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An exploration of the conceptualisation and enactment of regional economic development through an analysis of the Durban aerotropolis in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

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This study explores the conceptualisation and enactment of regional economic development (RED) through an analysis of the Durban Aerotropolis in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The study is undertaken during a time where the process of globalisation is progressively increasing the importance of regional processes and the role of local actors in shaping development trajectories (Ascani, Crescenzi & Iammarino, 2012). These regional processes imply practical action going beyond the limits of traditional local economic initiatives (Amin, 1999) commonly referred to in the South African context and in other parts of the world as local economic development (LED). In this regard, the major problem prompting the enquiry in this study is the tendency of vagueness and ambiguity in the discourse of policy documents and government strategies relating to regionally inclined processes. More specifically, while the Durban Aerotropolis Strategy alludes to the impact of the Durban Aerotropolis on the development of the region and connecting regional economies, the conceptual vagueness of such allusions has consequences for both theoretical and empirical RED research as well as implications for economic development policy development and implementation. This calls for deconstruction of the relevant development discourse to provide a clearer conceptualisation of RED. The problems just mentioned are further compounded by a nomenclature shift in South African practitioner circles with incorporation of issues pertaining to the ‘region’ and associated difficulties, in what was hitherto confined to more specifically local issues of economic development. These difficulties relate to the way economic development practitioners proceed with their work in the absence of a context-specific conceptualisation of RED, coupled with lack of understanding of the nature of RED projects and of how they are implemented. To find solutions to these problems, the study examines the conceptualisation of the region inherent in RED through the Durban Aerotropolis. It seeks to understand the enactment of RED through collaborative and cooperative governance mechanisms and through agglomeration and clustering of business activity, and it explores coordinated investments for regional marketing within the Durban Aerotropolis. This was done using exploratory qualitative research within a social constructivist paradigm in which respondents were selected using a purposive sampling approach. The data was collected through in-depth, face-to-face interviews and analysed using a thematic analysis technique. The findings of the study reveal that function, form and scale are central characteristics of the way that the region is conceptualised in the case of the Durban Aerotropolis as an instance of RED. Here, function is the purpose of a RED project, form refers to the kind of economic development mechanism or strategy that could assist in fulfilling that purpose, and the scalar characteristics establish the extent, reach and magnitude of the project—factors that have a direct bearing on the practical enactment or implementation of RED projects. It also emerged from the study that regional conceptualisation should be done by the various stakeholders of the project who have a responsibility to see it succeed through collaborative and cooperative governance. Furthermore, RED enactment entails agglomeration and clustering of business activity which can be achieved by attracting people and investment. This, however, requires coordination of efforts for regional marketing in which stakeholders work on the competitive advantage of their region through development of infrastructure, skills development and capacity building, and provision of incentives. Overall, the study establishes that conceptualisation of RED entails defining the objectives of RED and that it precedes RED enactment. However, RED enactment requires two facilitative mechanisms which are collaborative and cooperative governance, together with coordinated investments and collaborative efforts for regional marketing – to achieve the desired outcome of RED, which is an agglomeration and cluster economy with its associated externalities. The study has thus contributed to the conceptual clarification of regionally inclined processes of the Durban Aerotropolis. This will subsequently assist in theoretical and empirical RED research as well as economic development policy development and implementation. The study will also help to establish clearer and simpler nomenclature shift and will impact the work of economic development practitioners by making provision for a context-specific conceptualisation of RED and will provide new knowledge that will add significantly to understanding of the nature of RED projects and their implementation.


Doctoral degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.