'Watershed' moment for south of Scotland economy
A new report has claimed the south of Scotland is at a "watershed moment" for its economic future.
The independent study, commissioned by the Scottish government, outlines the role a new enterprise agency can play in aiding growth and creating jobs.
Its key recommendations include transport improvements such as extending the Borders Railway.
A plan to attract young people, better tourism promotion and an overhaul of town centres are also advised.
It comes just a day after heads of terms were signed on a Borderlands growth deal also covering the area.
The study was produced by The Good Economy in partnership with the Edinburgh-based Ethical Finance Hub.
It concluded the economy was at a "crucial turning point" with an "opportunity for change which it must grasp".
It has been released weeks after the Scottish Parliament passed legislation allowing for the creation of the new enterprise agency.
Among its key findings are:
- The region's limited labour pool and skills base are an obstacle to growth
- Transport barriers are a problem for businesses
- 85% of firms have three-year growth plans which include creating new jobs
- There is also a "stand out" advantage in terms of "quality of life", mainly the natural landscape
It recommends the production of a regional transport strategy including extending the Borders Railway, an improved bus network and more electric car charging points.
A "talent retention and attraction strategy" aimed at young people and young families is also advised.
Mark Hepworth, director of research and policy with The Good Economy, said: "The south of Scotland needs a broad front of businesses to drive inclusive job growth.
"The challenge facing the new enterprise agency is how to widen the circle of business-led inclusive job growth."
Chris Tait, project manager of the Ethical Finance Hub, added: "In the south of Scotland, there is a need to better link existing demand for finance with supply, as well as develop financing products that better meet the needs of smaller businesses."
Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses' Scotland policy chair, said smaller businesses would recognise the issues identified in the report such as poor transport links and "problems accessing talent".
"The study also astutely identifies that the best way to grow this area's economy is to focus on giving local operators the right help," he added.
By Giancarlo Rinaldi, BBC Scotland news website south of Scotland reporter
The findings of the report will probably come as little surprise to anyone living or working in southern Scotland.
The momentum being gained by a new enterprise agency and the Borderlands growth deal is pretty hard to ignore.
Something is stirring in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.
However, as any Sunday league striker knows, even an open goal can be easily missed.
It will be up to everyone in the region to ensure this unique opportunity finds the back of the net.