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In Search Of The New Social Economy: Collaborative Relations Between Users And Producers Of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

M S Gertler, S DiGiovanna

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Geographers and other social scientists have paid considerable attention recently to what has been characterized as the increasingly social character of economic activity. Of particular interest has been the rise of more collaborative relations among firms and the formation of territorial production networks predicated upon joint product development and manufacturing, trust-based buyer—supplier interaction, and the freer exchange of proprietary information. Much of the empirical evidence for such claims comes from a relatively small number of regional case studies of particular industries which have enjoyed a high degree of economic success in recent years. At issue, however, is the extent to which such collaborative activity has diffused to other industries and other regions, especially the more mature industrial regions. Furthermore, even in cases where collaborative relationships have been documented, much debate remains over their effectiveness and the kinds of benefits arising from such activity, especially in North America. Previous research on the adoption and implementation of advanced manufacturing technology (AMT) in Ontario indicates that strong collaboration between AMT producers (largely outside the region) and AMT users is relatively rare. In this paper this work is deepened and extended by an examination of the frequency of collaboration, the forms such collaboration takes, and the factors which seem to be critical in determining whether or not firms will collaborate with one another. Evaluating the results of a survey analysis of AMT users, follow-up interviews both with users and with producers, and a comparison with the AMT sector in Germany, the authors conclude that the apparent scarcity of collaborative activity in the Ontario AMT industry is closely related to the physical and organizational distance between suppliers and customers, and also arises from the high degree of foreign ownership of AMT users in Ontario. They conclude that, despite the well-recognized rise of global economic players, nationality of ownership and geography still matter.