Asymmetry, Legitimacy and Networking
The highlighted specificity of the aviation industry in general, as a market dominated by few, if not just two major players, is reflected in the HAv cluster, in particular. The presence of the major actor, i.e. Airbus company, confers strength and prestige for the HAv. Hosting such an actor is undoubtedly a reason to be proud for the cluster managers and local policymakers. Nevertheless, it is also a source of significant concern for many small cluster players. They admit benefits from the proximity of the main contractor, although, they point out huge asymmetry, in terms of power relations. Fortunately, to address this unbalance, HAv managers are seeking continuously to provide a level playing field for all its members. The possibility to talk ‘eye-to-eye’ with the giant, is one of the significant benefits of cluster membership—it empowers the small- and medium-sized actors. This legitimacy, deriving from the fact of being a HAv member, facilities the relations outside the cluster, as it sends a positive signal and increases the films’ visibility. Networking and vivid business relations alleviate the liability of smallness, suffered by most small firms. As it seems, cluster internalises for its members, the positive scale effects and agglomeration externalities. Thus, it may emulate the more favourable conditions enjoyed by large companies.
As stressed by almost all respondents, aviation is indeed a unique industry. It is like a natural monopoly or oligopoly market. (CE2) ‘You simply have only two-three big players worldwide, so you are happy to have one of them in your cluster’. Nevertheless, as argued by some (CC3) ‘Airbus is the largest player, but in the end, it is an assembly company, it needs input from other firms. HAv is not only Airbus, but there are also many small innovative companies round there’.
In the opinion of most cluster members, business networks are critical, and co-operation with complementary firms matters most. (CE2) ‘Being here you let the other know that you exist, administrative umbrella, or even knowledge, conies second’. (CC9) ‘From our view, the most important benefit of membership are the linkages to other companies, potential customers’.
Proximity is central, in the opinion of cluster firms, as it generates trust, which is critical for co-operation. Frequent face-to-face contacts reduce mistrust. (CC1) ‘We are here within 20 minutes of a car drive, no language barriers, jointly shared values, same way of doing something; it helps, for instance, while conducting large EU projects’. Spatial closeness is essential for some firms, like those who deliver the engines, also due to classic transportation costs.
Business relations, networks and connections provided in HAv are critical. As stressed by one company—meeting people daily, talking, having lunch together, creates trust. (CC1) ‘We are all humans, so knowing each other is critical for co-operation, and being part of the cluster enables this. This feeling of belonging matters in external relations. It is not easy for us to contact large companies; cluster helps us to establish contacts. The barrier of communicating is reduced; everybody knows each other. You always have the feeling that you are speaking to someone you already know’. Membership confers, hence, a certain legitimacy. SMEs do not have sufficient business contacts, nevertheless, thanks to the cluster, they can talk to large films on a level playing field. (CC1) ‘For us, it was clear that as a small company, we will never go down that path alone, and we are dependent on large fmns to collaborate’. Large companies or universities have their tools, budgets and have developed a set of relations. HAv membership means for many medium-sized companies, a real influence on strategy, selection and development of strategic priorities. (CC1) ‘If you participate, your interest is put at a higher level. You play a role in something bigger’.
As the case of HAv shows, this feeling of belonging, being part of something larger, experienced by many members, is vital and cannot be overestimated, particularly for SMEs. It opens the doors, gives identity and confers the legitimacy. CCs almost unanimously agree that they definitely benefit most from business networking. HAv is a door-opener and treats all its members equally. (CC2) ‘It is also a platform to be in media, to be present, to reach out, increase the exposure’. Being a member increases small firms’ visibility; they can show then company to the broader public outside and also get larger market context. In the opinion of HAv companies, institutional and organisational support also matters much, because of the uniqueness of the industry with high entry barriers.
Regarding the business relations, HAv members almost unanimously agree, they are essential, and HAv is doing a tremendous job to facilitate this. This networking also enhances the exchange of knowledge, particularly, if one considers knowledge not in a narrow sense, but broader as a tacit or sticky knowledge, which requires face-to-face contact and implies innovative collaboration.