ABSTRACT. The focus of this article is on the analysis
of the collective economic effects deriving from the intense
set of backward, forward, labor, horizontal and institutional
linkages existing within clusters of enterprises. Among the
economic effects two main categories are distinguished:
external economies, which are the spontaneous by-product of
economic activities undertaken within the clusters and coop-
eration effects, which are the results of explicit and deliberate
cooperative behaviors of the economic actors.
In the empirical investigation, these economic effects have
been analyzed in four clusters of footwear firms in Italy and
Mexico. The first result of the empirical investigation is the
confirmation of the importance of collective efficiency both
in the ‘proper’ Italian districts and in the Mexican clusters.
Nevertheless, there are considerable differences concerning
the intensity and quality of the collective effects between the
realities studied. Those differences are explained through the
impact of the disparities in the outside environment on the core
characteristics of the different clusters. Finally, some consid-
erations about the need for moving from a static to a dynamic
approach to explain differences between stages of develop-
ment and growth trajectory patterns of the districts are put
In recent years industrial districts generated a great
deal of interest among development economists.
Traditionally, in less developed countries small
firms were seen as socially desirable, but their
viability remained in doubt. Their role was to
create jobs, to be a seed-bed for indigenous entre-
preneurship, to use predominantly local resources,
to produce for local markets satisfying the basic
needs of the poor, to contribute to a more equi-
table distribution of income, but rarely were small
firms seen as able to become internationally com-
petitive. The success of industrial districts in the
West was taken as a sign that small firms could
be economically viable and strongly contribute to
the industrial growth of their country. The concept
of the industrial district was then introduced in the
study of industrial development in the Third
World, both at the empirical and theoretical level
(Schmitz, 1989; Rasmussen et al., 1992).
The aim of this paper is to contribute to this line
of investigation with a comparative study of two
footwear districts in Italy and two clusters of
spatially concentrated and sectorally specialized
footwear enterprises in Mexico.
We intend to
investigate backward, forward, horizontal, labor
and institutional linkages and to classify the
collective economic effects deriving from them,
by distinguishing between static and dynamic
external economies and static and dynamic coop-
eration effects. Ultimately, we compare the degree
of collective efficiency in the Italian and Mexican
The article is structured as follows: in the next
section we present the key factors characterizing
industrial districts and we discuss the concepts
of external economies and cooperation effects.
Section 3 contains the main findings of the empir-
ical investigation on linkages in Italy and Mexico
and section 4 provides a classification and a com-
parison of the collective effects, observed in the
cases analyzed. The implications of these findings
are drawn out in the last section.
2. External economies and cooperation effects
Research on industrial districts originated in the
second half of the 1970s in Italy, where a wide-
spread phenomenon of industrial development
based on geographically concentrated and sec-
torally specialized small firms, was identified by
a number of scholars.
The increase in the number
of employees, production, exports, and per-capita
income in north-central and north-eastern Italy,
Collective Effects in Italian and
Mexican Footwear Industrial Clusters
Small Business Economics 10: 243–262, 1998.
1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Final version accepted on July 29, 1996
Università di Padova