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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Manufacturing renaissance in industrial regions? Investigating the potential of advanced manufacturing for sectoral and spatial rebalancing

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This project is running until May 2020 and Peter Sunley is the principal investigator. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Other investigators are: Richard Harris (Durham University), Ron Martin (Cambridge University), Emil Evenhuis (Southampton University), and Andy Pike (Newcastle University)

The persistent sectoral and spatial imbalances in the British economy have provoked a political call for ‘rebalancing’. It is argued that rebuilding the country’s manufacturing base will not only help provide a more stable mode of economic growth, but promote a more even geographical distribution of growth. Strengthening manufacturing in the Midlands and North is integral to sectoral and spatial rebalancing.  However, despite the profound uncertainties surrounding manufacturing after the Brexit vote, there has been a lack of recent research into the evolution of manufacturing across Britain. Focusing on the advanced manufacturing industries seen as key to any industrial renewal, this project seeks to explain the determinants and geographies of their differential economic performance. It examines whether and how ‘traditional’ industrial regions provide a conducive context for their growth, and whether there are significant local, regional and urban dimensions to the causes of advanced manufacturing development.

This project examines the geographical, organisational and economic dynamics of four key manufacturing industries: electrical, computing and optical equipment; aerospace; pharmaceuticals; and motor vehicles.  It addresses the following questions:

  1. How has the geography of these advanced manufacturing industries changed, and where and why have these industries grown and declined? How do changes in these industries compare with those in manufacturing more generally in traditional industrial regions and cities?
  2. What are the key determinants and causes of the performance and productivity of firms in these manufacturing industries and do they vary significantly by region?
  3. Has path dependence in industrial regions in Britain operated in an enabling or constraining fashion?
  4. Are manufacturing industries showing the development of localized/regionalized 'ecosystems' and related supply chains and are these more developed in some regions than others?
  5. What policy and institutional measures are required for the support of advanced manufacturing in the regions, and is there more that the new industrial strategy could do to encourage its renaissance?

The project is using a mix of statistical and micro-data sources on firm performance together with a firm survey, interviews and focus groups.

Related research groups

Economy, Society and Governance
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