A national research project will look into whether people are fleeing the regions to head to big cities in New Zealand.
The researchers want to challenge the stories of an Aotearoa littered with "zombie towns", and they've picked Timaru to attempt to prove the economists wrong.
Roughly 40,000 people call Timaru home. It's the birthplace of artist Colin McCahon and unemployment sits at about two percent.
Auckland University professor Deborah Levy is part of the research team looking to give small towns a boost.
"We want to find out what they can teach us, so we're looking at the economic, cultural, social aspects of Timaru and other small to medium towns like them to find out what people love about them," she told The Project.
Ms Levy said so far she's learned that people are "very attached to place".
"There are people who are very attached to the history of their town, there are people who had their first dates there, the town is what they are and who they are."
She said when the research team headed to Timaru "we certainly didn't find anything that resembled a zombie".
Rather, she said people were "very educated, very positive, they knew what their town needed".
The researchers are also looking at Oamaru and Ashburton, and will be considering the different strengths and weaknesses of the three towns.