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Department of Geography


The Competitive Performance of Regions and Cities

Recent years have seen a surge of academic and policy attention devoted to the notion of ‘competitiveness’: the new conventional wisdom is that nations, regions and cities have no option but to strive to be competitive in order to survive in the new marketplace being forged by globalisation and the new information technologies. At the same time, there has been increasing focus on regions and cities as the key loci of wealth creation and economic governance. In short, the economic performance of regions and cities has moved centre stage in academic and policy discussions.

The theoretical and empirical study of regional and urban economic performance has been one of Professor Martin’s main research interests for the past decade or more. His research under this head falls into three main strands. The first is concerned with the long-run dynamics of regional economic growth and development. One of the key issues here is whether and to what extent regional disparities in per capita incomes, productivity, employment opportunities and living standards converge or diverge over time. His work has involved exploring and interrogating competing theories of regional convergence and divergence. It has also been concerned with investigating the empirics of regional convergence and divergence across the European Union, where the issue has attracted considerable attention from policy makers in the European Commission in the light of the regional effects of increasing economic and monetary integration, and more recently enlargement. Professor Martin’s analyses suggest that convergence of regional per capita incomes and productivity across Europe has in fact been very slow, and that powerful processes of persistence, path dependence and self-reinforcing advantage are at work in the comparative trajectories of regional growth and prosperity.

A second and closely related theme has focused on the nature and determination of regional and urban competitive advantage. The measurement and explanation of regional and urban competitiveness have been prominent policy concerns in several countries, and especially in the UK and the European Union. In the UK, the Labour Government has focused on the competitiveness of the country’s regions, cities and more recently, city-regions, as part of its aim to improve the productive and innovative performance of the national economy as a whole. Likewise, the European Commission sees the improvement of competitiveness in Europe’s lagging regions as vital to the pursuit of ‘social cohesion’ and its Lisbon Agenda to be the “most competitive, knowledge-driven economy by 2010”.

The notion of ‘regional competitiveness’ is however far from straightforward. Professor Martin’s work has sought to critically interrogate this notion, and to give it conceptual and empirical meaning. To this end he is engaged in examining different theoretical perspectives on the idea of regional competitiveness, as well as undertaking major programmes of empirical research on regional competitiveness across the EU (for the European Commission – The Determinants of Regional Competitiveness across the European Union, in collaboration with Cambridge Econometrics and ECORYS, Amsterdam; The Impact of EU Economic Policies and the Location of Economic Activities, in collaboration with Prof Moritz Lennert, Free University of Brussels) and amongst major cities in the UK (for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – The Competitiveness of British Cites, in collaboration with Prof. James Simmie, Oxford Brookes University).

His work has also attracted the attention of a number of regional development agencies in the UK. Increasingly his approach to regional and urban competitiveness has emphasised the adaptive capabilities of regional and urban economies, which links to his research on evolutionary economic geography. Allied to this, his research also examines the differential geographies of the emergence and impact of the so-called ‘new economy’, and how such variations are linked to the processes of regional and urban competitive advantage.

Thirdly, the role of ‘clusters’ in regional development is being assessed. The notion of ‘clusters’, developed by Michael Porter at Harvard, has become something of a new conventional wisdom amongst economic geographers and regional policy makers alike. Professor Martin’s research into this concept has been much more critically inclined. On the one hand he argues that the notion has been seized upon by policymakers before we really understand its scope and limits (see his highly cited 2003 paper with Prof. Peter Sunley). On the other, he recognises that cluster-like processes and structures are playing a major role in shaping and reshaping regional competitive advantage. Indeed, his 2001 study (with Paul Miller and others) for the Department of Trade and Industry was the first attempt to identify, map and assess the significance of clusters in the UK economy. Current work in this area is focused on how clusters emerge in the economic landscape and what determines their long-run evolution.


Publications arising from this project include:

  1. Slow Convergence? Slow Convergence? The New Endogenous Growth Theory and Regional Development (With P. Sunley) Economic Geography , 74, 3, pp. 201-227 (1998)
  2. EMU versus the Regions? Regional Convergence and Divergence in Euroland, Journal of Economic Geography, 1, 1, pp. 51-80 (2001)
  3. Business Clusters in the UK, (With P Miller, R Botham, G Gibson and B Moore), London: TSO, 238pp (2001)
  4. Deconstructing Clusters: Chaotic Concept or Policy Panacea? (With P. Sunley) Journal of Economic Geography, 3, 1 pp. 5-35 (2003)
  5. 2003 Rethinking Regional Development, Special Issue of Regional Studies (With P. Tyler, A Glasmeier, B Asheim, M Gray, B Fingleton, J McCombie and M Kitson) (2003)
  6. Regional Competitiveness, Special Issue of Regional Studies (with P. Tyler, A Glasmeier, B Asheim, M Gray, B Fingleton, J McCombie and M Kitson), 211 pp. (2004)
  7. Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Growth across the European Regions, Regional Studies, Special Issue on Regional Competitiveness, 38, pp.1045-1067 (2004)
  8. Identifying and Interpreting Regional Convergence Clusters across Europe (with L. Corrado and G. Meeks), Economic Journal, 115, pp. C133-C160 (2005)
  9. Regional Dimensions of Europe’s Growth Problem (With B. Gardiner and P. Tyler), Regional Studies, 39, pp. 979-2005 European Integration and Economic Geography, in Multidisciplinary Economics (Eds. P. De Gijsel and H. Schenk), Utrecht: Utrecht University Press, pp. 225-257 (2005)
  10. Thinking about Regional Competitiveness: Some Critical Issues, Report for the East Midlands Regional Development Agency, 44pp. (2005)
  11. Clusters and Regional Development (with B. Asheim and P. Cooke), London: Routledge, 302 pp. (2006)
  12. Regional Competitive Advantage (with M. Kitson and P. Tyler), London: Routledge, 201 pp. (2006).
  13. Making Sense of the New Economy? Myths, Realities and Geographies, in P. Daniels, A, Leyshon ands M. Bradshaw (Eds) The Geographies of the New Economy, London, Routledge (2006)
  14. Economic Geography and the New Discourse of Regional Competitiveness, in S Bagchi-Sen and H Lawton-Smith (eds) Economic Geography: Past, Present and Future, Routledge, pp. 159-172 (2006)