During the past decade the number of sheep shorn increased by 31.44 per cent, a figure close to the national rate of 29.82 per cent, and the number of lambs shorn increased by 303.78 per cent (New Zealand, 66.73 per cent). But the increase in the labour force engaged in manufacturing, 14.75 per cent (1953–61), and of the total labour force, 10.75 per cent, was well below the respective national rates of 21.14 and 18.42 per cent. It is noticeable that between 1911 and 1951 Southland was consistently a region of marked emigration. The high proportion of the population resident in rural areas, 46.29 per cent, and engaged in primary industries 26.17 per cent, suggests the pre-eminently agrarian character of Southland's economy. The existing industries either exploit the natural resources, such as the beech forests or the limestone deposits, or are closely associated with the processing of agricultural products or providing for the needs of the farming community. The structure of Bluff's trade is that of an agricultural district, 65,202 tons of frozen meat, 29,298 tons of wool, being shipped in overseas vessels: 75,518 tons of motor spirit and 59,776 tons of manures were unloaded out of a total inwards traffic of 175,846 tons (1960).
Apart from Invercargill and Bluff, which together account for 39.89 per cent of the regional population, Gore is the only sizable town of the district. One of the striking characteristics of the region's settlement pattern is the prevalence of small marketing centres (population figures for 1961): Winton, 1,473; Tuatapere, 872; Wyndham, 679; Edendale, 607; Lumsden, 666; Makarewa, 465; Riverside, 393; Woodlands, 363; Wallacetown, 319; Mossburn, 273; Tokanui, 227; Balfour, 246; Browns, 273.
In terms of capital investment the biggest industrial scheme upon Southland's economic horizon is the project to produce hydro-electricity from the waters of Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri in order to supply power to the national grid system and to an aluminium-smelting plant located probably near Bluff. Arguing from the basis of cheap and abundant hydro-electricity, the joint State and private venture aims at producing, not before 1971, an initial 100,000 kW of electricity and, at a later but unstated date, 120,000 tons of aluminium, the bauxite being shipped from Queensland. A £150–million project cannot but be impressive and certainly it brings the margins of uninhabited Fiordland into the national economy in a dramatic manner. The impact of the scheme upon Southland's economy ought to be considerable, but its precise effects remain a matter of conjecture, as in fact does the execution of the whole project, because of the world market situation for aluminium.
Southland has important reserves of sub-bituminous coal and lignite and in 1960 produced 364,050 tons, 12.08 per cent of the national output, a proportion which has doubled since 1910. State enterprise prevails in the underground mines, but in the opencast mines private enterprise accounts for the majority of the output. The principal mining areas are concentrated around Ohai, though lignite is worked by the opencast system near Mataura. Most of the production is consumed within the region or in adjacent Otago.
The average annual rate of increase for Southland's population during the next two decades is forecast at 2.5 per cent, a rate well above the national forecast, the growth being concentrated in the Invercargill and Bluff area. This, to say the least, is an optimistic forecast, which to be achieved requires a marked acceleration in economic growth that certainly cannot be produced by an expansion in the pastoral sector alone; it therefore rests upon the less assured prospects of industrial development.