The debate over the Italian network contract develops in the phase of the heaviest crisis for Italians firms. This article evaluates limits and opportunities of network contracts. Findings are based on 14 network cases selected among declining or growing productive sectors in the context of two regions of the South: Apulia and Sicily. Formal networks, although initiated later than in the Northern regions, are indeed now widespread also in the South. The main findings concern the inability of formal networks to support actors to come out of the crisis. Actually, the decline of the sector is one of the most relevant factors that can determine the failure of the cooperation. Other factors are also considered, like the role of Business Associations, the organizational structure of the network, the driving idea. At the same time, the article gives some evidence on the capability of the network contract to support the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises in the area of the South of Italy in three different ways: by making firms closer to new markets, improving their knowledge and increasing the number of their potential partners.
Keywords: Network Contract, Inter-organizational Network, Business Cooperation, Small Business.