This article examines the factors which may give rise to the birth and development of small and medium-sized enterprises in a backward area, focusing on how market enterprises and local society interact. It discusses how local actors mobilise certain resources - like socio-economic tradition and social networks - but also the consequences of constraints - like informal economy, the limited territorial division of labour and the inefficiency of public institutions - on the process of economic growth of the area. This process does not lead to social development however. The research shows that, along the road to development enterprises have transaction costs which spring from the particular environment in which they are located. In order to reduce these economic costs enterprises adopt strategies to transform them into social costs. The absence of public action to sustain local economic and social change is further evidence then, to support the hypothesis that the Southern question is above all an administrative problem.