The growth of the Northern Rivers food manufacturing industry could be key to preventing a growth slowdown.
The growth of the Northern Rivers food manufacturing industry could be key to preventing a growth slowdown. Scott Powick

Could food and beer stop region's growth slowdown?

A NEW report has predicted the Northern Rivers could be among the slowest growth areas in regional Australia.

But one of the region's leading business advocates believes a growing food manufacturing sector could lead the way for the area to outperform the naysayers.

Regional Australia Institute has predicted the compound annual growth rate for the Northern Rivers between 2013 and 2031 will be 2% - below the national average of 2.9% and the equal lowest in the nation.

RAI chief Jack Archer said the region's challenge was to turn its enviable lifestyle to attract businesses and create jobs.

"The Ballina and Lismore areas have so much going for them in lifestyle, but the region struggles with jobs, especially high paying jobs,” he said.

Mr Archer said tourism remained a strong industry and was expected to continue, but bringing new business and encouraging entrepreneurs to the region was key.

But NSW Business Chamber Northern Rivers manager Jane Laverty said she hoped the local economy would outperform the predictions.

Ms Laverty said the recent growth in the food manufacturing sector - including companies such as Stone and Wood, Brookfarm and the Byron Bay Cookie Company - showed opportunities for the region.

"As these kinds of companies become more established they are looking for more skilled employees with higher paying jobs,” she said.

"These are the kinds of opportunities the region needs to make the most of. We need to make sure we don't lose them.”

Ms Laverty said these companies had been able to use the Northern Rivers brand to promote themselves as a "premium, artisan” product.

Ms Laverty said the tech sector was another potential growth area because of the beach lifestyle and easy access to domestic and international airports.

But Ms Laverty said the region needed government investment and funding for needed infrastructure to really boom.

Mr Archer said the research showed regional Australia was a vital part of Australia's economic future.

"What we're getting at the moment is people looking at the latest 12 months of data and saying it's all about Sydney and Melbourne,” he said.

"But when you look at the long-term performance it's not the view that really holds up.

"You hear a lot about how regional areas are struggling, but the economic modelling shows over the medium term they're going to be fine.”

Local government alliance Regional Capitals Australia praised the report and its chair Shane Van Styn said the report showed population size was not the only economic indicator.

"This report is essentially saying cities of all sizes are dynamic - the idea that regional cities are and will continue to be a drag on our economy is clearly fanciful and fiction,” he said.