Rise and fall of the musical instruments district. A focus on the Marches and its district
The multisector district of Castelfidardo-Recanati-Osimo
An official date that certifies the birth of the multisector district does not exist. What it is largely known, is that the district was initially concentrated on the production of accordions in the town of Castelfidardo, in the province of Ancona. As one can see in section 2.1, the activity started at the end of the XIX century with small artisan workshops and only after the Second World War expanded to other musical instruments segments.
In order to understand why the musical instrument industry has been intensively concentrated in this particular area, it should be clarified and explained how the following factors influenced the district since its birth in this territory: tradition; socio-economical structure; external economies. The first factor -which actively contributes to explain the origins and the rapid spread of musical instruments production occurred since 1863 -is tied to the strong presence of artisans and to the structure of the rural production based on the concept of sharecropping.
Indeed, the existence of professionally qualified entrepreneurs can explain the rapid and dynamic development of “marchigian” accordions mainly manually manufactured in the 19th Century. During this period, first generations of “vociari” and “fisarmoniciari” appeared and small companies started to replace old laboratories. The tradition element was so strong that still nowadays, a number of people working in the remaining companies of the area are sons or nephews of craftsmen specialized in making reeds.
Within this traditional and familial craft, same working tools were handed down from generation to generation. Experience of this particular practice was gained through many years of craftsmanship and has allowed local companies to undergo new production processes, which were completely unknown anywhere else. Available data on the composition of the district allow considerations about the identification of territorial limits and outline different historical phases.
First, the high specialization derives from the first construction of accordions. In fact, this technique considers not only a big number of operations, which requires knowledge of many manufacturing procedures – from metals to plastic fields and from wood to measuring refined tools – but also highly specialized skills and knowledge of the production cycle.
That is why, the following features were considered pillars of the local production organization and the development of the district:
° production decentralization;
° vertical disintegration;
° subcontracting relationships;
° specialization for each phase of the manufacturing process;
° highly specialised division of the labour between companies;
° strict relations between actors;
After a few years from its inception, the production of accordion first expanded to Recanati (within the province of Macerata) and Osimo (within the province of Ancona). Once the industry of musical instrument affirmed in these towns, it started to expand to neighbouring towns. In fact, many other towns started to be considered part of the ecosystem. The district historically counted 14 towns (including the three old towns): Camerano, Loreto, Filottrano, Numana Santa Maria Nuova, Sirolo under the province of Ancona; Montecassiano, Potenza Picena, Porto Recanati, Montelupone and Montefano under the province of Macerata. Ancona’s old area has not changed geographically over time while the involvement of the area of Macerata has known different phases of intensity.
This fact explains why this territory is mostly known as a buffer zone, where companies have been trying to move in only during expansion stages. The only municipality that takes part in this historical are is Recanati. Conversely, other towns within the province of Macerata, haven not seen a radical development of musical instrument production, even though they have lived all evolutionary phases of the district and some of them are still engaged in the production system.
In direct contrast to the Macerata example and in support of the Marshallian agglomeration model, one can find strong evidence of district development in the province of Ancona. Although data for the decade following the Second World War are not highly reliable, unofficial documents testify a presence of 80% of total musical instrument companies of the province within the walls of Castelfidardo (Library of Castelfidardo, 1955). In fact, apart from accordion production, the town of Castelfidardo did not operate largely in other sectors of the district, which started to emerge since the 1960s (Frati, Bugiolacchi, Moroni, 1986).
This high concentration is likely to be the result of the musical instrument production boom – especially the accordion -that occurred in the first part of the XX century. During this period, local companies of musical instrument enjoyed sales and profits, facing only small and not so relevant types of competition. Instruments were exported all over the world, and local brands were known everywhere as sign of quality and culture. Unfortunately, already at the end of the 1960s, the first small crisis hit the sector and it seemed to be clear that wellness and high income were going to disappear, while hard time of competition was coming over.
The competition, from not only Italian companies but also foreigners -especially from Germany and France – reduced rapidly the share of musical instrument sales and hit the old industrial district. This happened because local producers still used to base almost entirely the production on the artisan system. Therefore, this tradition was so strong that -even in front of innovation opportunities – producers preferred to be stuck with old activities, avoiding somehow automated process. Conversely, foreign companies were already using several mechanical tools, which allowed a higher and faster production.
Nevertheless, following the tradition of accordion manufacturing, many companies were forced to quit the sector or to invest and innovate. Although the competition of the 1960s diminished the number of companies in the district, on the other hand, it determined new productions, new businesses and new market horizons. Next to the accordion manufacturing, appeared productions of many other musical instruments such as keyboards and first electronic instruments. Moreover, not only the musical instrument sector took advantage from the market growth but also other activities rapidly increased, like that of metals, machine tools, accessories and intermediate plastic goods and products for the furniture industry. Between the 1970s and 1980s, all the industries of the multisector district affirmed and consolidated.
As the system proved its flexibility during the small crisis of the 1960s, it also proved its adaptability to the frequent changing demands of the market. Yet, in contrast to the high production flexibility, there was a lack of research on innovative technologies (Corò and Micelli, 2007). This drawback was identified to be the first imputable factor of the structural crisis of production system occurred in the 1980s and which will be object of focus in Chapter III. Nevertheless, the long presence of musical instrument companies in the market have created strong professional competences that quickly transformed into entrepreneurial vocations.
Therefore, after the crisis, many people involved in the sector such as former employees, technicians and entrepreneurs started their own production activities also outside of the musical instrument sector. Thanks to them, the industry avoided the dispersion of professional knowledge acquired through years of hard work. Many firms, thus, converted their work skills from musical instruments to other sectors, such as that of electronic components, telecommunications, metals and silvers.
The conversion has been favoured by the know-how and the high specialization that was present in the musical instrument district and to the expansion of the electronic development applied to musical instruments. Thanks to the new production and organization diversification, the crisis surprisingly slowed down and the employment rate in the area started to rise again. Therefore, all the actors have kept the competitive advantage gained during the developmental years as knowledge capital.
This is an example of how a cluster of companies can survive by exploiting competitive advantages (Riccardi, 2013). In this instance, the cluster refers to agglomeration of technological knowledge and the ability to change a production system by applying similar principles. The multisector district of Castelfidardo-Recanati-Osimo can be considered nowadays one of the best example of the Italian variant of industrial district, which matches features that Becattini integrate to the Marshallian industrial district. The district was born as a typical Marshallian district, and it could be considered Marshallian until the Second World War. Small and locally owned firms characterised by a labour intensive production were gathered in the local territory. The labour market was internal to the district and flexible to high rates of immigration.
Once the maturity of the sector was reached, (after the 1950s), the district started to follow different trajectories and thus abandoned the Marshallian industrial district model and developed the Italian variant. During those years, in fact, were added some new features to the traditional district, especially the high degree of co-operation among competitor firms to share risk, stabilise market, share innovations (Markusen 1996). Besides, in order to find a local government role in regulating and promoting core industries, we should wait until the end of the XX century.
As already noted in Table 4, in the years 2007-2008 the multisector district of Castelfidardo-Recanati-Osimo passed to be the third most important district of the Marches. The population of the district counts 145.000 inhabitants, less than 10% of the total population of the region, which counts 1,5 Mln people. The number of people employed in the district (14.700 employees) represents 2,2% of the total employees in the region (650.000). Another important feature of the district is that the number of employees represents 8% of the workers employed in industrial activities in the Marches.
The most impressive number is the share of employed persons in the districtin the district, computed over the total work force of the area. Here the figure reaches 23%. It means that almost one fourth of the working people in the 14 towns of the districts, find a job in one of the 1.095 companies registered. Finally, as for exports, the district accounts for 5% of total exports of the region.
In the next chapter, it will be analysed gradually the evolution of the musical instrument industry of the multisector district and its production growth from the end of the XIX century. Then, the focus will be on the innovations of the electronic instrument production until the decline of the 1980s and the industry crisis.
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