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Firms operating within business clusters have a greater capacity to innovate.

Companies inside Italian business clusters had sales growth of around 1% during the recessionary 2013-2014 period, according to the forecasts reported in the seventh report on economics and finance of Italian business clusters prepared by Intesa SanPaolo, one of the Italian largest banks.

On the other hand, firms located outside the business clusters recorded a slightly negative growth rate, the report said, which examined 12,000 firms in 144 clusters across the country.

Firms operating within business clusters are more dynamic because they have a greater capacity to innovate, according to data from the increase in number of registered trademarks and patents.

Secondly, their export-led growth strategy has allowed them to tap growing foreign markets, offsetting stagnant national demand. Lastly, they have an ability to make foreign investments.

Looking ahead, Italy’s slight economic recovery will consolidate over the next two years. The average annual growth will be around 3.2%, and already this year sales volumes will be back to the 2008 levels and will exceed them in 2016. A target that for Italian manufacturing sectors as a whole will be reachable only in 2018.

The report’s conclusions not only contradict the thesis of a structural demise of the business clusters, but also highlight their greater competitiveness in comparison to firms operating outside of such clusters.

Italy’s stagnant economy has certainly had negative effects on all industries, including the ones operating in business clusters. Yet, these companies have shown a relatively better capacity to face the crisis and recover quickly thanks, first and foremost, to their presence in foreign markets.

Between January and September 2014 their volumes of exports grew 3.5% from the year before compared to a meagre 1.6% for the entire Italian manufacturing sector and to Germany’s 2.1% growth .

Between 2008 and 2013 firms operating in business clusters have also recapitalized more than the national average (+10.8% against 8.2%) and have invested more aggressively in R&D where there is a 6.3% gap in relation to the number of registered patents by the non-clustered businesses in the last five years.

The large majority of companies in business clusters are well-positioned to take advantages from the incoming new favorable scenario: lower cost of energy, new structural reforms, improved institutional settings at a European level and the European Central Banks expansive monetary policy.

The business clusters are relocating in Italy many productions that had been previously transferred abroad. It is happening in the fashion business clusters, but there are also significant cases in the mechanical, machinery for agriculture and packaging clusters.