A recent meeting between the Italian partners of the project Adriatic Danubian Clustering has highlighted the diversity of ways and needs that articulate business internationalization when in particular it concern business clusters. They range from the emerging need for a "vertical" and inter-sectoral  integration in the Veneto between districts to a more horizontal and widespread district in Emilia Romagna. But a purely commercial approach often reduces internationalization to production relocation in a logic of cost-cutting and/or of market-seeking. This limitation of the approach is likely to be added to other known constraints of Italian companies internationalization that will compete with foreign companies (and their territorial and institutional environment) able to relate with  the host area and its companies within a territorial a partnership framework.

A recent meeting between the Italian partners of the "Adriatic Danubian Clustering" project  has highlighted once again the diversity of ways in which on the national territory the process of internationalization and in particular the internationalization of clusters (districts) manifests itself. The comparison between the representatives of the partner regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Molise has made it possible to identify different characteristics and needs in terms of potential transnational cooperation between clusters. They range from the emerging need in the Veneto region of "vertical" integration between districts belonging to different sectors (agro-food and mechanical engineering; mechanical engineering and ceramics, etc.) to a more horizontal and widespread internationalization of the district in Emilia Romagna.

The prevailing approach is still the so-called "market-seeking approach" and even foreign direct investments are often dictated by a purely commercial incentive. Moreover, especially in Veneto region, clusters are too scattered to express a coherent strategy and internationalization capability, so medium-sized enterprises in the cluster often move by themselves, without involving the cluster's chain of suppliers and associated companies.

The most famous of Italian companies' competitive disadvantage with regard to internationalization, to say the low level of mentoring by service agencies and governmental organizations (the quite low networking capability of subjects and institutions dealing with internationalization; the confusion and overlap between conflicting national and regional initiatives, etc.) is perceived in a less acute way by enterprises ADC Italian partners regions - especially the Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions - through a better regional institutional infrastructure.

Other constraints on the internationalization of Italian firms and districts are due, not alone but in large part to the limited size of companies compared to the main competitor countries: In the last years you add the more acute perception of the (strategic and cultural) limitation of a pure commercial attitude that reduce the internationalization to a mere cost-cutting relocation.

The result of all these constraints are often quoted in the analysis devoted to quantitative, sectoral and geographical characteristics of internationalization: the ratio between the stock of outwards FDI to GDP is lower than the EU average and considerably lower than the nearest competitors; the weak presence of Italian enterprises in the oligopolistic scenario; international expansion focused to neighbouring areas (EU, Mediterranean countries, Africa and the Balkans).

Trade exchange and outward FDIs (% of GDP). Italy's position compared to its main competitors (2008)

 

Trade Exchange/GDP

Outward FDIs/GDP**

Austria

113,0%

133,6%

I

France

55,4%

39,7%

XI

Germany

88,3%

35,7%

XIV

Italy

58,2%

23,4%

XVIII

UE-27

22,3%*

26,0%

-

*: Only non-EU trade exchange; **: Austria appears to be the member state with the highest outward FDIs / GDP ratio, France is in 11th position, Germany and Italy in 14th in 18th position.

The lack of a development vision for the FDI destination area, the consequent failure to establish lasting links and " virtuous dependencies " (in terms of exchange of products, services and human resources as a first step, and in subsequent stages in terms of employment, innovation, training managerial skills and mutual growth of the business systems) caused by a missing long-term vision of internationalization, will be in the near future a limit more stringent for the Italian clusters.

Italian local systems of businesses will face an ever-growing incidence degree and intervention capacity of competitors' regional systems and of their businesses, firstly Germany, acting according to a logic of territorial economic partnership, just not to say co-development. This approach is essential in the new scenario, characterized by a reduced supply of capital, a more selective demand, an increasing competition between local systems, a newfound centrality of local development.



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