Fostering Regional Potential
Similarly to the above-mentioned groups of factors that increase competitiveness of enterprises operating within COs, fostering regional potential may be a multifaceted process, and thus address various pools of characteristics. One of the consequences of running a business in a relatively small territory (taking into account the location of the headquarters of the enterprises and not the scope of their market activity) is the opportunity of operating within the existing or newly established but common cultural and institutional conditions. Embedding two or more organizations in different institutional contexts can be a major impediment while implementing cooperation mechanisms that are to bond them. Introducing organizational or social proximity does not necessarily indicate that a subject is involved in, for instance, learning processes (Gertler, 2003). What is more, if an entity lacks a common ax- ionormative system (i.e. a system of common values, norms, etc.), it may turn to informal contacts and relationships based on trust, i.e. relations closely related to social proximity (Knack &c Keefer, 1997).
The authors of the study on innovation potential of companies in the Montreal region (Tremblay et al., 2003) as well as the representatives of the aforementioned French school of proximity dynamics, namely Gilly and Torre (2000; Torre & Rallet, 2005), refer to corporate values, shared thinking and creative approaches as factors conducive to achieving group goals. Some (though not crucial) significance of institutional proximity is also indicated by the research conducted on enterprises of the Danish clean technology sector, according to which cooperation of the entities of Danish regions was mainly maintained with culturally similar entities than with actors from neighboring countries. Even greater cultural differences were revealed in the case of relationships with enterprises located beyond Europe (Hansen, 2015). The coexistence of institutional proximity with geographical proximity was clearly marked here - the sense of cultural distance increased with the growing distance separating the partners.
The significance of geographical proximity for inter-organizational cooperation was confirmed by the results of research in the nanotechnology sector in Europe. With regard to the statistics, this dimension of proximity proved to be the key element for the cooperation of European enterprises in this sector (Cunningham & Werker, 2012). Analogous conclusions can be drawn from the analyses carried out on COs (cooperating in the form of strategic alliances) whose at least one entity was located in Italy - although all the analyzed dimensions of proximity were important for interfirm knowledge exchanges, two of them, namely technological and geographical proximity, determined this process with a greater magnitude (Usai et al., 2017).
What appears to be an interesting supplement to the findings above is the issue of achieving the most favorable level of spatial proximity by entities operating in cooperation relations. The larger the geographical proximity among actors, the smaller pool of common conditions determining the nature of their activities is observed. The territory, on the one hand, perceived as a specific neutral space, is, on the other hand, a geographical environment indicator (Tremblay et al., 2003). Therefore, it is also a specific area with resources of a characteristic quantity and quality, e.g. material factors (e.g. in the form of natural resources) and (or rather primarily) human capital (in the form of e.g. the labor market or inter-individual relation network). As indicated by the results of research on Montreal companies in the biopharmaceutical, telecommunications and aeronautical sectors, the key factors which drew attention of entities representing these industries when deciding about a pro-innovative direction of their development were access to information networks and personal interactions, and the quality of local resources related to broadly understood human capital (Tremblay et al., 2003). Accordingly, a lack of common grounds resulting from the nature of the enterprise location may hinder the development of emerging or already established cooperative relations. However, spatial proximity may have a negative impact on the activities of cooperating enterprises - this is primarily the case in highly specialized regions (Boschma, 2005a), where, due to a strong focus on a specific line of business (technology, organization, market), an end-up may occur followed by an inability to reinvent oneself or shift to a new development path (Malmberg & Masked, 1997).
The aforementioned consequences of functioning in various forms of cooperative relations have the relatively strongest impact on increasing the competitiveness of CO enterprises. It is worth reminding once again that among the discussed positive results the increase in the economic capital of companies (the most visible facet) has not been mentioned. The focus on the factors that have a rather indirect impact on the competitiveness of cluster enterprises is due to the fact that obtaining higher revenues by enterprises includes aspects whose nature cannot be directly related to participation in a CO. Therefore, the emphasis has been placed on groups of factors whose impact on the increase in competitiveness is the result of cooperation undertaken by enterprises as a part of broader initiatives (e.g. strategic alliances, clusters).
Because knowledge based economy has become the hallmark of the present day, it has become natural to emphasize the creation of new and the transfer of the existing knowledge among market entities. Owing to numerous difficulties connected with creating new solutions independently, market entities, wishing to strengthen their competitive position, establish relationships with other entities and undertake joint efforts aimed at creating new knowledge and its fair distribution. Solving a given problem by a group of enterprises themselves is a vital element in raising rheir level of competitiveness - it introduces independence from the need of purchasing solutions present on the market and provides a chance to commercialize knowledge generated within a group on its own.
Acting in a cluster, however, not only enables entrepreneurs to understand the need of constant advancement of their own levels of knowledge and technology, not only supports them with a good basis for creating new solutions together with other cluster enterprises, but also provides them with an invaluable mechanism to reduce distrust and build trust in cluster partners. The joint creation of knowledge is not the only advantage; the other one is the certainty that a jointly created solution will be used in a manner agreed on by all the parties involved in it. Because the essence of the existence of clusters and COs is to create a synergy effect among their members, and this effect cannot be achieved without providing the cluster members with a sense of security, one of the “milestones” on the way to achieve it is to create conditions (within the cluster or CO) to build relationships based on trust. Staying in relatively stable, trust-based relationships with a group of business partners is a factor determining the competitive advantage of cluster enterprises.
Being located on a relatively small territory is a distinctive feature of clusters and COs. What appears as the consequence of this fact is, on the one hand, the need to act in certain conditions created by the cluster’s environment (both natural and socio-economic), and, on the other hand, the possibility of exerting influence on this environment and modifying it by means of own actions. Over the long term, it is therefore possible to shape the socio-economic environment of the cluster in such a way that it will, to the greatest possible extent, be consistent with the needs and expectations of the CO enterprises (by adjusting the regional education system, selective stimulation of the labor market, negotiating specific legal and administrative solutions with authorities at various levels, etc.). Each group of factors mentioned above is the result of cooperation of enterprises within, among others, clusters and COs and is an important element in shaping their competitive advantage.