Issue date: 30 January 2002

The triangle of Bristol, Swindon and Gloucester, bounded by the M4/M5, is described as an ‘outstanding centre of knowledge’ in a report just published by the University of the West of England. Overtaken only by Oxford, Cambridge and by two areas in Europe around Geneva and Basle, this ranking is based on data on its strengths in research and the specialisation of its industries.

The report compares the West’s ‘Silicon Gorge’ with a similar cluster of high-technology companies in the Hanover region of Germany. By interviewing senior executives in both regions, the report discovered the best practices adopted by these ‘knowledge-based’ firms. It found that the extent to which companies share information - both internally, and in forming partnerships with customers, universities, and research institutions – can be a key to their success.

“The West of England is a good example of companies adapting to the knowledge-based economy,” says one of the report’s authors, Dr Dimitrios Konstadakopoulos, of UWE’s Faculty of Languages and European Studies.

“Traditional industries such as defence, aerospace and electronics have given birth to a cluster of electronics, telecommunications and software industries, as well as an emerging multimedia sector. Transnational corporations who built plants along the M4 corridor, because of easy access to London and Heathrow airport, began to establish R&D facilities alongside their production plants, and came into contact with regional research institutions and local firms.”

The incentives for companies relocating to this region include the region’s highly skilled workforce and the beauty of the natural environment, Sir Michael Lickiss, Chairman of the South West Regional Development Association, is quoted as saying in the report. Government figures show that 47% of its workforce is educated to at least A level or equivalent, with 27% qualified to degree level.

In his report, Dr Konstadakopoulos says that the region has seen significant growth in home-grown, highly innovative and knowledge-intensive small and medium companies – such as Dyson and Aardman Animation – that are well on their way to becoming large multinationals.

In their research, the authors compared 21 companies in the West with 10 companies in Lower Saxony, near Hanover. They identified similar factors contributing to economic development including a strong history of regional specialisation, the presence of a large number of research institutions and universities, and a skilled and well-qualified workforce.

Marked differences were found, however, in the regional policies supporting the diffusion of knowledge. The South-West has only recently developed a coherent regional policy to support the development of high-tech clusters, whereas the federal system in Germany allowed Lower Saxony more flexibility in accomplishing its policy aims.

“It is important to emphasise that the study looked at just two regions in Europe,” said Dimitrios. “If they are representative, however, they suggest that policies aimed at supporting education and training, and facilitating collaborative networks, are of great importance as regions respond to the global emergence of a knowledge-based economy.”


Editor’s notes

The report, entitled “Knowledge Companies in Britain and Germany: a common response to the challenges of the emerging knowledge-based economy”, was funded by the Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of the Industrial Society. The full text can be found on www.agf.org.uk/pubs/publication.rtm

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