Ballarat: looking good

Regional cities are outperforming urban capitals as national leaders in economic and inclusive growth according to a new study of 101 Australian towns.

According to Polis Partners’ The City Report, key regional areas in New South Wales and Victoria such as Wollongong, Newcastle, Ballarat and Geelong, are surpassing their capital counterparts in investments, job growth and welfare reliance.

Cities were ranked according to changes with their economic drivers such as business growth and construction and inclusivity, or how well the benefits of economic growth are spread throughout the community reflected by unemployment or welfare reliance.

Who made the top?

Of all Australian cities, Ballarat seized the overall top spot and ranked first in economic growth and fourth in inclusive growth. Geelong came in a close second, ranking second in inclusive growth and third in economic growth.

In the top five, Bacchus Marsh and Melton, just outside Melbourne, and Newscastle in NSW all had exceptional ratings for economic growth, though the inclusivity dragged down their overall scores just a bit.

Warragal-Drouin came just behind in the sixth spot with high marks for inclusivity strong economic growth.

Griffith, in regional NSW, had a strong show as first in inclusive growth and just cracked the top 20 in economic growth, taking it to the seventh spot.

Rounding out the top 10 are Wollongong, Ballina and Cairns, the only city outside Victoria or NSW, which all had welfare reliance and unemployment well under long term averages.

Capitals fall short

While nearby cities thrived, most urban capitals failed to even crack the top 20.

Melbourne and Sydney came in 23rd and 25th respectively, both improving over almost all aspects thanks to higher levels of job growth and construction efforts. However, they were both knocked a bit for below expected population growth.

Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane fell within the middle of the pack at 30, 36 and 44.

On the low end, Perth trailed in the distant 87th spot and Darwin came near last at 97.

Perth and Darwin and, to a smaller extent, Brisbane all suffered from inconsistent growth levels, a similar pitfall for small towns.

The report cited the Ichthys gas field plant in Darwin as a possible example of a growth spike that raised expectations that would inevitably taper off once construction ended.

The only capital to rank highly was Hobart, coming in at 16, for its strong showing in economic growth but a middling score for inclusive development.

“Goldilock’s” cities on top

So why are regional towns thriving over their more metropolitan neighbors?

Polis Partners believes it’s rooted in the “Goldilocks” principle: not too big but not too small and just close enough to capital cities to enjoy the perks.

Nearby regional areas are becoming a more appealing alternative for city residents tired of high costs, bad traffic and the general busy lifestyle that comes with a big city.

“These ‘Goldilocks’ cities – just the right balance of big city job opportunities, industry diversity and amenity without the prices, crowds and traffic jams – are also generating economic growth with equality. The benefits are spread across the population,” economist and author Rob Tyson said.

This information will come in handy as a baseline to study towns’ varying economic trajectories and effectiveness from stimulus packages, especially in the fallout of COVID-19.

“Coming into the lockdown, different cities were already on very different economic growth and inclusive growth trajectories,” Tyson said.

“Governments need to ensure their investments create opportunity and recovery across all sectors, cities and towns, and don’t entrench economies with more uneven levels of unemployment and greater reliance on government payments.”

Curious where your city falls on the ranking? Check out The City Report 2019-20 here.

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