Global connectivity and the evolution of industrial clusters: From tires to polymers in Northeast Ohio
Abstract Industrial clusters are a critical component of the competitive viability of economies around the world. However, clusters are not static but evolve in response to technology and competition. This process has garnered interest from scholars and from practitioners, with the focus primarily on local linkages and networks. Although global knowledge ties have the potential to fuel innovation, scant attention has been given to global knowledge connectivity in the context of cluster evolution. We analyze a comprehensive 30-year patent dataset (1975–2005) associated with the Akron industrial cluster in Northeast Ohio. The results also show that innovation in the cluster has survived in spite of a long-term decline in manufacturing activity and employment. The survival of innovation in the Akron cluster is driven by increasing specialization at the local level with an emphasis on technologies rather than products and growing connectedness to global innovation systems. A key implication of our study is the importance of anchor tenant multinational enterprises and research institutions in ensuring the persistence of local innovation through two key processes (a) orchestrating knowledge networks; and (b) spawning startup activity. We provide support for recent work in industrial marketing suggesting that network evolution has both deterministic and strategic aspects.