Global Knowledge Flows, R&D and Multilocational Firms

The flow of knowledge between locations is a central topic in Economic Geography (EG). Knowledge flows affect the ability of regions to produce innovative output such as green technology or vaccines and are thus of major societal importance. More generally, the production and mobility of knowledge have significant impacts on the economic welfare of regions. For example, at the global scale knowledge flows play a crucial role in upgrading firm capabilities and increasing competitiveness in emerging economies (Gammeltoft 2008; Poon et al. 2006). At the sub-national scale, knowledge flows within the firm raise the value of innovative output (Frigon and Rigby 2021). Knowledge flows between firms can have positive or negative impacts on firm performance. How these flows impact the fortunes of regional economies is keenly debated (Rodriguez-Pose and Crescenzi 2008).

Research in EG has long focused on regions as the units in which capabilities are deemed to reside, as place-based know-how is shared between the economic agents embedded in particular locations. Bathelt et al. (2004) and Fitjar and Rodriguez-Pose (2014) challenge this claim. Recent research by Zhang and Rigby (2021) suggests that new ideas are more likely to flow within firms over space as they are to flow between firms within the region. If most geographical knowledge flows occur within companies, the influence of corporate organization on knowledge mobility demands more attention (Michailova and Mustaffa 2012). Crescenzi et al. (2014) find that the global division of tasks in multinational enterprises follows the value chain stage of the activity to the most effective host location. Schaefer and Liefner (2017) show that some firms from emerging markets conduct their most impactful R&D processes abroad. The fragmentation between development at home and research in state-of-the-art knowledge centres might be key for these firms to access innovation capabilities while profiting from labor cost advantages (Schaefer 2020).

Further investigations of spatial R&D patterns has been called for by Papanastassiou et al. (2019), who urges innovation researchers to focus on the international fragmentation of R&D activities. More work is required to unpack firm- and place-based perspectives on knowledge mobility in order to understand the economic dynamics of firms and regions. We are therefore inviting contributions on innovation and capability building in multilocational firms; inter regional knowledge flows or multilocational/multinational R&D organization for this special session.