The aim of this essay is to analyse the dynamics of manufacturing industry in Southern Italy in the 21st century. It shows the limited number of industrial activities, due to the lack of chemical and mechanical industries, considered quite more advanced sectors. It shows that in the 21st century the industrial value added in the South is decreasing, and the productivity gap compared to the Italian average is increasing; a part of the industrial structure has disappeared whereas other parts have consolidated. It shows also that during 2015-2019 industrial employment in Southern Italy increased faster than the national average in specialized sectors, highlighting a geographic polarization in manufacturing industry, that is much weaker in Calabria and in the Islands. The increase in employment in 2015-2019 was concentrated in a limited number of provinces. Moreover, exports in 2000-2019 decreased in some industries but grew in others.
The main conclusion of this study is that without an explicit industrial policy the industrial sector is unlikely to grow. A consolidation can occur, but only in the areas already characterized by industrial activities. Manufacturing production may grow only if new, different, production activities will be located in the South. This is hard to be achieved exclusively because of market forces. This can occur as a result of a «mission-oriented» industrial policy, aiming at locating in the South the new production and research activities needed for the digital and green transition of the Italian economy in the 2020s and 2030s