When Pragya and Suryah Kant were offered jobs with Victoria's Department of Agriculture in 2011, they had a choice.
The grain research scientists, who had been working in Guelph just outside the major Canadian city of Toronto, had to decide between working at Bundoora, in Melbourne's northern suburbs, or the Grains Innovation Park in Horsham.
Eight years later, Dr Kant is happy they ultimately went with Horsham.
"Guelph was really a city area, housing prices were higher and if we had to drive from one place to another it did take time," she said.
"When we decided to move to Australia, my husband came to see the places and chose to be in Horsham. If we'd gone to Melbourne I would probably have been looking for a part-time job, because there are more time commitments like commuting."
Dr Kant's comments follow the Regional Australia Institute releasing a new tool, called MOVE, which allows city residents to compare how much better off they would be relocating to a regional area.
Dr Kant is originally from India, where she completed her PhD at Haryana Agriculture University.
She lived with her husband in Israel for three years, where their 14-year-old son Aayush was born. Their daughter Ria, now nine, was born in Canada.
In Israel, the couple lived in a rural area 90 kilometres north of a bigger city, Beersheba. Dr Kant said this experience shaped her preference for regional living.
"In regional areas like Horsham, you can spend the same amount of money but get a lot of land with your house instead of an apartment," she said.
"Housing is the main thing you think of when comparing two places. The other side is that living in a regional area, petrol prices are higher than in Melbourne - but that doesn't matter as much.
"I think Horsham is a good place for families when the kids are young, but when they get older obviously they look for universities, so I think that's a big gap. Other than that sometimes we have to wait longer to see medical specialists, so if my son wants to get braces we have to go all the way to Melbourne to get it done."
While the aim of the RAI's new tool is to get people from metropolitan areas to consider regional living, Dr Kant said she had seen the reverse taking place in Horsham.
"There was one worker who had been here for two years who recently moved to Bacchus Marsh, because it had public transport and more facilities he wanted," she said.
"We have seen a number of friends here (and) who lived here before us who have moved to Melbourne when their children have moved to university. Even though they have similar jobs, they're happy to commute for two hours on trains because they want to be with their kids. If we can keep our youngsters here, more families will stay."
Institute says differences are the key
AN ADVOCACY body says the Wimmera's major population centres need to consider how people not from the area might perceive it in order to attract more people.
The Regional Australia Institute's comments come as it releases a new tool allowing Melbourne-based residents to compare how they would fare financially if they lived in a regional area.
The MOVE tool shows the average annual income for a Horsham resident is $50,163 compared to a Melton resident earning $59,000.
However, Horsham's median house price at January 31 was almost half that of Melton.
A Melton resident who relocated to work in Horsham would need 19 years to pay off a mortgage on a Horsham property, compared to 32 years if they purchased in the outer Melbourne suburb.
RAI co-chief executive Kim Houghton said a successful strategy involved considering who would most likely move to an area like the Wimmera.
"It's very much a matchmaking process. Once you have job vacancies, you have to find people attracted to them," he said.
"Older people and younger families with technical trades and qualifications would probably be interested in working in Horsham.
"A lot of times regional towns pitch what they like about themselves - like sports teams or a sense of community. That doesn't really position one place against another. People considering a big move will want to know what makes an area stand out.
"We know about 500,000 people left capital cities to work in regional areas between 2011 and 2016 - so it's a matter of getting information out there in a way that people interested will give the location in question serious thought."
Dr Houghton said the modelling showed Ararat and Stawell stacked up well in terms of housing affordability and job opportunities compared to other regions.
Horsham Mayor Mark Radford said Horsham's climate, country lifestyle and close proximity to the Grampians National Park were its selling points to new residents.
Cr Radford moved from Melbourne's north to Quantong in 1991, to be closer to his wife Anne's family.
"There used to be a state government-sponsored regional living expo in Melbourne where we'd show what Horsham had to offer, show people the type of houses and the cost of land for sale," he said.
"I think it's something the state government needs to look at. If it is serious about encouraging people to move to regional areas, and it seems like it is, it needs offer support to promote that idea."
"Every budget we put together, we do so with future residents in mind," he said. "We look at opportunities for employment, what schools, hospitals and cultural facilities we need.
"I know people ask those questions and make those comparisons between regions when deciding whether to shift to the Wimmera. Obviously our ongoing advocacy around getting passenger rail back to Horsham is partly geared towards that, too."
Wimmera Development Association chairman Kevin Erwin, who is also Northern Grampians Shire mayor, said the range of job opportunities available in Stawell set it apart from other towns.
"Many economies of Wimmera towns are heavily reliant on agriculture, but in Stawell there's the gold mine, the abattoir and eventually the underground physics laboratory," he said.
"Of course we have to sort out the housing problem. Recently Frewstal Abattoirs have been paying for motel rooms for their staff because there's nowhere in town to rent."
Ararat Rural City mayor Peter Beales said public transport, a diverse ethnic community and job opportunities were iconic to Ararat.
"I used to live in Kinglake (north-east of Melbourne) where there were almost no services, and after the February 2009 fires, my wife and I bought land in Ararat and settled here five years ago," he said.
"The reality is we need young families to keep us vibrant. We have the town of Elmhurst not far away that has three kids at its primary school. We want people who will get into the community.
"We had a couple of migrants come up and look at the town and Stawell recently, so we're active in that regard."
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