Within local government circles, the pursuit of competitive advantage has grown in the local economic development approach to shift from past efforts characterized by small scale, stand alone projects, which have limited chance of sustainability to more long range systemic interventions. With a more prominent and cohering role, local governments in the Eastern Cape grapple with how to address the competitive challenges of their economies in different parts of the Province. The research findings reveal that lack of access to roads, land reform and land tenure problems, lack of access to agricultural produce markets and a shortage of skills, are the key competitive challenges facing local economies across the Province. Given the fact that most of the competitive challenges local governments are facing largely fall beyond their control position, the research concludes that local governments are ‘thrown onto themselves''. Alone, local governments will not be able to address the competitive challenges posed by their economies. Central government and other actors should play an intervening role, particularly in the former homeland areas of the Eastern Cape.