Prosperous futures: regional cities case studies Goulburn and Orange
What determines regional prosperity? The story of Goulburn and Orange
Why do towns and cities with much in common often progress at different rates and in different ways?
A new research report, Prosperous Futures: Understanding the Potential of Australia’s Regional Cities, Goulburn and Orange, released by the Regional Australia Institute this week explores the connection between the competitive advantage of a region and actual growth experienced.
A better understanding of this relationship enables more informed future thinking, local action and government policies which can lead to sustainable, long-term growth in regional centres.
RAI’s research findings demonstrate that the creativity, confidence and vision of locals, as well as a bit of luck, are central to success.
The case studies involve Goulburn and Orange, two important inland regional centres with much in common. Both have growing populations of more than 20,000 people; the demographics and education levels are also similar.
Like many regions in Australia, both Goulburn and Orange have been in a period of change for the past two decades. A decline in agricultural employment along with the closure of manufacturing businesses has seen a change in the employment profile of both regions.
Orange has emerged from this challenge with a strong profile in tourism, generally aimed at a wealthier, metropolitan-based market, utilising local advantages in wine making and food-growing enterprises. This has built a widespread perception of Orange as a ‘place to be’.
The importance of perception was a recurring theme in the findings of the case study. The case study emphasised the way that leadership, community participation, perception and confidence turn opportunities into actual success.
The study demonstrates that without focus, a region is unlikely to identify or realise its potential and without confidence regions are less likely to take the risks that often spur regional development.
Whether success builds confidence, or confidence builds success, may need to be examined further. Regardless of which comes first – confidence or success – there needs to be an understanding of what success should look like for any regional centre.
Skills to achieve a community vision can be learnt and shared, but the vision itself needs to be created by the community.
The research emphasises that Orange excelled at engaging its community to develop its vision for success. In Orange, discussion of issues appears more muted with grievances and disputes over development options usually carried out in a more controlled way. Orange leaders take an active and positive approach to getting in and fixing problems, using experts as needed.
In contrast, the Goulburn community often raised its problems ‘loudly’ and in the local newspaper, council forums and committees and there has been disagreement about the future vision for the town.
While Goulburn has also been successful, its growth has been slower and a new local industry is yet to clearly emerge to replace the sectors in decline and drive future growth.
What is clear from this research work is that communities must support and empower those who are stepping up to lead their local economies if they want to be successful. This is perhaps just as important as the competitive fundamentals of a place and issues such as industry structure and location.
Unfortunately, there is also no template to be derived from the Goulburn or Orange experience. Goulburn and other regional towns and cities can look to the successes of Orange for inspiration. But in the end their local leaders, businesses and others in the community will need to work to find their places’ unique pathway to prosperity.