For Tricia Martin, it's an exciting time to be in Newcastle.
At 26, Ms Martin has been at the vanguard of two workplace phenomena changing the face of a once-industrial city: flexible work arrangements and a growing start-up scene.
The former behaviour change facilitator moved back to the Hunter from Melbourne before COVID hit last year and after her employer, Ernst & Young, had embraced remote working.
Then she left the company three months ago to pursue her start-up, Virtual Intern, full-time.
She also bought two investment properties in Newcastle last year during COVID lockdowns.
Ms Martin grew up in Port Stephens, travelled overseas after school, made the dean's list studying arts at Melbourne University then landed a job at EY.
Now, she is one of a growing number of capital-city residents who have found a new home in Newcastle.
New research from the Regional Australia Institute last week showed migration from capital cities to the Newcastle council area rose 13 per cent in the March quarter compared with the first three months of 2020.
Arrivals from capital cities are up 10 per cent in Lake Macquarie and 26 per cent in Maitland as property prices surge to record levels across the Lower Hunter.
Ms Martin, who was in a remote role at EY when she moved from Melbourne suburb Altona to Mayfield, said the ability to earn "a Sydney salary but work in Newcastle" was attractive.
"I think that whole expectation that you grow up with at high school is that you need to go to a city area to be successful and climb the corporate ladder, but it just isn't the reality any more," she said.
"All those big four [major accounting firms] have moved to flexible working. It's become a standard for what people want from their jobs. I think sometimes it's as important as salary.
"After COVID, I don't think it will go back. They just want to retain staff."
Stockton corporate lawyer Sally Bates said she and husband Ben had moved to the "hidden gem" of Newcastle from West Ryde without compromising their careers.
"Actually, quite the opposite. We've both got more responsibility and progression in our careers than we did in Sydney," she said.
"The quality of the work I do up here is the same."
Ms Bates was working in Sydney for PwC, another of the large accounting firms, which does not have lawyers in its Newcastle office.
The returned Novocastrian started at Morrissey Law + Advisory in September, working a day from home and three in the office.
Ben is a construction site manager.
"He'd be in the car two to three hours every single day in Sydney and working really long hours and working Saturdays," Ms Bates said.
"Now he's in town. The drive's only 20 minutes."
Ms Bates plays netball and goes to the gym, her husband enjoys fishing and son Leo plays soccer, all activities easier to pursue in Newcastle.
Now, Ms Bates' younger sister and partner, "priced out" of the Sydney housing market, are eyeing off a move to Newcastle, too.
"About half the mums in my mothers' group had recently moved up from Sydney," Ms Bates said.
"There's a lot of young families moving up here that I've met. Also a lot of my friends who moved to Sydney are moving back."
For entrepreneurs in charge of start-ups, Ms Martin described Newcastle as a "very flat" corporate landscape in which access to leading executives was relatively easy.
"I think in some ways you can experience career progression faster," she said.
"When I decided to go full-time with the start-up, I could access so many different diverse sectors, and really high-up people, like CEOs, COOs, that I would never be able to access if I was in Melbourne."
She said having more access to the corporate world made her "way more confident" to pursue her company full-time.
"I couldn't have done that if I wasn't in Newcastle."
The cultural life in Sydney and Melbourne has long drawn young people away from the Hunter, but Ms Martin said the differences were no longer as obvious.
"I think Newcastle has all the attributes I loved about Melbourne.
"There's a really strong arts and creative scene happening. It's almost like Melbourne on the cusp."
She credited entrepreneurs with new ideas for "setting a new standard" in Newcastle.
"I think there've been a lot of people who have moved up, like Coal & Cedar, and set the standard.
"It creates an influx of more like-minded people."
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