Motor city’s strength – evidence of persistence of the U.S. automotive R&D cluster

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


automotive, clustering, R&D


Michigan, the center of the North American auto industry, has lost significant production over the last several decades as the industry has moved further south. Yet, Michigan’s, and especially Detroit’s, role as the center of industry R&D activity has persisted. Note that the state’s share of automotive engineers declined only slightly, from just over 60 percent in 1950 to just over 50% in 2012, whereas the state’s share of production workers has fallen substantially, from 54 percent to 19 percent over the same period. This paper demonstrates the different spatial distribution of R&D and production activities in motor vehicle production and shows that the R&D-cluster in and around Detroit has been remarkably persistent. The analysis is based on micro-data of occupations. The data allow a comparison of geography via nonparametric statistics going back several decades.

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