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Competitive Industries

Have 'Special Economic Zones' Entered the 21st Century Yet? A Tale of Two Cities

Martin Norman's picture

At the World Free Zone Convention in Izmir, Turkey, which I attended in December, an important question was asked:  Have "Special Economic Zones" entered the 21st Century?  Evidence shows that, in many ways, they have – but in many instances we are still seeing across the globe the same isolated economic enclaves with few linkages to the local market and little economy-wide impact.

More than ever, special economic zones (SEZs) are on the defensive, despite the fact that the more than 3,500 SEZs worldwide have provided employment for more than 60 million people.

I believe that two zones, in particular, can shed light on the factors of success and failure in SEZs today:  Shenzhen, China, which is almost universally considered to be a success story, and the Calabar Free Trade Zone in Nigeria, which has failed to live up to its original projections. 
 

Sri Lanka - Resplendent Island, Raring to Deliver

Parth Shri Tewari's picture


Sri Lanka conjures up different images in the minds of different people: lush green tropical canopies, steaming cups of aromatic tea, and hardworking fishermen in their dinghy boats.

For me, the country also packs enormous promise for growth and development. There is not the slightest doubt that Sri Lanka will have to come clean and deal with the aftermath of its prolonged civil war. However, at a fundamental level, there is a sense of hunger in its people to rebuild their lives and their country. The new-found peace that engulfs the population is cherished by most, and is part of dinner conversations especially with foreigners like me.




Sri Lanka already holds a strong position in certain agricultural and industrial exports, like tea or uncut diamonds. Combine this with its strategic location – situated at the crossroads of major shipping routes connecting South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East – and you have a potent combination, a promise waiting to be fulfilled.

I recently spoke at an event organized by the country’s top business newspaper, the Daily Financial Times, in partnership with the well-regarded Colombo University MBA Alumni Association. The focus of the forum was the country’s emerging six-hub strategy – Maritime, Commercial, Knowledge, Aviation, Energy and Tourism: the cornerstone of its further economic development.

The euphoria leading up to the event was palpable. The ceremonial drums and lighting of the auspicious lamp to evoke good omen created the perfect ambience. I was nervous, not because of stage fright, but because I was about to present a contrarian viewpoint to private-sector and public-sector experts, while sharing the stage with the Minister of Economic Development and the Governor of the Sri Lanka’s Central Bank. Even though my arguments were well-thought-through and fact-based, it was going to be a delicate dance, as I was about to communicate some tough arguments against the implementation of the full-blown six-hub strategy.

Cities’ Elusive Quest for a Post-Industrial Future

Stefano Negri's picture



What do rusting industrial cities have in common with outmoded BlackBerries? In this era of constant technological progress, talent mobility and global competition, it's striking how many similarities can be drawn between cities and companies, and the need for both to continuously adjust their industrial strategies to avoid oblivion or bankruptcy.

Cities can lose their vigor and vitality just as surely as a once-hot product can lose its cutting-edge cool. RIM, the maker of the the once-ubiquitous BackBerry,
has been leapfrogged by companies with more nimble technologies; Kodak, once synonymous with photography, went bankrupt when it failed to make the transition
from film to digital. The roll call of withering cities – once proud, yet now reduced to rusting remnants – shows how cities, like companies, can lose their historic raison d’etre if they fail to hone their competitive edge.

Heavy industries like steelmaking and automobile assembly once powered some of the world’s mightiest economic urban areas: Traditional manufacturing industries shaped their identity, giving their citizens income and pride. But globalization, competition, shifting trade patterns and changing consumer trends are continuously reshaping the competitive landscape, with dramatic impact on cities and people. Over the past century, industrialized regions like the Ruhr Valley of Germany, the Midlands of Great Britain and the north of France – along with the older shipbuilding cities around the Baltic and North Seas, and the mono-industrial cities of the former Soviet Union – have struggled to make the transition to different industries or toward a post-industrial identity. Their elusive quest for a post-industrial future has had a dramatic impact on their citizens.

The same issue has become daunting in recent decades for aging manufacturing regions in the United States, which have suffered the prolonged erosion of their industrial-era vibrancy. That kind of wrenching change is bound to soon confront other cities in the developing world, as they struggle to adapt their urban cores, civic infrastructure and industrial strategies to an era that puts a higher premium on nimble cognitive skills and advanced technologies than on bricks-and-mortar factories, blast furnaces and big-muscle brawn.

For fast-growing cities in the global South, many of which are urgently seeking solutions amid their sudden urban growth, there could be many lessons in the experience of older cities in the developed world in making such a transition.

A series of recent conferences among urban policymakers and practitioners – backed by a wide range of rigorous academic research and practical client-focused experience in building competitiveness – provide insights that city leaders and the World Bank Group’s practitioners can leverage as they craft programs for transformative urban strategies. 

Innovator-in-Chief: The Public Sector – Catalyst of Creativity

Christopher Colford's picture



Brace yourself for some dramatic new evidence about innovation and entrepreneurship – and and circle the dates October 16 and 17 on your calendar.

Propelling leading-edge ideas about competitiveness, Professor Mariana Mazzucato will be among the luminaries at a major conference at the World Bank in mid-October, organized by the Bank's global practice on Competitive Industries. An all-star array of policymakers, academics, business leaders and development practitioners will focus on today's top global economic-policy challenge: spurring growth and job creation.

Exploring “Making Growth Happen: Implementing Policies for Competitive Industries,” the conference in the Bank's Preston Auditorium will include Mazzucato among
some of the world’s foremost analysts of competitiveness. A professor at the University of Sussex in the U.K., Mazzucato’s iconoclastic new book  – “The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths” – is now rocking the economics world. Mazzucato's insights are forcing a rethinking about the essential role of the public sector in driving the investments that are shaping the modern economy.
 
Public sector? Shaping the economy? Yes, you read that right: Mazzucato amasses persuasive evidence that the government-funded development and deployment of advanced technologies has been pivotal in changing the economic landscape.

Government’s role as a growth catalyst has been just as creative as the role of the private sector – and perhaps even more venturesome. Despite their buccaneering bravado, for-profit firms have lately shied away from high-stakes, high-risk investments in unproven technologies. Mazzucato refutes the defeatist dogma that claims, falsely, that public-sector investment can never do anything right.

Competitive Cities: Driving Productivity and Prosperity

Christopher Colford's picture



The future will be won or lost in the world’s cities. With half of humanity now living in cities – and with the breakneck pace of urbanization likely to concentrate two-thirds of the world’s population into metropolitan regions by 2050 – getting urbanization right is the over-arching challenge of this globalizing age.
 
Urban policy is now at the top of the news due to the bankruptcy filing of forlorn Detroit, which has long been a symbol of urban decay. Yet the urbanization drama goes far beyond the de-industrializing North: The destiny of cities worldwide will determine the success or failure of virtually every development priority – and it will be especially vital for job creation, innovation and productivity growth, environmental sustainability and social inclusion.

Innovating to get things done: Lessons from an industrial park program in India

Yannick Saleman's picture


Successful industrial parks can drive economic competitiveness  (Credit: World Bank, Flickr)

Why do so many industrial park programs fail? They are popular across the developing world, inspired perhaps by China, where they are widely used as a policy tool and where their products are impressive to the visitor: functional parks with many firms and bustling activity. But horror stories abound, even in China, of empty parks, subsidized land speculation and tax erosion, and often no parks at all. This has not dampened enthusiasm, however. The theory is simply too seductive. By providing high-quality, shared infrastructure to firms in specific areas, industrial parks are meant to create pockets of competitiveness that eventually spill over onto the rest of the economy. For capacity-constrained governments, they have the further appeal of focus.

You need to be outrageously aspirational when you take on a growth pole


Growth poles can help create jobs for Africa's one billion citizens (Credit: World Bank)

We were asked the other day by our senior management to be outrageously aspirational when we engage with growth poles.  I have been reflecting on what this means for our work on this topic in Africa, especially in light of the findings of the Africa Competitiveness Report.  I think we need to be aspirational in three broad directions: (i) developing the capacity to get things done in Africa, (ii) ensuring all stakeholders benefit from growth, and (iii) mobilizing as much capital as we can, whether it be private, philanthropic or public.

How to create 100 million jobs

Ivan Rossignol's picture

How can countries create 600 million jobs for its citizens?

As the World Bank convenes its Spring Meetings in Washington this week to discuss the state of international development, the question on everyone’s mind is: How to restart growth and create jobs?

Job creation on an unprecedented scale is needed to avoid severe social dislocation: About 22 million jobs were lost worldwide during the global financial crisis – at a time when many developing countries face an explosion in their working-age population. According to the Bank’s “World Development Report 2013,” 600 million jobs need to be created in the next 15 years just to maintain current employment rates.

‘Growth Through Innovation’: Toward a Competitiveness Consensus

Christopher Colford's picture

In geometry, three points define a plane. In journalism, three events establish a trend. In public policy, three strategy forums might not conclusively confirm a consensus – but a recent think-tank trifecta suggests that a dramatic change is taking shape in the policy community’s thinking about economic competitiveness.

Thrice in recent weeks, activist strategies to inspire innovation and growth have been the front-and-center topic in major policy conferences – suggesting that an energetic new Competitiveness Consensus, applicable to developing and developed countries alike, is emerging among economic thought-leaders.

Judging by the three forums, not just academic scholars, but policymakers and lawmakers, now seem eager to apply the lessons from a slew of analyses  advocating industry-focused and productivity-driven growth strategies, taking pragmatic steps to invest in stronger competitiveness. In a global economy starved for growth  and desperate for job creation, the focus on activist policies – including targeted interventions at the industry level – is relevant to countries large and small, developed and developing.

How to build a sustainable competitiveness platform?

In the wake of the first global recession since World War II, governments around the world are looking for ways to boost growth and competitiveness. Given the fragility of the business and economic climate—and strained public coffers—the responsibility to get policy right is acute. But can public policy makers improve on their hit and miss record of interventioCredit: jon smith, Flickr Creative Commonsn in the past? I would pick out three useful lessons that we have learned, often the hard way:

■    Don’t focus on single industries in the hope of “picking winners.”: Governments need to take a broad-based, inclusive approach to growth, particularly if a key aim is the creation of jobs. Large domestic service sectors that are labor-intensive are creating all net new jobs in high-income economies and 85 percent in middle-income countries. Don’t get me wrong. New technologies can have a transformational impact beyond their particular sectors, enabling future productivity improvements and growth—think IT. But it is the low-tech green jobs in local services, such as improving building insulation and replacing obsolete heating and cooling equipment, that have a greater potential for creating jobs in the near term.

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