The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim at harnessing economic complexity for sustainable and inclusive economic growth by calling for a decade of joint action. In this paper, we show how the action-oriented collaborative culture of complex and competitive economic ecosystems in places outside the major population centers may generate significant positive external effects for society and the environment at large. We illustrate this by means of two small case studies in Switzerland, a country with a federal system that enables decentralized economic development. The first case study investigates the economic ecosystem of the small town Monthey to show how productive migrants and embedded multinational companies increase the knowledge and know-how of local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The successful collaboration of insiders and outsiders accounts for the internal economic complexity that makes the region innovative and competitive. The second case study highlights the importance of the federalist system by showing how the canton of Solothurn succeeded in nurturing globally competitive export-oriented SMEs. We conclude that the success of these inclusive economic ecosystems in unexpected places may only be understood in the specific geographical, historical and political context, as well as the general openness of these regions toward entrepreneurial migrants and global business. The importance of local social capital makes it hard to replicate such success stories. Nevertheless, they indicate that the global knowledge economy may not just pose a threat, but also offer great opportunities for productive regions beyond the major global high-tech clusters of economic complexity.
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