach. A key goal of ours is to have the second and third symposia involve graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.
The workshop events will be designed to move a core group of researchers towards a collaborative research program. Our goal is to formulate a research protocol that would allow us to share documentation and data and thus allow us to compare across case studies of regional manufacturing development in North American and Europe. The first workshop event will focus on two major activities: (1) identifying and reviewing potential research funding sources; (2) developing template documents for data collection, including interviewing and archival analysis. To assist with this process, we will review existing research networks that have developed shared protocols and data sharing agreements. One example is the Innovation Systems Research Network of Canada, led by Meric Gertler and David Wolfe at the University of Toronto (two members of our group were involved in that effort, Nichola Lowe and Tara Vinodrai, and have permission to share support documents and reflections with our group). Our second workshop will focus primarily on data sharing activities and procedures. The third event will continue along these lines, but with emphasis on preliminary data sharing and analysis.
Schedules permitting, we will also organize site visits to manufacturing establishments and support institutions in the three cities were we will hold these events. Representatives from these organizations will also be invited to participate in the symposium events.