Why do cities differ so much in productivity? A long literature has sought out systematic sources, such as inherent productivity advantages, market access, agglomeration forces, or sorting. We document that up to three-quarters of the measured regional productivity dispersion is spurious, reflecting the “luck of the draw” of finite counts of idiosyncratically heterogeneous plants that happen to operate in a given location. The patterns are even more pronounced for new plants, hold for alternative productivity measures, and broadly extend to European countries. This large role for individual plants suggests a smaller role for places in driving regional differences.

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