I am sure you are familiar with the scene. Kevin Costner (playing Ray) hears a mysterious voice one night in his cornfield. Despite taunts of lunacy, Ray feels the need to act. He builds a baseball diamond on his land and waits for the ghost of his father to play catch with him. When it comes to regional growth, many people believe they are quoting from ‘Field of Dreams’ when they say, “Build it and they will come.” While Ray walks around the cornfield listening to the mysterious voice, he is amazed that his wife can’t hear the words being spoken. It appears that a generation of filmgoers weren’t paying much attention either as this quote is number five on the all-time list of movie misquotes. The actual whispered words in the movie are “If you build it, he will come” which makes a stark contrast. ‘He’ implies singular compared to ‘they’ implies plural. Building infrastructure in regional areas that is in excess of your needs with the hope that the mere act of building it will bring people to your region is not a strategy – it is a prayer.

I spoke at a conference in Wodonga last week that was hosted by Regional Capitals Australia – an organisation that has a focus on growth in fifty regional cities in Australia that have been identified as ‘capitals’.

My talk focused on the outcomes achieved by the regional marketing campaign known as Evocities. Evocities has a group of seven cities as members. Albury; Armidale; Bathurst; Dubbo; Orange; Tamworth and Wagga Wagga. The campaign was launched on 22 September 2010 so we have five and a half years of data to be able to draw conclusions from. It is safe to say that cities in both NSW and other States look at Evocities and want to be involved in a similar program. While some locations focus on building infrastructure believing they are delivering on the Kevin Costner dream, Evocities employs the logic that if marketing a city drives greater population to that area then the infrastructure will follow.

So after so long in the market, what are the results from Evocities?

Firstly some results from the initial research. With the target market of Western Sydney, the information was very clear that Sydneysiders were not after a tree change. They were after a city change. Images of open paddocks and dirt did not appeal to people who had mostly been born and raised in a concrete jungle. Alternative images of a busy regional CBD with coffee shops and hectic retail environments appealed to these city natives. It was clear that many people thought anywhere west of the Blue Mountains was ‘bush’ and the only place you would be able to buy a Macchiato or Latte on Soy was in the Sydney basin. Once people realise that city does not mean Sydney we have a small chance of attracting them. The initial campaign also focused on the push from Sydney rather than the pull from regional areas. The mortgage pain and long commute were two areas that were driving people away from Sydney.

Evocities not only monitors how many people are moving but also constantly surveys people to see where the limited marketing funds should be spent. Education is seemingly the key. It amazes me that 66 per cent of people in Sydney would move somewhere else if they had the option. Many don’t realise they do have the option. Of the people that move from Sydney to an Evocity, 49 per cent had absolutely no link with that location before. No family; no visitation; no knowledge. From an economic perspective, it is important that 81 per cent of people find a job before they actually make the move and with locations like Dubbo having an incredibly low unemployment rate of 3.2 per cent, it is obvious that we need more employees.

Enough of the preliminary dance. What are the actual numbers? How many people have moved as a direct result of the campaign? We have tracked a minimum of 2,628 households which converts to 7,095 people as a minimum direct result of Evocities. When you consider the combined initial population of the Evocities, this number has delivered 2.2 per cent population growth to the Evocities. Further information we have collated shows that each household injects $94,909 annually per household to the local economy so Evocities can lay claim to $250 million per annum across the seven cities.

These numbers are fantastic – but at what cost? How much has this marketing campaign cost us? To the end of this financial year, $5.125 million will have been spent. Local Government has contributed 55 per cent of this with the Federal Government delivering 33 per cent. Arguably the greatest beneficiary from the program is the State Government as the program helps to alleviate some of the population pressure in Sydney but their contribution has only been 4.5 per cent.

Breaking it down further, each new resident from the Evocities campaign has come at a cost of $722. When you consider the cost of building infrastructure with the hope that people will move because of it, $722 per person is petty cash.

Let me know if you moved to Dubbo as a result of the Evocities campaign at mayor@dubbo.nsw.gov.au.

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