The Pilbara could become Australia's California or a tumbleweed ghost town, depending on choices made now, a report into the region has found.
Compiled by Curtin University's Sustainability Policy Institute, the report into the Pilbara's future argues that without diversification, the region will live and die with the iron ore and LNG sectors.
Report authors Jemma Green, Peter Newman and Johanna Mitchell note the success of the Barnett Government's Royalties for Regions program and its Pilbara Cities vision. But tying the area's future to two big and potentially volatile commodities brought huge risks.
The authors say if the Pilbara gets its big economic decisions right, it can assure its future like California, which built on its initial finds of gold and gas by moving into agriculture and then the movie industry.
But get them wrong, and the region could end up like Geiju in China where the end of the tin industry has consigned an eighth of the population to government welfare.
"The choice is to become like California or like Geiju, where a region became fixated on a limited resource, which came and eventually went," the report said.
"The choice is between living in the present only or planning for the future, and planning for a more permanent prosperity."
The report notes there are more than 87 ghost towns across WA, almost all of them former mining centres that have vanished along with their resources base.
Across the rest of the nation, there are just another 75 ghost towns.
The report said that while new infrastructure would play a role in safeguarding the Pilbara's future, better links between existing infrastructure could be more important.
Governments may have to invest in projects that are "not necessarily the most politically attractive" but ones which deliver long-term benefits. Among their proposals, the report argued that introducing a fully integrated electricity grid that would enable the "de-dieseling" of the region would safeguard the Pilbara's long-term power needs.
They also back efforts to make housing, commercial space and the cost of living much more affordable, as well as building up a strategic military presence, diversifying the region's agricultural base and developing its tourism sites.