An even brighter future for Regional NSW

Our vision charts economic growth in key sectors, increased regional populations, and supporting infrastructure and services.

This 20-year plan focuses on economic growth that promotes wellbeing in regional communities. It maximises economies of scale in infrastructure and services, while minimising ‘big city’ characteristics of traffic congestion, pollution and affordability issues.1 Many regional centres have room to grow to a size that can bring benefits including greater cultural and leisure activities, knowledge economies, and more specialist goods and services, without compromising a sense of community and connectedness.

We envisage more employment opportunities in regional NSW, which in turn retains and attracts younger generations and creates sustainable, thriving regional cities and towns. We see our regions retaining their local identity, rather than becoming more like Sydney. Regional areas will offer valued alternatives to city living and connect via the hub-and-spoke model described in the Future Transport Strategy 2056

Sustainable jobs growth will be supported by regions’ endowments, created or natural. Innovation in regional NSW will develop high-value service and commodity sectors to leverage cutting-edge technology. For example, NSW already has nascent industries working on generating and storing energy to meet our future needs. We also see opportunities for innovation on issues such as retaining experienced employees in the workforce for longer, and better connecting young regional people to the training, job exposure and mentorship that those experienced workers can provide.

How have we looked to the future?

We modelled two economic and demographic scenarios2 to see the outcomes of our 20-year vision for regional NSW. These were:

  1. Business as usual (BAU), based on current trajectories of economic growth
  2. A scenario based on the NSW Government applying this vision’s principles to guide economic development decisions.

We looked at trends observed in recent years and forecast using well-regarded economic modelling methodologies and population projections. However, we do not suggest regional NSW’s future is constrained by what happened previously, nor can we predict events of the next 20 years. However, based on what we know, there is a wealth of opportunities for regional NSW. Forethought and evidence-based decisions are needed to realise these opportunities.

For example, scenarios that could drive this growth are:

  • investing in transport infrastructure to enable faster and more affordable business links to global supply chains to open new high-value export opportunities
  • providing programs for faster and more reliable digital connectivity to complement the Australian Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout. This could increase uptake of tech-assisted production in sectors like agriculture
  • prioritising skills and support programs to target youth unemployment in key sectors
  • improving regulatory settings to encourage productivity.

The future this vision can deliver

We believe that applying these principles will result in higher population and jobs growth. Regional NSW is already forecast to grow by 620,000 people by 2038. However, our visionary approach could boost this by more than 185,000 extra people, so that the regional NSW population grows by close to a million people.

Additional jobs 2018–38

Projected population 2038

Biggest growth

The Capital region is expected to be the fastest growing, adding more than 65 per cent more people, followed by Hunter, which will grow by close to 50 per cent. Across NSW, projected population growth is on average more than 29 per cent greater than BAU. 

Areas forecast to add the most people are Central Coast and Lake Macquarie, and the Hunter, which are estimated to exceed 750,000 people and 406,000 people respectively.

Significant growth

The regions which include Albury, Maitland, Coffs Harbour, Wagga Wagga, Port Macquarie, Tamworth, Byron-Ballina-Kyogle, Shoalhaven and Tweed could reach populations of more than 100,000 people. The Mid-Coast area could exceed 90,000 people.

Regional NSW could add over 260,000 jobs between now and 2038. In total, that means almost 1.1 million jobs in the regions by 2038.

Metro Satellites

In the next two decades, Metro Satellites will transform from satellite areas of bigger cities, to become major hubs in their own right, attracting large numbers of families seeking new lifestyle and employment opportunities. Transport links are essential to existing and future Metro Satellites and nearby Growth Centres, to enable the flow of commuters, goods and services.

Most of these increases will be in Central Coast and Lake Macquarie, where populations will reach more than 725,000, and Hunter, where numbers will reach nearly 406,000. The Capital region and Kiama will also see particularly strong population growth. In the coming 20 years, we forecast the population of Metro Satellites could grow by more than 426,000.

In 20 years there will be more than 110,000 new jobs in Metro Satellites, an increase of 34 per cent from today. There will more jobs in the construction, retail, accommodation and food service industries. As these areas become major hubs, their self-sufficiency will increase and employment sources will shift towards local industries that provide goods and services beyond the immediate region. Metro Satellites’ key employing industry will be healthcare and social assistance, which will have almost 25,000 more jobs between now and 2038. This will be particularly apparent in areas such as Tweed, the Hunter and the Central Coast, where growing populations of retirees will generate demand for health and lifestyle services. 

Employment sectors in Metro Satellites are diverse, spanning health (particularly in the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie), mining (in the Hunter region), defence (near Singleton), and tourism (linked to the Gold Coast and Hunter Valley). While mining is a particularly large job cluster, future employment is hard to predict due to increasing automation and variable commodity prices. Mining in these areas will face significant competition from other states, and will need to improve productivity to remain competitive. Implementing our vision could see more than 89,000 more people and 25,000 more jobs across all industries in Metro Satellites compared to BAU.

Growth Centres

Spread across coastal and inland regional areas, Growth Centres have the potential to welcome almost 300,000 new residents in the next 20 years, and add almost 117,000 jobs. That is around 90,000 extra people and 35,000 extra jobs compared to BAU. Supporting this anticipated growth will require long-term planning and additional investment to ensure there is adequate infrastructure, housing and services.

Over a third of the regions’ population growth and almost half of its jobs growth will be in Growth Centres. While all will grow, the largest growth rates will be in and around Wagga Wagga, Nowra-Bomaderry, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Tamworth and the Northern Rivers (including Lismore and Ballina). These places will particularly benefit from growth in population-serving sectors that will drive rises in living standards and contribute to more vibrant communities. 

Almost 26,000 new jobs are expected to arise in health care and social assistance, with a further 20,000 in construction, 10,000 in accommodation and food services, and 10,000 in education and training. Other large employment sectors are expected to be retail (adding almost 5000 jobs) and agriculture, forestry and commercial fishing (9000 jobs).

Tertiary education will provide a range of jobs in Bathurst and Wagga Wagga; the defence sector will provide more roles in Shoalhaven and Wagga Wagga; while Orange is a centre of medical and health excellence. Agribusiness is also a key employer across regional NSW, and is well positioned for opportunities presented by increasing international ‘food bowl’ demands. These areas will need to continue to attract a younger workforce to ensure they have the right skills to support growth.


In 2038, we see the opportunity for Coastal regions to grow by more than 35,000 people, primarily in the Mid Coast and Far South Coast – in towns like Taree, Forster-Tuncurry, Myall Lakes, Hawks Nest, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Narooma, Bega and Eden. Together with Nambucca – and the towns of Macksville and Nambucca Heads – and the Clarence Valley towns of Grafton and Yamba, these regions have the opportunity to add more than 14,000 jobs to the NSW economy between now and 2038, with the retail, and health and social care industries being key local employers (adding almost 4000 and 3000 new jobs respectively). Other sectors leading jobs growth include administrative and support services (1400 new jobs) and accommodation and food services (1300).

The natural beauty of coastal areas should see further growth in tourism and continued migration from across NSW. A challenge will be to see how further expansion of a residential care market can drive ongoing employment opportunities while boosting related sectors such as construction and maintenance.


We expect more than 19,000 new jobs in Inland regions over the next two decades, with most of these in agriculture, forestry and commercial fishing (4100), construction (2500), healthcare and social assistance (2400) and administrative and support services (2400). Mining, which is a smaller employer in these regions, could add an extra 39 per cent to current job figures. Population growth in the Inland areas will be led by the Southern New England High Country area (which includes Armidale and Walcha), followed by Upper North West (containing Moree, Inverell and Narrabri), Western Riverina (Griffith, Leeton and Narrandera), and South Western Slopes (Young). 

Inland areas have specialisation in a number of traded clusters – including agribusiness – and are well positioned to take advantage of future export opportunities as well as growing demand in NSW. However, overall economic output has declined in recent years, suggesting further specialisation and productivity improvements are required to build on existing strengths.

Underpinning this is the need for better transport connections, as Inland areas still suffer from relative remoteness and perceptions of distance. Improving connectivity to other regional centres and capital cities will help to boost business activity, deepen labour force pools and improve the overall pull of Inland regions as a destination for people and business. Population growth of almost 47,000 people is expected (almost 3500 greater than BAU).


Remote areas continue to support a significant proportion of agricultural and mining activity in NSW, and are vital to maintaining supplies of beef, wool, raw commodities and minerals. Key challenges for remote areas are ongoing growth in these industries and the resilience of local businesses, against the backdrop of ongoing population decline. Regional centres such as Broken Hill will continue to play an important role servicing local communities.

Government will play an important role in ensuring those in remote areas are supported with services and infrastructure appropriate to their populations, supporting potential opportunities and offering pathways for transition into other industries and locations. The government is also committed to funding local innovation, and investing in emerging industries with growth potential.

Life in 2038

Our goal is for people living in our regions in 2038 to enjoy higher standards of living, greater cultural and community engagement, and healthier and happier lifestyles than today. This will be through better incomes, job opportunities, services, infrastructure and support from youth through to old age. 

People will have access to high-quality education. New technologies will provide engaging learning experiences. People will build skills through both face-to-face and virtual training, completing simulated and real projects with classmates and teachers from across the state. Education and training pathways will see young and lifelong learners achieve qualifications from well-respected institutions, applying their skills as they learn and gain workplace experience.

People in regions will use fast, reliable internet. They will travel easily to regional centres for work, services or amenities. There will be better access to a regional lifestyle’s benefits, yet greater connectivity to larger cities and what they offer. People will upskill more regularly through accessible future-oriented training as skill demands shift. There will be a wider choice of where to live, knowing that quality aged care services are widely available.

We see businesses in our regions in 2038 specialising in key sectors based on each region’s competitive advantages. They will employ a local and remotely skilled workforce in a business-friendly regulatory environment. Large amounts of data will be easily accessible to provide insights and real-time updates on multiple business facets. A growing customer base will easily find, order and enjoy boutique regional products. Our regions’ businesses will access efficient freight options and online opportunities to connect to ever-expanding markets through global gateways.


1. Pugalis, Lee (2017) ‘Optimal Spatial Development Distribution in NSW: Key Issues Associated with New Towns and Accelerated City Development’, University of Technology Sydney

2. The ‘business as usual’ scenario forecast jobs increases to 2038, constrained by the Department of Planning and Environment’s NSW 2016 Population Projections. The ‘vision’ scenario shocked key sectors’ growth by different percentages in line with NSW regional investment commitments, and the results were cross-checked against previous instances of investment-induced growth. The ‘vision’ scenario population figures are not constrained by other population projections, and are based on the vision employment projections and assuming a participation rate derived from demographic projections. The baseline year for both scenarios was 2016, to align with population data and to reflect the impact of the Regional Development Framework and Regional Growth Funds from 2016. Note that employment figures are based on place of work while population figures are based on place of residence.

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