AUSTRALIA's regional and local government areas have been ranked by the Regional Australia Institute according to 59 indicators ranging from unemployment and economy, to access to services and natural resources, giving a detailed picture of each region in a new interactive map.
The Northern Rivers as a region has emerged surprisingly strong in a number of key areas, notably the strength of our local government, our infrastructure and services, business sophistication and natural resources.
But it also remains one of the weakest performing areas in the country for unemployment - particularly youth unemployment - and welfare dependence.
Seven local government areas (LGAs) make up the Northern Rivers region, from Tweed Shire in the north to Clarence Valley in the south, with Lismore, Byron, and Ballina LGAs in the centre and Kyogle and Richmond Valley to the west.
As a region, we ranked an impressive third out of 55 national regions for the transparency of our local government, and fourth in terms of our combined councils' financial burdens.
On access to essential services and infrastructure, our region ranked a respectable 10th in Australia.
A strength in health services drove this ranking, with our region placed third for its access to allied health, and ninth for the availability of GPs, while access to hospitals was ranked further back in 30th place.
Also of note was our access to secondary and technical (TAFE) education, 17th and 12th respectively, while access to tertiary education was ranked 25th across the whole region (driven almost exclusively by Southern Cross University in Lismore and Tweed).
Economically, the Northern Rivers achieved fair to respectable rankings, except for its notable weakness in employment and wages.
As a region it ranked 52nd out of 55 for unemployment, with youth unemployment ranked worse at 53rd, while wages ranked 53rd.
But in other economic aspects, the Northern Rivers was impressive, with a variety of employers, high exports, and economically diverse (many different industries across the region). These factors underpinned its fourth rank (again out of 55) in "business sophistication", a combined measure of these factors.
It also ranked 20th in "human capital" - the combined educational level of our population and the performance of schools - and 19th in economic fundamentals, with its high ranking in business confidence driving this result.
Rounding out the report was the Northern Rivers great strength in natural resources - where it ranked 4th - driven by access to national parks.