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Call for Papers: Reindustrialising Regions

Reindustrialising Regions: Rebuilding the Manufacturing Economy?

Editors: Susan Christopherson, Ron Martin, Peter Sunley and Peter Tyler

In many OECD countries, over the past thirty years or more, the contribution of manufacturing to national employment and output has fallen markedly. This process of ‘deindustrialisation’ has been variously attributed to several factors: the rise of cheap production competitors, such as China, and a surge in import penetration; ‘offshoring’ and the relocation of manufacturing activity from Western nations to lower cost locations elsewhere in the global economy; technological advances, which have reduced the demand for labour per unit of output; inadequate investment and innovation; and a shift in consumer tastes towards services, to name but some. There has also been a widespread view that this process is not in fact problematic, that Western advanced nations should focus not on manufacturing but on knowledge intensive services, finance, and so-called ‘creative’ sectors, and leave manufacturing to the newly industrialising and industrialized nations, especially the BRICs, with which the West cannot compete.

But recent developments and events have brought this view into question. Knowledge intensive services are not the panacea for growth that many imagined, and they have proven far from recession proof. The banking and financial crisis that erupted in late-2007, the Great Recession that the crisis then engendered, and consequent on-going fiscal austerity programmes in many Western countries, have stimulated a realization that Western economies have become too imbalanced, too dependent on a narrow range of services, especially financial services, and that there is a need to rebalance economies somewhat, to assign more weight to the contribution that manufacturing can make to economic growth and resilience. In truth the performance of Western manufacturing regions has been highly uneven, with some showing impressive rates of innovation, productivity and output growth. At the same time, rising labour costs in what were previously cheap manufacturing countries possibly signal an end to the progressive shift of world industry to these zones, affording scope for a revival of manufacturing in Western economies. And in any case, the growing wealth of the BRIC bloc opens up significant export opportunities for Western manufacturing firms. Thus, contrary to what many were predicting, manufacturing in Western economies may not in fact be fated to glow only slowly at best over coming decades. As E. Fingleton (In Praise of Hard Industry, 1999) argued nearly a decade and a half ago

gloomsters could hardly be more wrong.… it is absurd to suggest that the world’s manufacturing industries are suffering from a general glut of capacity. In the twenty-first century, as in the past, the world’s consumers will be more than happy to increase their consumption as fast as their budgets will allow, and that they will provide a ready market for all the merchandisable goods that can be made, Moreover, they will increasingly insist that these goods be made in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. All of this adds up to a historic challenge for the world’s leading manufacturers – and an historic opportunity (op cit, p.165).

What then is the scope for, and the limits to, reindustrialising the regions of Western advanced economies? There are signs that some former industrially leading regions that have suffered from deindustrialisation are finding a ‘second wind’, with signs of a revival of manufacturing activity. Are such regions shifting into new manufacturing activities? Or are their prospects shaped, or hampered, by their past specialisms? How does regional path dependence influence and condition the opportunities for reindustrialisation? Why have some regions experienced faster rates of deindustrialisation than others? How are manufacturing firms and regions responding to disintegrated production networks? What sort of strategies and policies are needed to revitalise and revivify manufacturing in the regions of the advanced economies? The purpose of this Special Issue of the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society is to address these and related issues, and papers on these topics are invited accordingly.