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C. Scott Dempwolf, PhD
Research Assistant Professor & Director
UMD - Morgan State Center for Economic Development

Research Projects

My research agenda seeks to integrate theory, methods and practice in planning in five substantive areas of study.  These five areas – networks, innovation, economic development, industrial land use, and public health in planning – may not appear to be connected at first glance.  In part they represent the evolution of my interests and experiences in planning.  In part they represent areas where I believe I can make substantive contributions.  In part the differences offer some much needed diversity for an insatiable curiosity. See completed projects 

Networks, Innovation and Economic Development

Current projects in these areas involve modeling innovation networks and regional innovation clusters. Central to this effort is the development of a national database that includes over 7 million source records including patents; NSF, NIH, NASA and SBIR research grants; industries and establishments; and localized data sets covering 1990 to the present. The database builds on the Harvard Dataverse project and is designed to be compatible with emerging inter-organizational data standards, allowing this database to articulate with other data sources as part of a larger data platform. The source records provide basic information that allows the construction of innovation network models that reveal connections between researchers, inventors, institutions and businesses. Over 20 million nodes have been identified, and current efforts are focused on matching unique nodes across multiple data sources.

The models can identify connections and clusters based on the technologies being invented or researched. There are several potential applications for economic development. First, These models present a new approach to identifying regional innovation clusters based on new and emerging technologies that are the focus of current research and invention. This new approach differs from traditional methods of cluster analysis in several respects. First, it identifies firms where future production and growth are likely based on emerging technologies rather than past employment - which is the basis for location quotients and shift-share analyses that define traditional cluster analysis. Second, as shown in my dissertation, certain measures of network structure are correlated with future manufacturing employment growth. This research seeks to develop methods and tools that will allow economic development practioners identify emerging opportunities and to better target resources in ways that will result in higher job creation.

 

Industrial Land Use

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Within the US and other countries there are two areas of recent policy focus that have significant overlap.  These policy areas include the focus on metropolitan regions and the focus on manufacturing & exports.  In terms of metropolitan regions there is recognition that economies are regional in nature and that when fragmented governments within a regional economy work together the region is stronger and more competitive economically.  In terms of manufacturing and exports the recognition is that the production and export of tangible goods is an important part of stable and sustainable regional economies and that manufacturing industries have significant multiplier effects on local and regional economies.

The context for these two areas of policy focus is globalization, and it is this context that underpins the linkages between metro regions on the one hand, and manufacturing and exports on the other.  The term globalization is broadly used and this contributes some fuzziness to its definition.  The perspective we will use is that globalization refers to the global restructuring of production in response to technological change.  There are three primary areas of technological change that have been driving the global restructuring of production.  The first broad area is information and communications technology (ICT), including computers, cell phones the internet etc.  The second broad area is logistics, with specific technological innovations including bar codes, shipping containers and process innovations like just-in-time manufacturing.  Innovations in these first two areas created significant competitive advantages to networked firms with strong supply chains over large vertically integrated conglomerates.  The third broad area of technological change has been the creation of globally integrated capital markets which allow capital to flow (almost) freely from any part of the world to any other part of the world.  Technological advances in these three areas facilitated a massive restructuring of business and production since roughly 1980. 

Conceptual Framework

This restructuring of production has had enormous impacts – both good and bad - on cities and metropolitan regions in the US and throughout the world.  One way to frame a discussion of these impacts is from the perspective of the factors of production.  These include three traditional factors, land, labor and capital, and at least one “new” factor.  I will refer to that new factor simply as technology, with the understanding that this term is broadly interpreted to mean knowledge, intellectual capital, intellectual property and other factors that lead to the creation of value through technological change.  Some people might also include “entrepreneurship” as a second “new” factor, and I will discuss this more later.  For now we’ll use the first four factors of land, labor, capital and technology to frame a discussion about the relationships between changing patterns of manufacturing and exports on the one hand, and the challenges facing metropolitan regions on the other.

Beginning with technology, regional specialization in specific industries and technologies is widely observed and has been extensively studied.  While different theories will be discussed later, one of the central ideas behind regional specialization is that innovation requires the sharing of tacit knowledge and this is best done through face-to-face contact.  A second notion is that as regional clusters of specialization grow there are advantages that reinforce the creation or regional agglomerations that make both existing firms and new firms more competitive.  While it is increasingly possible to share complex information world-wide, there is evidence that the benefits of spatial proximity accrue on either at either a very local level, say a campus for example, or at a regional level.  That is, once the distance exceeds “immediate proximity” the distance-decay rate of this “spillover effect” is relatively flat for the rest of the local jurisdiction and the metro region.

Regional specializations in technology are also accompanied by regional specializations in labor markets.  Over time as regional clusters grow and mature the regional workforce becomes specialized as well.  Growing clusters create jobs in specific industries and occupations and these in turn influence local educational specializations.  While workers are theoretically capable of relocating almost anywhere, many have families and are rooted in particular regions.  Individual workers may travel further within the region for a job but relocation to another region is out of the question as long as there are employment opportunities within their region.

Regional specializations in technology and the availability of a specialized regional workforce also lead to and reinforce regional specialization in capital investments.  While this is quite variable from industry to industry, investors and lenders develop specialized knowledge about specific industries.  This knowledge translates to more successful and profitable investments, and since many investors and lenders like to be physically close to their projects this also tends to lead to a regional specialization of capital.

While technology, labor and capital all function effectively at a regional scale, land is highly localized, and ultimately specific in terms of a particular parcel or tract.  As a factor of production land is influenced by several characteristics.  The first is ownership, and this is subject to the local real estate market as well as personal idiosyncrasies.  Second, land as a factor of production is influenced by the availability of general and specialized infrastructure including utilities and transportation systems.  Third, production land is influenced by prior, current and anticipated development patterns for both the tract itself and for the surrounding area.  These patterns, along with ownership and infrastructure help determine the tract’s practical and financial suitability as a factor of production.  Fourth, land use regulations influence land as a factor of production.  These help determine the tract’s legal suitability and capacity as a factor of production and may influence its financial suitability as well.  These four characteristics have both local and regional dimensions and dynamics that combine to influence local and regional patterns of development and economic activity over time1 .

Technology, labor and capital combine to shape what industries each region specializes in.  The four characteristics influencing land combine to help shape where those industries locate within each region2 .  While technology, labor and capital all tend to organize naturally at the regional level, the characteristics influencing land as a factor of production are often much more parochial.  This can lead to infrastructure investments and development patterns that may benefit specific land owners or municipalities over the short to medium run, but which make the metro region less competitive over the long run, ultimately hurting all municipalities in the region.

Over time thousands of businesses and millions of people within the region have made individual choices about where to locate, where to live, and where to work.  These choices were made in the context of the existing or anticipated land use and infrastructure system; a prevailing world view; a broadly held set of assumptions about the future, and a system of governance designed for local rather than regional focus.  In the aggregate these decisions have produced development patterns that are unsustainable.  The prevailing world view is changing, and people are beginning to question the assumptions that underpin this pattern of development.  However land use decisions and infrastructure investments are long-term in nature and are not easily changed or abandoned, even if they were based on poor assumptions.  While the emerging world view is one of globalization and our new assumptions tend to favor urbanization, most existing businesses and the people that comprise the labor force are “locked-in” to the pattern of development and infrastructure we have invested in for the past 50 years.  Although business and individuals are more likely to have a regional perspective, government remains legally bound to a local focus.

Research Questions

It is within this framework and context that we will evaluate industrial land use within the Baltimore metropolitan region.  Recent studies by Brookings and others have suggested that the while the Baltimore region is rich in assets the fragmentation of the region prevents the leveraging of these assets into regional competitive advantage.  As planners concerned with how local and regional patterns of land use and infrastructure influence economic growth and development we will evaluate these systems in order to answer two broad questions.  First, how well do local and regional systems of land use and infrastructure support the renewed focus on manufacturing and exports?  Second, to what extent do the various local systems of land use and infrastructure come together to form a coherent regional system?  These two broad questions will generate a wide range of supporting questions that will need to be identified and answered as the study progresses.

1. Business and real estate taxes are often identified as a location factor.  Over the long run, intra-regional differences in municipal tax rates are accounted for in differential land values between municipalities.  A tract in a high-tax municipality will have a comparatively lower value than a similar tract in a low-tax municipality, all else being equal.  Tax breaks provide a short-medium run differential that is not necessarily reflected in differential land prices.  For these reasons taxes are not one of the characteristics of land discussed here.

2. Tax breaks and other incentives may also contribute to this.  See note 1.