This article aims to unpack and analyse the institutional and political dynamics of strategic coupling from a host region perspective, adopting an actor-centred approach that focuses on regional institutions’ efforts to attract and embed lead firm investments within global production networks. We are particularly concerned with understanding the strategic agency and shifting coalitions of actors that create couplings and shape their evolution over time. This involves opening up the institutional underpinnings of strategic couplings by focusing more specifically on the key episodes in their creation and the organisation of the temporary coalitions that do the work of creating couplings. This approach is operationalised through a case study of the Siemens offshore wind turbine plant in the Humber region of England. In conclusion, we emphasise the need for regional institutions to develop adaptive coupling creation strategies that co-evolve with the reconfiguration of production networks and the reshaping of national institutional and political environments.
Dawley S., Mackinnon D. & Pollock R. (2019) Creating strategic couplings in global production networks: regional institutions and lead firm investment in the Humber region, UK. Journal of Economic Geography, 19(4), 853-872.
Researcher Stuart Dawley Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography in CURDS School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, UK
The interview transcript
Hi, welcome to coffee break with researchers, today, I’m having a coffee break with Stuart Dawley.
He is the Head of Geography and Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography at the Center for Urban and Regional Development Studies, CURDS, at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.
Hello Stuart, thank you for accepting my invitation to a coffee break, how are you doing?
I’m very well, thank you.
Today, I’m having a Colombian black coffee.
Which coffee are you having?
I’m interested in a paper of yours, which is about how leading firms can be attracted and embedded in regions in order to promote regional development.
Could you please tell me what the paper was about?
Yes, sure, so what we were looking at is this idea within the global production network literature that regional development is a dynamic process in regional development, because when the strategic needs of these big global production networks through which our global economies increasingly organized now, so it comes the supply chain around, in which you have big dominant lead firms and their organizational activities, ever more spread across markets and production sites.
Regional development occurs when the strategic needs of the global production networks locate particular regional assets, in particular places, which can be valorized to create regional development.
What our paper try to do, is to look in more detail at this idea of strategic coupling, when the networks and their strategic needs work together in harness, upon particular regional assets.
Crucially is understanding what regions can do, to try to improve their chances of attracting in these strategic coupling investments.
In particular, what we tried to do as well is just readdress the balance in the literature, which today has been very firm-centered, so the regional or the strategic coupling are very much driven by the strategic needs of these global production networks, seeking out new locations.
What we also want to do is actually looking at what the regions are doing in what and what strategic agency regions have, to actually reach out and pull the networks in to create this sort of investment opportunities.
In particular, it can mean the grow of new industries, the grow of new paths form in cities and regions.
And what is this strategic agency?, what kind of recommendations can you provide?
Strategic agency in many ways is, quite often can be, quite political in terms of establishing some form of alignment between the policy initiatives and often the political channels, that connect the regional scale with the national scale.
So, in the Humber region, for example, we realized that the degree of alignment, which was developed between the vision of the local coalition of actors, that developed throughout the Humber region, and how that aligned with national and industrial policy was really important.
So, in terms of thinking about the policy implications, it is to try and think through the levels of alignment, in terms of mathematic alignment, in terms of sector alignment, for promotion, but also in terms of alignment with broader policies, so the local and regional actors are connecting to almost the flow in political support at the national level.
We also realized that in the Humber case, the local authorities in the Humber region were able to access sites, quite strategically, practical and political agency, due to the fact that they have quite few politicians with national level influence to have lot constituences, in the Humber, I think the political side to attract the investment is often overlooked so, that came through as well.
Another key finding that we realized as well was that the coupling process of attracting in investors into a particular region doesn’t happen overnight.
It is an often is, a proactive process, what we saw in the example of Siemmens coming to the Humber region is that, having chosen the Humber region as its main prefer site, it took it further three years for the actual investment to be fully confirmed and that was because the national goverment in the UK changed, the energy market policy became less generous, there was less certainty in the long term, vision for Siemmens in terms of the options to a new market, so therefore, Siemmens became to reconsider their investment and commitment to hold, and for those three years what we saw was that regional institutions can be very adaptable, very flexible, very responsive to actually broken and secure what was the understanding of this investment to happen.
This is a very fascinating paper, could you please summarize your findings.
Because we were trying to take more seriously the sort of strategic agency that the regions can bring to this strategic coupling process, we tried to unpack in more detail what the literature calls, regional institutions, and these are the actors, the policy initiatives, and the role of the state across national, regional and local level, so institutional organizations that are doing the work of trying to attract strategic investments from the global production networks.
And within the literature, the global production literature, specially around GPN 2.0 the regional institutional analytical category can a cohesive, overaching, multi-scaler understanding of what regional institutions are and those include cities, regions, local authorities, institutional actors, organizations, promoting economic development, but also include nation states and super national governance bodies, and what we think is what is called the multiscaler understanding in some ways is repressing the scale of politics, institutional context that are involved in this kind of actors working across these different scales, what our researcher tries to do is take one example of strategic coupling and in this case is the development of industrial path and the Humber region of the UK around wind in which we looked and tried to understand the role of the regional institutions that play in attracting in, which was Siemmens the largest wing manufacturer in the world to come in develop a blade manufacturing facility in the Humber.
We unpacked that broader regional institutional category, that is what in the literature looked more specifically in the roles of different institutions, actors and policies, organizations at different levels, either local, national, and actually trying to understand their roles in a bit more differently, a more nuanced to get this strategic agency they had and trying to attract in more investors.
This is a very detailed project, so I imagine this must have a very important personal motivation, could you please tell me which was it?
yeah, there is two levels of personal motivation. I think, conceptually we have been very interested in parallel set of debates, theoretical contributions in evolutionary economic geography that looks at path creation and within that transplantation within is a key mechanism of path creation, and I think what we tried to do was think through some of the links between that set of literature and the global production networks literature in terms of this idea of strategic coupling. There is clearly some overlap there. And myself and Danny Mackinnon and Andy Pike and Andy Cumbers have also written a similar paper that tries more specifically to connect GP and strategic coupling with evolutionary economic geography and path creation literature, so conceptually that was one motivation, secondly, I had a very personal motivation in that region in question, which was that it was able to secure a strategic investment in offshore wind, is the region where I grew up and I am from, and it is the region that has struggled economically since the decline of its maritime industries so I was quite motivated personally to try and understand how and why the Humber region had been successful in securing this new path of growth around offshore wind.
Thank you for this insightful chat, it was really nice to have you here in my coffee break, I wish you all the best for your future research and I hope to see you soon again,
Thank you, bye.Tags: Economic development, Growth, Industrial Policy, Institutions, Regulation