Agglomeration, absorptive capacity and knowledge governance: implications for public–private firm innovation in China

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32 Scopus citations


This paper considers the role of firm ownership structure, absorptive capacity and agglomeration on firm innovation in the Chinese context. A popular co-occurrence measure is used to measure local spillovers expected to take place between similar but different industries co-located together. Relying on a large panel of Chinese firms, this paper offers three main results: (1) privately owned enterprises (POEs) are more efficient innovators than their state-owned enterprise (SOE) counterparts; (2) local spillovers from related industries enhance firm innovation, especially for firms with higher pre-existing learning abilities; and (3) despite possessing relatively high levels of absorptive capacity, POEs maintain higher innovation performance compared with their SOE counterparts. These findings help confirm the absorptive capacity thesis, but also suggest that possessing relatively higher levels of absorptive capacity, in and of itself, is not always a sufficient precondition for firms to overcome all the cognitive and technological barriers to leveraging external sources of knowledge. In line with theories of knowledge governance, one explanation for this finding is that private (government) operators develop higher (lower) quality governance procedures that ultimately enhance (hamper) their ability to integrate successfully external sources of knowledge, even after developing a high level of absorptive capabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1069-1083
Number of pages15
JournalRegional Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2 2020


  • China
  • absorptive capacity
  • innovation
  • ownership structure
  • spillovers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Social Sciences


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