WAGGA needs to expand its appeal to Chinese migrants, students and visitors in the push towards 100,000 residents by 2038.
Australia's leading demographer Bernard Salt told more than a hundred community and industry leaders that Wagga already has the infrastructure of a bigger city despite having a population of only 64,000 people.
But where the city falls short is in its ability to attract Chinese migrants and students in big numbers.
During his keynote presentation at a population seminar on Friday, Mr Salt outlined the opportunities that Wagga will miss out on if it does not broaden its scope to attract more Chinese people to the area.
The Chinese-born population living in Australia has increased by 60 per cent in five years, according to a comparison of the 2011 and 2016 census data. Mr Salt said this will increase a further 12 per cent each year.
In the past people born in the United Kingdom was the largest ethnic group in Australia. However, China is expected to take the lead by mid-2020, Mr Salt said.
Likewise, the Australian Tourism Commission has recorded 1.4 million Chinese tourists arriving on the continent last year. This is predicted to increase to 3.4 million in 12 years' time.
Despite this growing trend Wagga has only increased its Chinese migrant population by 3 per cent, according to the previous census.
"Wagga behaves like a small capital city with one exception - it's not attracting Chinese migrants or students in big numbers," Mr Salt said. "Why isn't Wagga playing in that space? There's a gap that needs to be addressed."
A large majority of the migrants from a Chinese background are predominately students, Mr Salt said.
Charles Sturt University's Samantha Beresford, who is the external engagement director for Wagga, told the forum during the public question time that more than 11,000 international students are enrolled at the university, with most from a Chinese heritage.
However, a large portion of these students are based at the Port Macquarie campus.
As the city plans for growth, Ms Beresford said the question that needs to be answered is how the people of Wagga could work together to attract more international students to its campus.
Wagga City Council's general manager Peter Thompson said he was unaware that Wagga was under-represented in residents of Chinese heritage. He was also unaware that the city had a high number of young people.
"The thing that jumped out at me from (Mr Salt's) presentation is the opportunities that I was not aware of," he said.
"If I could do one thing, it would be seize on the idea that Wagga - as a group, not just a council - come up with those ten-fold ideas ... and chase them. To my knowledge, we have not coordinated that push forward."
Mr Salt said Wagga's "strategic, competitive advantage" is its ability to attract young people.
It is a "rite of passage" in regional cities for 18-year-olds to move away before returning later in life. However, it's not the case for Wagga, which has a unique presence of youthful energy.
"I would like to see you leverage that into a festival that showcases that natural advantage," he said.
"I want to see positive imagery of regional Australia projected back through to Melbourne and Sydney, which only see pictures of drought."
Many university students and army recruits move on following the completion of their degree or training. Although the city would prefer to retain the youth trained in the region, Mr Salt said it was not necessarily wrong for these people to leave.
"To some extent it is good that these people are going to a new city for training and taking their expertise, connections and relationships back to their hometown," he said. But, he said it was not impossible to retain a greater proportion of students.
"There has been a lot of work done on Australian expats living in London. If they stay for more than four years they go native," he said.
"We need to hold them for four years and they'll put down roots and build connections. We won't retain everyone but the stick rate will be higher."
Mr Salt suggested Charles Sturt University and the Kapooka training base could create additional programs to extend the length of stay for young people in Wagga.