Wollongong's transformation from a city dependent on the resource sector to an innovative educational hub is expected to dominate discussion at a Regional Australia Institute public forum tomorrow.
Organisers of the seminar want to hear what residents want for the future of their region.
The institute's research and policy general manager, Jack Archer, said those living outside the Illawarra often still regarded it as an industrial region.
It was hoped the forum would explore ways to change that.
"I think too often regions get defined by their past and I think there are some really interesting opportunities and we want to explore that."
While it was important to look to the future, that was not as simple as turning the lights off on the Illawarra's coal and steel industries, Mr Archer said.
"I don't think the choices are ever that simple.
"The resources industry is still a very important part of the region's economy and we're interested to discuss those issues at the forum.
"We're interested to see what people think will be the next stage in the transition ... whether it will be a complete move away from those industries, or if it's a rebalancing or diversifying of the economy."
The forum is part of a series of community conversations across Australia, examining data revealed through [In]Sight, an online index and interactive map of regional competitiveness.
Institute chief executive Su McCluskey said the data revealed Wollongong to be "a bit of a hidden gem on Australia's east coast".
"We can, for the first time, see a clear breakdown of regional economies, and what their comparative strengths and weaknesses are," she said.
The Wollongong Community Conversation will take place between 9am and 11am tomorrow at the Wollongong City Council building, Level 9 Function Room, 41 Burelli Street. All are welcome.