Supersedes Working Paper 17-30 – Do Non-Compete Covenants Influence State Startup Activity? Evidence from the Michigan Experiment
We use a panel of startup activity for the U.S. states for the period 1977 to 2013. We exploit Michigan’s inadvertent policy reversal in 1985 that transformed the state from a non-enforcing to an enforcing state as a quasi-natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of enforcement on startup activity. In a difference-in-difference framework, we find little support for the widely held view that enforcement of non-compete agreements negatively affects the entry rate of new firms or the rate of jobs created by new firms. We find that increased enforcement had no effect on the entry rate of startups, but a positive effect on jobs created by these startups in Michigan relative to a counterfactual of states that did not enforce such covenants pre- and post-treatment. Specifically, we find that a doubling of enforcement led to an increase of about 8 percent in the startup job creation rate in Michigan. We also find evidence that enforcing non-competes positively affected the number of high-tech establishments and the level of high-tech employment in Michigan. Extending our analysis to consider the effect of increased enforcement on patent activity, we find that enforcement had differential effects across technological classifications. Importantly, increased enforcement had a positive and significant effect on the number of Mechanical patents in Michigan, the most important patenting classification in that state.