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Place-based Industrial and Trade Strategy – Levelling the playing field

Deadline: 31st October 2020


Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in the role of industrial strategy in enhancing innovation, productivity and competitiveness within and across firms, sectors and regions, with an eye to foster more balanced regional economic growth. This has favoured the adoption of place-based industrial strategy, in which policy is tailored to the local conditions and industrial base. Examples include the EU’s Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) approach and the way local industrial strategies are being put forward to reduce the UK’s regional imbalances. 

Despite rhetorical excitement around the potential of place-based industrial strategy, several challenges remain. In seeking to foster regional and sectoral advantages by building on extant ones and to promote new technologies and Industry 4.0, policy can favour those who already possess advantages. In this sense, regional imbalances can actually be exacerbated.  In the EU, initiatives such as smart specialisation have as yet failed to achieve greater regional balance – indeed, since the so called Great Financial Crisis (GFC) there has been a divergence in regional outcomes. This is not surprising.  Leading regions, for instance, are more likely to host stronger infrastructure, entrepreneurial and business networks and business ecosystems, putting them in a better position to benefit from some place based policies such as S3. Similarly, the advent of digital technologies has the potential to widen regional digital divides, in part because more developed regions are better positioned to take advantage of the new opportunities. As is often the case, success breeds success. Differently put, both in theory and in practice smart specialisation lacks the attributes that can help level the playing field and sometimes it has the potential to exacerbate these.  Moreover, while being acknowledged by S3 proponents, little has been done to address this challenge. Inequities may also be exacerbated by trade tensions and strategic trade policies, evident in recent trade disputes.

In this context, the question for national and regional policy-makers is how to foster more balanced and inclusive regional growth. For instance, some commentators have suggested governments employ horizontal policies in a place–based way that accounts for and aims to reduce regional disparities. This would imply some sort of targeting, albeit in this case not the conventional national champions type, but instead targeting lagging regions, identifying gaps and helping to close these. Such gaps can relate to infrastructure, clusters and business ecosystems, knowledge transfer, extant or otherwise educational institutions. Other possibilities include re-orientating policy frameworks towards promoting social innovation and foundational sectors, which are often the main form of activity in lagging regions.  

Guest Editors

David Bailey: d.g.bailey@bham.ac.uk
Christos Pitelis: cnp1000@cam.ac.uk
Philip Tomlinson: P.R.Tomlinson@bath.ac.uk

Submissions Information

This Special Issue will seek to address these issues through a set of papers that explore how policy makers can adopt place-based measures (including S3)  which also foster regional catch up and  a more balanced, cohesive regional growth. In doing so, it seeks papers that develop theory, provide evidence and highlight ‘state of the art’ or good practice that can foster balanced regional industrial strategy.

Indicative sub topics include but are not restricted to:

  • using public investment (e.g.infrastructure) in a way that closes regional gaps
  • enhancing business ecosystems and clusters in lagging regions
  • employing otherwise horizontal policies selectively in lagging regions (rather than more advanced ones)
  • employing or responding to strategic trade initiatives or challenges in a way that favours lagging regions
  • anchoring foreign direct investors in a way that fosters greater regional balance
  • initiatives to facilitate technological upgrading in lagging regions
  • initiatives for greater collaboration (e.g. over knowledge transfer) between more advanced and lagging regions
  • exploring initiatives to promote social innovation and foundation sectors in lagging regions


The Special Issue Guest Editors welcome papers for consideration from academics and researchers, especially those with an interest in geography, place-based industrial strategy/smart specialisation, technological transformation and innovation studies.

The Guest Editors intend to host a Special Regional Studies Session at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in Denver, in April 2020, to showcase/promote the Special Issue. They also intend to host a one-day workshop at the University of Bath on 12th/13th May 2020 in conjunction with the Centre for Governance, Regulation & Industrial Strategy (CGR&IS), where papers under consideration for the Special Issue can be presented and discussed. Participation in these sessions will allow authors to attain initial feedback on their papers before submission. Details of the workshop will be available from David Bailey (d.g.bailey@bham.ac.uk) and Phil Tomlinson (P.R.Tomlinson@bath.ac.uk).

Authors interested in publishing in the Special Issue should, in the first instance, submit a 400 word abstract to P.R.Tomlinson@bath.ac.uk. Full papers must be received by  301st October 2020. Submissions will be subject to Regional Studies’s normal rigorous peer review process. Details of Regional Studies’s publication process, evaluation criteria and style are available on the journal’s website.

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