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Cross-border economy has 'untapped potential'

The border economy is "isolated" and has unrealised development potential, according to a new study.

A pair of international economists have called for a fresh focus on the needs of the cross-border region of Northern Ireland and the Republic in the 2011 issue of the Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland

Dr John Bradley, formerly of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin and Professor Michael Best of the universities of Massachusetts and Cambridge, have said the concept of an all- island market place is now well- established and must be capitalised upon.

"These initiatives need to be refocused on the specific needs of the border region, which have tended to be hidden in the shadow of the greater potential of the rapidly integrating island economy", Dr Bradley and Prof Best write in their article.

Dr Bradley has studied the barriers facing the post-communist economies of Central and Eastern Europe, and Prof Best has worked on regional business strategies around the world.

During their research they found the border featured far less a problem to firms located in the region than they had anticipated and paid particular attention to Crossgar Food Services, whose vans leave their plant just north of Downpatrick late at night and make deliveries as far south as Cork by 5am the next day.

Successful international trading firms were to be found in deeply rural border areas, like Walter Watson near Castlewellan in Co Down, a family firm which has grown from a blacksmith's shop 50 years ago to a company employing 180 making agricultural machinery, overhead cranes and structural and reinforcing steel.

Dr Bradley and Prof Best conclude: "When run by exceptional people, firms in the border region can excel. But there are too few of them."

The article also touches on a research project commissioned by the Centre for Cross Border Studies and funded by the Special EU Programmes Body under the INTERREG IVA programme.

The study includes a regional manufacturing overview - a look at apparent "clusters" of firms involved in related activities, and an in-depth study of specific small towns in the region.

The clusters are of technology-based firms in the more advanced eastern border region, clothing and seafood processing in the north west and furniture and food in the mid-border region.