Rene Wintjes: Regionaal-economische effecten van buitenlandse bedriven. Een onderzoek naar verankering van Amerikaanse en Japanse bedrijven in Nederlandse regio's. [Regional economic effects of foreign firms - An investigation into the embeddednes of American and Japanese firms in Dutch regions]. Utrecht 2001 (Nederlandse Geografische Studies 286). 180 S.
This dissertation shows that the popular belief about footloose international firms, moving from one country to the next to take advantage of the cheap production factors that happen to be available at that location is in need of revision. The fact that the book has attracted the attention of the Dutch media is, thus, not surprising. Although dissertations rarely make the headlines, it seems likely that some decades ago this dissertation might have just done so. Large firms that branch out internationally were then deemed highly suspicious; any credible contradiction of that perception would have caught the eye and mind of a large audience.
WINTJES has some very interesting things to say. This characterization mainly holds true for his empirical findings. His theoretical exposé on embeddedness, ,distance' both in a direct and in a metaphorical sense of the term, and of learning is valuable because it combines the otherwise separately developing threads. As more is known about these topics, the places where such knowledge is available and developed further are increasingly dispersed academically. The exposé, therefore, is mainly of value because of its review character, and not so much it adds much to what is known already.
The fourfold distinction of effects of foreign firms on Dutch regions is, however, an interesting approach. WINTJES distinguishes between direct and indirect effects on the one hand, and between quantitative and qualitative effects on the other hand. In a 4x4 matrix, the direct quantitative effect is the employment generated by foreign firms. An indirect quantitative effect runs through (local or regional) procurement by the foreign firm. The internal innovative capacity developed in firms would qualify as a direct qualitative effect, while 'external innovative capacity' would be the indirect qualitative effect. The four effects combined account for regional embeddedness, which WINTJES argues definitely foreign firms are.
In combining panel data with a number of interviews, WINTJES is able to build on an interesting pool of information. The data set does, however, not seem to allow for robust modelling or statistical analysis, and so WINTJES mostly resorts to descriptive analysis of the data in combination with a use of the interviews. It is a pity that he has not felt confident enough to build more on his qualitative data from the interviews he has conducted. That might have presented him the opportunity to suggest ways in which to further develop the theory he builds on. Economically inclined social scientists are, alas, not generally inclined to use qualitative data.
The findings WINTJES presents are interesting enough. Particularly in light of the model he presents, which distinguishes different stages that companies go through as they move into the Netherlands (p. 145). Typically, they first set up a trade office in the western part of the country, which gets functionally expanded, to finally include innovative activities as well, if that stage is reached at all. As activities are developed that demand more strategic involvement from the plant or establishment itself, there is a tendency for it to move to the south of the country. From the three regions that WINTJES defines for the Netherlands, the north-east tends mostly to be a region that does not benefit from economic activity that finds its origins outside the country. Especially the younger establishments move through this before mentioned cycle. Older ones tend to stick to the western part of the country; these are mainly in process industries, taking quite explicit orders from the mother company. Although foreign firms have less problems moving within a country from one region to another, they are less likely to do so as they have settled longer.
Establishments of foreign firms in the Netherlands which have moved in more recently are thus likely to be located in the south of the country. Surprisingly, perhaps, they generate high quality employment in terms of value added and income to the employee. If you include into the picture the fact that such firms tend to have significant indirect effect on employment through their procurement, one can see why these regions have blossomed lately. Here, too, both internal as well as external sources of knowledge are used or developed to a larger extent. To cut a long empirical story short, WINTJES finds internal innovative capacity and the knowledge relations that emanate from it is the key phenomena determining the extent to which a foreign firm is embedded economically in a region. What would be an interesting question to explore in further research is what this entails for government policy. Does the focus on policies that try to emulate the example of Silicon Valley pay off? This study would shed some doubt on this issue.
WINTJES' dissertation is an interesting and rich one, and this reviewer hopes some of the material included will find its ways to the international literature as well. As WINTJES undertakes this task, he might want to broaden the set of industries beyond the ones he concentrates on here (the high-tech, process, and traditional industries). One of the most
important kind of industries for the Netherlands has of course long been the service sectors. He might also seek to study regional dynamics at a more disaggregated level of analysis. A reliance on qualitative data to a larger degree than is evident now, might be a suggestion as well.
Autor: Wilfred Dolfsma