Clusters and MNEs innovation strategies

Editors: Philippe Gugler and Christian Ketels

Submission deadline : August 30th 2014

The Competitiveness Review invites research papers in the field of clusters and MNEs innovation strategies and in particular on the role of clusters in home and host countries as location advantages fostering MNEs competitiveness

The evolution of the global economy and improved access to goods and resources from distant locations have placed knowledge at the core of firms’ competitive advantages (Zander and Kogut, 1995, p. 76; Jensen and Szulanski, 2007, p. 1716; Sala-I-Martin et al., 2012, p. 7). As a result of their ability to supersede the market and internalize the benefits of the geographic distribution of their activities, multinational enterprises (MNEs) have distributed their value chain around the world and implemented a global network of subsidiaries that allow them to take advantage of the specific profile of different environments (Sölvell, 2002, p. 3; Ketels, 2008, p. 124; Mudambi and Swift, 2011, p. 1).

Firms are constantly driven to generate new knowledge to maintain a competitive edge (Sala-I-Martin et al., 2012, p. 7). The important role of the internationalization of R&D has been studied in detail since the 1990s (Kummerle, 1997; Cantwell et al., 2004, p. 58; Criscuolo, 2004, p. 39). Since the 1980s, strategic asset-seeking investments have exhibited increased importance as a significant motivator for FDI and have helped explain the increased internationalization of R&D (Dunning and Narula, 1995; Dunning, 1998, p. 50).  

Because MNEs have the special ability to internalize the benefits of their geographic dispersion of activities, they can significantly improve their competitive advantages by spreading their activities across locations and taking advantage of the specificities of each business environment (Sölvell, 2002, p. 3; Dunning, 2008, p. 83). Innovation scholars have analyzed the tendency of innovative activities to concentrate spatially (Kline and Rosenberg, 1986; Freeman 1991; Nelson 1993; Malmberg et al., 1996). As noted by Maskell and Malmberg (1999, p. 172) and Asheim and Gertler (2005, p. 292), tacit knowledge represents a key ingredient in the development of unique capacities and innovations.  

Although the literature on innovation and new knowledge generation has provided significant documentation of the benefits of agglomeration, few studies have analyzed the role of clusters in the global innovation strategies of knowledge-intensive MNEs (Dunning, 1998, p. 60; Birkinshaw and Sölvell, 2000, p. 3; Tavares and Texeira, 2006, p. 1; De Beule et al., 2008; p. 224; Asmussen et al., 2009; Mudambi and Swift, 2010, p. 463). Knowledge capabilities and innovation are the main drivers of a firm’s competitiveness (Zander and Kogut, 1995, p. 76; Jensen and Szulandski, 2007, p. 1716).

Clusters appear to be a unique source of knowledge dissemination and generation and may play an important role in the global innovation strategy of MNEs (Birkinshaw and Sölvell, 2000; Tavares and Teixeira, 2006; Mudambi and Swift, 2010). Defined in their strictest sense as “geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, firms in related industries, and associated institutions in particular fields” (Porter, 1998, p. 197-198), clusters provide an environment that is particularly conducive to innovation. In addition to the positive influence of clusters on productivity and new business creation, recent empirical studies have confirmed the role of clusters in the stimulation of innovation (Jaffe, 1989; Feldman, 1994; Baptista, 2001; Audretsch et al., 2005; Breschi et al., 2005; Cumbers et al., 2008; De Beule et al., 2008).

By referring to the traditional notions developed in the international business (IB) literature, clusters not only offer strong CSAs for regions and countries but also represent unique sources of FSAs for MNEs in their perpetual quest for new knowledge and innovation. Clusters represent a new target for strategic asset-seeking investments in the global innovation strategies of MNEs that we could label “CSA-cluster.”  As highlighted by Rugman and Verbeke, “(…) an FSA may be developed internally from three possible geographic locations, each associated with particular CSAs: a home country operation, a host country operation, or an internal network whereby operations in various countries are involved” (2001, p. 240).

These three dimensions are particularly important for knowledge-intensive MNEs to improve their FSAs. The acquisition and generation of new knowledge through home and host cluster relationships may constitute a unique source of new knowledge and innovation for MNEs (Park, 2011; Yao et al., 2013; Nell and Andersson, 2012). (Note: this text above is extracted from a paper in progress of Gugler, Keller and Tinguely).

Themes of this special issue:

We welcome submissions that provide a contribution through interdisciplinary approaches. We invite conceptual papers and empirical studies based on qualitative and/or quantitative methods. Potential themes includes, but are not limited to:

  •       How MNEs develop innovative capabilities thanks to their location with host countries’ clusters?
  •       Which kind of interactions with clusters’ members are the most appropriate for MNEs to operate R&D and innovate?
  •       To what extend clusters constitute an important asset for countries to attract technology intensive MNEs?
  •       To what extend clusters constitute a valuable alternative to other mean to get access to foreign technology?
  •       How MNEs may organize and manage their internal and external networks in combination with clusters activities within their home and host countries?
  •       How clusters constitute powerful home and host CSAs and how to consider clusters in the literature based on the interactions between FSAs and CSAs?
  •       Do clusters create negatives externalities for firms that may induce some firms to adopt specific strategies to avoid that their knowledge being “lost” through spillovers within a cluster ?
  •       How cluster initiatives may play a crucial role to attract technology intensive MNEs?


  1.      All papers will be subject to double-blind peer review, according to author guidelines available at:
  2.      Submissions to Competitiveness Review are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts: (please select the correct special issue from the drop-down menu)

Submission deadline : August 30th 2014

Papers will be published in 2015.


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