Cities owe competitive advantage to technology, not size

Tuesday, 31 August 2010, 06:06 Hrs
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Washington: Smaller cities can now compete with huge metros like New York and Chicago, thanks to advances in technology. The rise of commercial aviation, high-speed rail, the internet and other technological advances have helped smaller cities give their much bigger counterparts a run for their money.

"Fifty years ago, no one would have thought to put a multinational corporation in Bentonville, Arkansas, when it could be in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles," said Zachary Neal, a Michigan State University sociologist, who led the study.

"But changes in technology have started to level the playing field in terms of what cities can do," added Neal, according to the journal City and Community.

Neal examined the population and air-traffic data for 64 US cities from 1900 to 2000, according to a Michigan statement.

He found that a city's population was the most important factor for its economy until the 1950s, when the spread of commercial air travel fostered more cross-country business networks.

That trend continued with advances such as teleconferencing and the growth of the internet.

Some large cities - including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago - built on those networks and maintained their economic clout, according to the study.

Other cities - like Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh - were unable to effectively capitalise and now are considered "poorly connected".

This holds true for the overall economies of the cities and for specific sectors such as manufacturing and transportation and communication, Neal said.

And then there are communities that recently have developed connections to become "wired towns", he said.

Smaller cities that were essentially insignificant 50 years ago but have emerged as major economic centres, thanks to technology, according to the study.
Source: IANS
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