Rethinking innovation-based development in the periphery: The role of firm-level and system-level agency

Economic geography has long tended to emphasize the virtues of cities to explicate how places stimulate firms’ innovation activities and why such activities are unevenly distributed across space. Challenging the urban bias in much of the geography of innovation literature, over the past years, scholarly work has begun to explore how novelty generation takes place outside of agglomerations. There is increasing evidence that innovation also occurs in non-core regions and that innovation in the periphery differs from ‘urban innovation’ in distinct ways. Focusing on how peripheral firms innovate despite their supposedly unfavorable location, this literature tends to overemphasize innovation constraints in peripheral regions, neglecting the ways in which these places might also spur innovation.

We seek to contribute to a rethinking of innovation in the periphery by directing attention to innovation opportunities found in non-core regions. We develop a conceptual framework, arguing that innovation opportunities can be divided into two groups, that is, 1) unique assets, and 2) specific challenges and claim that both assets and challenges can trigger innovative activities in the periphery.

Drawing on findings from the literature and own research based on 20 interviews with peripheral innovators in Austria, we show that assets and challenges come in different forms and are unevenly distributed across peripheral areas. We also demonstrate that the relative importance of ‘asset-driven peripheral innovation’ and ‘challenge-driven peripheral innovation’ is influenced by the geographical origin of the innovator. Unlock of innovation opportunities depends on whether the innovator comes from within or from outside the region.

Discussant: Stoyan Sgourev

PLACES: Session 2