WIMMERA residents tasked with growing the region say sand mining and population growth will be vital to securing Horsham's economic prosperity long-term.
Horsham Rural City Council's manager of business and economic development Stephen Pykett said the proposed mineral sands developments north and south of Horsham were the "elephant in the room".
WIM Resources hopes to start construction on a mine at Dooen in 2022, and had an application to explore for more in the Laharum area granted in September.
"If that comes off in the next few years as predicted it will produce a whole range of economic activity," Mr Pykett said. "Businesses have great opportunities to tap into that."
Earlier this year, Business Horsham hosted a networking evening, where companies looking to mine around the city showcased what needs they had which Horsham businesses could satisfy.
Following the meeting, Mr Pykett said the council was working with individual businesses who saw opportunities and needed help to take advantage of them.
"We are working on some business support projects which, once they've been fully designed and put into action, will be an opportunity for businesses to use a bit of leverage through us to do some training and upskilling within their organisations," he said.
"We're also working with the tourism operators looking at raising tourism profile in the area.
"We know a lot of businesses who don't necessarily consider themselves part of the tourism industry. Retail, in particular, has an opportunity if they are known by tourists to make some revenue. We're working with Grampians Tourism and local businesses to upskill them on their social media engagement so people coming through the area know businesses exist, are open and where to find them."
Business Horsham's relationship manager Claudia Haenel agreed mining would begin to have a greater influence on the city's economy in the coming years.
She said housing would be the next major economic issue which needed addressing.
"The building industry will continue to be successful in that space when more land is opened up for housing estates," she said.
"Red tape is one of the biggest hindrances in new and existing businesses," she said. "Regulations are not consistent across state borders which has an impact, particularly on our transport industry."
Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said the organisation was about to submit a funding application to support the development of food microbusinesses in the region.
"We've been working with the council, Barengi Gadjin Land Council and tourism bodies on a joint bid," he said.
"Often there are hobbyists and very small businesses that sell artisan food to cafes, and we're trying to give them support to get where they want to."
Mr Sounness linked Horsham's economic future to that of the rest of the region.
"We need to have a vision for the future, and 2030 is a timeframe I'd like to think about," he said. "If our economy keeps going along as it is now we should be able to get to an output of $4 billion by 2030, compared to $3.3 billion now. The questions I'm trying to frame is if we want a $5 billion economy, what needs to happen?"
Goal-setting for 2030 is also on the mind of Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership chair David Jochinke. He believes Horsham needs to reach a "critical mass" population-wise to attract investment.
"Wagga Wagga hit a critical mass which allowed it to attract the air force base, something of substance that then attracts more things to make it a more regional city," he said.
"There are ten regional cities in Victoria, and Horsham is the smallest. If we're serious about the region, we have to have a big city like Ballarat or Bendigo. And if we use that analogy, what is going to be our gold rush to set up the area?
"Renewable energy is a huge gold rush, but what have we done to put engineers in Horsham to capitalise on that? There are a lot of roadworks going on, so how can we make Horsham a regional centre for the roadworks for this side of the state? We haven't really done that to get to that critical mass to be able to land a bigger employer."
Mr Jochinke said the partnership recognised most people did not move to Horsham unless they had a job.
"Agriculture is excellent, 100 per cent a great industry - but for us to take that quantum leap and have a bold vision of growing the population of the whole area to a certain number, we need an opportunity to have those discussions and the government to support us," he said.
"If we don't grow it now, I fear we're going to turn into the retirement sector."
Mr Jochinke said he hoped Horsham could reach a population of 30,000 people by 2030.
In November Regional Development and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes attended a Wimmera workshop on the region's job shortages.
RELATED: Horsham bypass timeline 2007-2017
In June, Horsham council released a report on community feedback around its draft Urban Transport Plan. Many respondents said a bypass of the city centre should be a priority.
Dr Bruno Parolin has studied the economic impacts of highway bypasses on regional towns in New South Wales, including Goulburn, Yass and Kempsey. He said councils and chambers of commerce needed to start preparing for life post-bypass from the moment the project was announced.
"In Yass, for example, the council knew the opening of the bypass would see the closure of most of the petrol stations," he said.
"Yass was always a major truck stop and those (stations) were all on the Melbourne side.
"The council owned land close to the bypass, and decided to partner with a developer and make that land a service centre. That came to fruition and then a lot of the people that lost their jobs at the petrol station went and worked at the 24-hour service centre."
Mr Pykett said a bypass of Horsham was "too far out of the event horizon" to start planning.
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