Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 1321–1338 | Cite as

Business visits, knowledge diffusion and productivity

  • Mariacristina Piva
  • Massimiliano Tani
  • Marco Vivarelli
Original Paper


We investigate whether labor mobility can be a distinct source of growth by studying the productivity impact of business visits (BVs), vis-à-vis that of other well-known drivers of productivity enhancement. Our analysis uses an unbalanced panel—covering on average 16 sectors per year in ten countries during the period 1998–2011—which combines unique and novel data on BVs sourced from the US National Business Travel Association with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data on R&D and capital formation. We find that mobility through BVs is an effective mechanism to improve productivity, being about half that obtained by investing in R&D. This relevant finding invites viewing short-term mobility as a strategic mechanism and prospective policy tool to overcome productivity slowdowns and foster economic growth.


Business visits Labor mobility Knowledge R&D Productivity 

JEL classification




We would like to thank the Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Klaus Zimmermann, for his guidance and three anonymous referees for their detailed comments and useful suggestions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Ackers L (2005) Moving people and knowledge: scientific mobility in the European Union. Int Migr 43(5):99–131. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agrawal A, Cockburn I, McHale J (2006) Gone but not forgotten: labor flows, knowledge spillovers and enduring social capital. J Econ Geogr 6(5):571–591. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amin A, Cohendet P (2004) Architectures of knowledge. Oxford University Press, Oxford. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amoroso S (2017) Multilevel heterogeneity of R&D cooperation and innovation determinants. Eurasian Bus Rev 7(1):93–120. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andersen TB, Dalgaard CJ (2011) Flows of people, flows of ideas, and the inequality of nations. J Econ Growth 16(1):1–32. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bathelt H, Schuldt NA (2008) Between luminaires and meat grinders: international trade fairs as temporary clusters. Reg Stud 42(6):853–868. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bathelt H, Malmerg A, Maskell P (2004) Clusters and knowledge: local buzz, global pipelines and the process of knowledge creation. Prog Hum Geogr 28(1):31–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blake A, Sinclair MT (2003) Tourism crisis management: US response to September 11. Ann Tour Res 30(4):813–832. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bonanno G (2016) ICT and R&D as inputs or efficiency determinants? Analysing Italian manufacturing firms (2007-2009). Eurasian Bus Rev 6(3):383–404. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burt RS (1997) A note on social capital and network content. Soc Networks 19(4):355–373. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Button KJ, Vega K (2008) The effects of air transportation on the movement of labor. GeoJournal 71(1):67–81. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen W, Levinthal D (1989) Innovation and learning: the two faces of R&D. Econ J 99(397):569–596. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Collings DG, Scullion H, Morley MJ (2007) Changing patterns of global staffing in the multinational enterprise: challenges to the conventional expatriate assignment and emerging alternatives. J World Bus 42(2):198–213. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Conference Board (2016) Total Economy Database, May. Accessed August 5th.
  15. Cowan R, David PA, Foray D (2000) The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Ind Corp Chang 9(2):211–253. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. DeFrank RS, Konopaske R, Ivancevich JM (2000) Executive travel stress: perils of the road warrior. Acad Manag Exec 14(2):58–71Google Scholar
  17. Dew-Becker I, Gordon RJ (2005) Where did the productivity growth go? Inflation dynamics and the distribution of income. NBER, Working Paper 11842Google Scholar
  18. Dosi G, Freeman C, Nelson R, Silverberg G, Soete L (1988) Technical change and economic theory. Pinter, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Dowrick S, Tani M (2011) International business visits and the technology frontier. Econ Lett 110(3):209–212. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Feldstein M (2008) Did wages reflect growth in productivity? J Policy Model 30(4):591–594. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Florida R (2002) Bohemia and economic geography. J Econ Geogr 2(1):55–71. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Franco AM, Filson D (2000) Knowledge diffusion through employee mobility. Staff Report 272, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
  23. Frankel JA, Romer D (1999) Does trade cause growth? Am Econ Rev 89(3):379–399. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gallie EP (2009) Is geographical proximity necessary for knowledge spillovers within a cooperative technological network? The case of the French biotechnology sector. Reg Stud 43(1):33–42. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gambardella A, Mariani M, Torrisi S (2009) How provincial is your region? Effects on labour productivity and employment in Europe. Reg Stud 43(7):935–947. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gambetta D (1988) Trust. Basil Blackwell, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Gaspar J, Glaeser EL (1998) Information technology and the future of cities. J Urban Econ 43(1):136–156. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gertler M (2003) Tacit knowledge and the economic geography of context or the undefinable tacitness of being (there). J Econ Geogr 3(1):75–99. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Grant RM (1996) Toward a knowledge-based theory of the firm. Strateg Manag J 17(Winter special issue):109–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Griliches Z (1979) Issues in assessing the contribution of research and development to productivity growth. Bell J Econ 10(1):92–116. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Griliches Z (2000) R&D, education, and productivity. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  32. Hall BH (2007) Measuring the returns to R&D: The depreciation problem. NBER, Working Paper 13473Google Scholar
  33. Hall BH, Mairesse J (1995) Exploring the relationship between R&D and productivity in French manufacturing firms. J Econ 65(1):263–293. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hall BH, Mairesse J, Mohnen P (2009) Measuring the returns to R&D. NBER, Working Paper 15622
  35. Hamermesh D (2006) The value of peripatetic economists: a sesqui-difference evaluation of bob Gregory. Econ Rec 82(257):138–149. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hansen MT (1999) The search-transfer problem: the role of weak ties in sharing knowledge across organization subunits. Adm Sci Q 44(1):82–111. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Harhoff D (1998) R&D and productivity in German manufacturing firms. Econ Innov New Technol 6(1):29–49. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hellmanzik C (2013) Does travel inspire? Evidence from the superstars of modern art. Empir Econ 45(1):281–303. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Heshmati A, Kim H (2011) The R&D and productivity relationship of Korean listed firms. J Prod Anal 36(1):125–142. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hovhannisyan N, Keller W (2015) International business travel: an engine of innovation? J Econ Growth 20(1):75–104. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Howells J (1996) Tacit knowledge, innovation and technology transfer. Technol Anal Strateg 8(2):91–106. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Howells J (2002) Tacit knowledge, innovation and economic geography. Urban Stud 39(5–6):871–884. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Isaksson A (2007) World productivity database: a technical description. RST Staff Working Paper 10/2007, UNIDOGoogle Scholar
  44. Kogut B, Zander U (1992) Knowledge of the firm, combinative capabilities, and the replication of technology. Organ Sci 3(3):383–397. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Krugman P (1990) Rethinking international trade. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  46. Krugman P (2007) Does outsourcing change everything? 5th Luca d’Agliano Lecture in Development Economics, Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, Turin, Italy, 11 June.
  47. Kumbhakar SC, Ortega-Argilés R, Potters L, Vivarelli M, Voigt P (2012) Corporate R&D and firm efficiency: evidence from Europe’s top R&D investors. J Prod Anal 37(1):125–140. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Los B, Verspagen B (2000) R&D spillovers and productivity: Evidence from US manufacturing microdata. Empir Econ 25(1):127–148. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lundvall BÅ (1988) Innovation as an interactive process. In: Dosi G, Freeman C, Nelson R (eds) Technical change and economic theory. Pinter, LondonGoogle Scholar
  50. Malerba F (2002) Sectoral systems of innovation and production. Res Policy 31(2):247–264. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mohnen P, Hall BH (2013) Innovation and productivity: an update. Eurasian Bus Rev 3(1):47–65Google Scholar
  52. Moll-de-Alba J, Prats L, Coromina L (2016) The need to adapt to travel expenditure patterns. A study comparing business and leisure tourists in Barcelona. Eurasian Bus Rev 6(2):253–267. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nadiri MI, Prucha I (1996) Estimation of the depreciation rate of physical and R&D capital in the US total manufacturing sector. Econ Inq 34(1):43–56. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. National Business Travel Association (NBTA) (2010) Global business travel spending outlook, 2011–2015. Accessed 17 Mar 2017
  55. Nelson R, Winter S (1982) An evolutionary theory of the firm. Harvard, BelknapGoogle Scholar
  56. Nonaka I, Takeuchi H (1995) The knowledge-creating company: how Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  57. Noordherhaven N, Harzing AW (2009) Knowledge sharing and social interaction within MNCS. J Int Bus Stud 40(5):719–741. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD (2015) The future of productivity. OECD Publishing, Paris Google Scholar
  59. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD (2016) Compendium of Productivity Indicators. OECD Publishing, Paris. Google Scholar
  60. Ortega-Argilés R, Piva M, Potters L, Vivarelli M (2010) Is corporate R&D investment in high-tech sectors more effective? Contemp Econ Policy 28(3):353–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ortega-Argilés R, Piva M, Vivarelli M (2014) The transatlantic productivity gap: is R&D the main culprit? Can J Econ 47(4):1342–1371. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ortega-Argilés R, Piva M, Vivarelli M (2015) The productivity impact of R&D investment: are high-tech sectors still ahead? Econ Innov New Technol 24(3):204–222. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Papatheodorou A, Rosselló J, Xiao H (2010) Global economic crisis and tourism: consequences and perspectives. J Travel Res 49(1):39–45. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pavitt K (1984) Sectoral patterns of technical change: towards a taxonomy and a theory. Res Policy 13(6):343–373. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Polanyi M (1966) The tacit dimension. Peter Smith, GloucesterGoogle Scholar
  66. Porter ME (1997) Competitive strategy. Meas Bus Excell 1(2):12–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Portes A (1998) Social capital: its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annu Rev Sociol 24(1):1–25. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Riusala K, Suutari V (2004) Expatriate as knowledge transferor: Impediments to international knowledge transfers through expatriates. Proceedings of the EURAM04 Conference, St AndrewsGoogle Scholar
  69. Storper M, Venables AJ (2004) Buzz: face-to-face contact and the urban economy. J Econ Geogr 4(4):351–370. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Tahvanainen M, Welch D, Worm V (2005) Implications of short-term international assignments. Eur Manag J 23(6):663–673. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Tani M (2008) Short-term skilled labour movements and economic growth. Int Migr 46(3):161–187. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Tani M (2014) Business visits and the quest for external knowledge. Res Labor Econ 40:293–324. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Teece DJ (1998) Capturing value from knowledge assets: the new economy, markets for know-how, and intangible assets. Calif Manag Rev 40(3):55–79. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Teece DJ, Pisano GP, Shuen A (1997) Dynamic capabilities and strategic management. Strateg Manag J 18(7):509–533.<509::AID-SMJ882>3.0.CO;2-Z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Torre A, Rallet A (2005) Proximity and localization. Reg Stud 39(1):47–59. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Toselli M (2017) Knowledge sources and integration ties toward innovation. A food sector perspective. Eurasian Bus Rev 7(1):43–65. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Verspagen B (1995) R&D and productivity: a broad cross-section cross-country look. J Prod Anal 6(1):117–135. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Von Hippel E (1987) Cooperation between rivals: informal know-how trading. Res Policy 15(6):285–305Google Scholar
  79. Welch DE, Welch LS, Worm V (2007) The international business traveller: a neglected but strategic human resource. Int J Hum Resour Manag 18(2):173–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zellner C (2003) The economic effects of basic research: evidence for embodied knowledge transfer via scientists’ migration. Res Policy 32(10):1881–1895. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mariacristina Piva
    • 1
  • Massimiliano Tani
    • 2
  • Marco Vivarelli
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Institute of Economic PolicyUniversita’ Cattolica del Sacro CuorePiacenzaItaly
  2. 2.UNSW Canberra, Australia and IZABonnGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Economic PolicyUniversita’ Cattolica del Sacro CuoreMilanItaly
  4. 4.UNU-MERITMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  5. 5.IZABonnGermany

Personalised recommendations