Head to the country: What does the COVID-induced exodus from cities mean for regional Australia?

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

As the pandemic recedes, much of life is back to normal in Australia, but the events of 2020 have left many questioning whether they want to return to their pre-COVID lifestyles. Spending more time with the family (and less in the office) has led many to consider their values and what is really important.  

With remote work here to stay in many industries, more and more Australians are leaving the cities for a quieter life in rural and regional Australia. Once the bastion of the retired, sea and tree changes are on the rise, and it’s got me thinking about what it means for our regions. 

A boost to (some) local economies 

In the near term, I believe this exodus will provide a boost to some regional economies – but I think we will see this very concentrated in those coastal and rural regions that have typically already been popular with city weekenders. 

We’ve already seen rising house prices in areas like Wollongong and Newcastle, and here in the Central West, in line with increased interest from cashed-up city buyers. In fact, in January, regional markets saw more growth in house prices than our cities for the first time in over fifteen years.  And while this might be a good thing if you are looking to sell a property, for local first-time buyers and renters, increased demand is already causing housing shortages in some areas. 

Changing infrastructure needs 

With a growing population, the infrastructure needs of some regions will change significantly. As this growth was not forecast prior to COVID-19, in some areas, existing infrastructure is already struggling.  

While this is causing some challenges today, it may lead to infrastructure improvements in the longer term, as an increase in the population demands better transport, internet and utilities.  We may also see services, like local public schools or hospitals, getting much-needed upgrades to cope with the increasing population, but this will take time.  

More job and business opportunities 

I hope we will continue to see a boost to job opportunities in these regions, and I think this could be two-fold. Firstly, as existing workers move to regional Australia and the remote working model is tried and tested outside of cities, city-based businesses will see regional Australia as a source of new talent and cast the net wider. Secondly, a growing population needs more services and amenities, and so local job opportunities should increase as a result.  This, in turn, may play a part in reducing local unemployment and its related social impacts

A change in community dynamics

There is no denying that any mass shift like we are currently seeing will impact community dynamics.  I hope our regional communities and their new residents can strike the right balance, but I think that there will be an adjustment period. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as many are moving for what is perceived to be an ‘idyllic’ lifestyle. While there are many great benefits to living in regional Australia that I can certainly attest to, like anywhere, our regions all have some drawbacks. Many people making the shift may have only visited on holidays and experienced one side of a location.  As a resident, you’re exposed to all sides of the local lifestyle, and wherever you live, there will be some downsides.  

Additionally, many city residents will be used to conveniences like large shopping malls with extended opening hours, fast online deliveries, and a choice of local restaurants, cafes and services. While our regions have some fabulous local businesses and infrastructure is improving, it is still a very different experience.  

I hope that those who are moving to our regions can embrace what they are all about and that existing locals can see the positives of a growing population. Together, I believe we can grow and build upon the community spirit our regions are known for.

VERTO is a community-based employment and training services provider with local offices in regional areas across NSW, ACT and VIC.  If you are exploring employment and training options in regional Australia as an employee or employer, we are your local experts. Visit www.verto.org.au or contact us on 1300 4 VERTO (1300 483 786) to find out how we can support you.