ECONOMIC diversification is crucial for the future growth of regional industries and communities.
That was the sentiment of the Regions Rising conference last week in Perth, which was attended by more than 150 government officials and industry leaders and professionals.
The conference presented the findings of the report Regional Growth Prospects: Strategic Investment in Food Processing, Tourism, Advanced Manufacturing and Creative Industries, which is a culmination of research done by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI).
RAI co-chief executive officer Liz Ritchie said the report aims to provide regional leaders nationwide and State-specific information to help design policy that are appropriate for individual regional communities.
"We believe regional Australia should be at the forefront of national policy development and or organisation is committed to achieving this," Ms Ritchie said.
The research identified areas in Australia that could benefit the most from investment in four key industry areas: tourism, food processing, creative industries and advanced manufacturing.
The report highlighted regional WA's reliance on the resources industry, as 15 per cent of employment is in mining and 11pc in construction, much of which is reliant on the mining sector.
Having such a heavy reliance on the resources industry poses risks to regional WA's economy, which has been felt when the industry endures shocks or a downturn, as it has in recent years.
The report suggested that one of the ways to mitigate this risk is to diversify regional WA's industries.
By focussing on the four key industries, the report identified select regional WA towns as 'driving regions' (current local conditions are driving growth above national trends and policies should catalyse growth) and 'constraining regions' (current local conditions are constraining growth and policies should help to remove or reduce barriers for job growth).
Of the four industries where there is potential growth, food processing and tourism presented to offer the most opportunity for regional WA, however there the industries of advanced manufacturing and creative industries also showed areas for economic growth.
WA Minister for Agriculture, Food and Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan delivered the keynote address at the event, emphasising that industries can leverage from other industries to stimulate economic growth in the regions.
"Our economy is built on the back of primary industries and natural resources and while that is not something that limits our aspirations, they provide a bedrock and opportunity to redefine those industries themselves," Ms MacTiernan said.
"Those industries can be the leverage of new industries.
"If we are going to drive economic development, we can't just keep doing more of the same. "There is a very clear case for economic diversification because it enriches the economy that will be able to see us generate jobs and prosperity for our community."
The State government has the ambitious target to create 150,000 jobs in WA, with 30,000 of those being in the regions.
"We know that many jobs in the regions can't be filled and one of the breaks in development in many regional areas is getting people to the regions," Ms MacTiernan said
"With the exception of FIFO workers, many people are not necessarily thinking about, or it's never been put to them, what opportunities are in the regions and what the country lifestyle has to offer."
The Perth event was the first of the RAI's national roadshow in presenting it's research for growing the economy and industries in regional Australia.