Natural population growth and a steady migration rate are the unsung heroes of Australia’s economic resilience through the global financial crisis, new research suggests.

Small business owners should be confident of an economic recovery and the federal government should maintain a steady migration rate to underpin that recovery, advisory firm PFK Australia concludes in its latest annual Business & Population Monitor.

Australia’s pre-crisis resources boom saw a `mini baby boom’ and record levels of migrant intake, which has gone on to assist the job market by increasing demand for housing, goods and services, the report found.

“Arguably the unsung hero of Australia’s defence against the downturn has been our magnificent population growth,” PFK national chairman of enterprise advisers Chris Allen said on Wednesday.

“People power is part of what is driving us along relative to others. Put simply, more people equal more customers, and therefore more jobs.”

The report, compiled with Access Economics, finds Australia’s population grew by 1.9 per cent in the past year, helped by the highest birth rate since 1971.

Migration rates remained steady, despite several reductions by the federal government, and that should be maintained to ensure continued economic stability, Mr Allen said.

“Australia’s strong migrant intake continues to provide real opportunities for Australian business,” he said.

“These are the customers that businesses should target – new Australians who need homes, furnishings, clothes, food, everything to start their new life in this country.

“An open migration policy has been, and will continue to be important to the success of Australia’s economic environment.”

On a state-by-state basis, the Northern Territory was crowned the winner in the economic stakes, while New South Wales has been worst hit by the economic downturn.

The NT displayed population growth, the highest levels of business confidence and high levels of retail and housing investment.

Small business confidence in NSW was well below the national average and housing affordability remains Australia’s worst.

The resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland were hit by a combination of lower job vacancies, a slump in housing markets or weaker retail spending, the report found.

“The challenge for businesses is to identify the gaps or the slow growth areas in their states and work to address them,” PFK director of enterprise advisers Matthew Field said.