BALLARAT's economic growth has eclipsed Bendigo's, newly released figures show.
That city was ranked number one for overall performance to the end of 2019. Bendigo was ranked 29th.
Polis Partners' newly released The City Report tracked 101 towns' growth in employment, business numbers, construction approvals and population expansion.
The group then compared what they found with unemployment numbers and welfare payments to see how many residents in each town were reaping the benefits of a growing economy.
"You don't want economic growth for the sake of economic growth. You want it to translate to something meaningful for people in a location," Polis Partners' economist Rob Tyson said.
Bendigo was just as successful as Ballarat at this "inclusive growth", the report found.
The towns came equal fourth on that measure.
Yet, Bendigo was a full 54 places below Ballarat for economic output.
What's Ballarat doing that Bendigo isn't?
Bendigo's showing was not a sign the city was in trouble, Mr Tyson said.
"I would not read anything negative into that at all. I think many other cities and towns across Australia would be very happy to be sitting where Bendigo is at the moment," he said.
"It's a bit tricky when you build a ranking because people think that coming first is good. But coming 20th or 30th is not a bad thing in this case.
"Bendigo's results are really solid, there are just places that were growing slightly faster."
Part of the reason Bendigo scored so low was because his figures compared last year's growth to an average across the last nine years.
That period saw a number of road projects that were so large they somewhat skewed 2019 numbers, Mr Tyson said.
He noted that 2020 could be different depending on when construction projects begin.
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The next few years could see a new TAFE building, law court, fire station and government building rise in just a few blocks of each other, for example.
The City of Greater Bendigo is hoping for hundreds of millions of dollars in public sector money to arrive this calendar year alone.
Private developers could also start building three hotels in the city centre, assuming they got planning permission and were ready to build in 2020.
What about the pandemic?
Polis Partners has begun crunching numbers on the pandemic's impact and plans to release its results in six months.
"The major observation, so far, is that as we came into the lock down period every town and city was on a different trajectory," Mr Tyson said.
"Bendigo was on a nice, solid, stable trajectory. So was Ballarat and a lot of other towns in Victoria.
"So there was this strong base going in (to the crisis). You look at some other locations and they did not have that. They were trending downwards."
A number of them already relied heavily on tourism or were in areas hit hard by summer bushfires, Mr Tyson said.
"That trajectory they had before will have quite a large impact on how they survive the lock down and the extent of their recovery," he said.
There is no doubt, though, that Bendigo and other Victorian towns took a very hard knock when lock downs began.
Bendigo alone lost a fifth of its economic output between February and May, economic consultancy REMPLAN believed.
Total employment dropped 13.8 per cent, according to its estimates, and would likely have been higher without stimulus packages like JobKeeper, the group has previously stated.
The City of Greater Bendigo is trying to help chart a course for business and the community through the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.
Its manager of regional sustainable development, Trevor Budge, was yet to form a detailed perspective on the report but said it would be useful.
"We absolutely are interested and this is very helpful to have," he said.
Population growth likely to continue
The Polis Partners' report was one of a number released in recent weeks that showed where Bendigo was at compared to its neighbours.
"There's no doubt that Geelong and Ballarat being that little bit closer to Melbourne has probably assisted them," he said.
"We are just that extra 30 minutes from the capital and that puts us at a distinct disadvantage in terms of attracting people who commute and want that connection with Melbourne."
Yet the pandemic has proven people can work without being in a Melbourne office every day, Mr Budge said.
"We are hearing anecdotally that the level of enquiry for people wanting to build a house in Bendigo has jumped massively," he said.
Population growth could fuel the Bendigo economy even after international migration was thrown into the air by border closures, Mr Budge said.
That observation was backed up by industry groups like Master Builders Victoria, which last week noted federal and state government COVID-19 rescue packages were driving a spike in home building enquiries.
One member of the group, Cavalier Homes, saw a 10-fold increase in the number of people visiting display homes in the three weeks after the federal government announced $25,000 HomeBuilder grants.
"Everyone is talking about that $25 grand. Its motivated quite a lot of people to move straight away," Cavalier Homes director Leigh Moore said last week.
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