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West is Best Blog

We’ve found a lot to love in the latest report by Headwaters Economics, titled “West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Jobs and Higher Incomes”.[i]

The American West has witnessed the rapid growth of the service and technology sectors, while also witnessing the decrease in the importance of extractive industries to local employment and economies. During this shift from a natural resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, the region has outperformed the rest of the country in key measures of growth, such as employment, population, and income, for the last four decades.



Boulder, CO population has grown 30% since 1970. Photo credit: City of Boulder, CO  

However, these burgeoning service sectors need to attract talent from around the country (and the globe) to help continue this rapid growth and innovation. The reason these companies are located in the West and can attract the needed talent?

Abundant public lands.

National Parks, Monuments, Wilderness, and Recreation Areas are all far more abundant in the west than in any other part of the U.S. The federal government manages 46 percent of the land in the west, and 15 percent in the rest of the country. This means more opportunities for residents to enjoy free access to the iconic and unparalleled scenery in the west. Companies based in the West are attracting talent by appealing to the high quality of life one may experience in the area. Diehard and passive outdoor enthusiasts may enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities, from going hiking and snowshoeing, to wildlife watching, to simply sitting on one’s porch in the afternoon, enjoying clean air and a stunning natural landscape.

  Hiker in mt rainerHiker near Mt. Rainer. Photo Credit: NPS

According to polling research done by Small Business Majority, half of all entrepreneurs agree access to parks, public lands and other outdoor opportunities is a large part of the reason they live and do business in their state.[ii] Moreover, a vast majority agree public lands drawing visitors positively impact local businesses, and they do not support private development of these lands if it would limit public’s enjoyment of them.

Several company heads are quoted in the Headwaters report describing the impact that the accessibility and passion for the outdoors has had on their company’s recruitment, productivity, and retention:

“We actively leverage our location and the outdoors to attract and retain our employees… For our employees, taking time to get outdoors is re-energizing. It builds passion and commitment, and is critical to creativity and innovation–this is where the best work happens. It’s also a competitive edge for us since not all companies work this way.”-- Santiago Becerra, CEO, Roambi, Solana Beach, CA

The outdoor amenities and quality of life here are a big part of what keeps us productive and how employees relate to each other–it’s often what we talk about in break areas and over lunch or before meetings. I am proud of the work-life balance we can offer in southern New Mexico.” --John Munoz, Director, Sitel, Las Cruces, NM

Compelling statistical evidence also makes the case for the importance of public lands in the west to economic growth. Evidence strongly suggests that a greater percentage of public lands protected is associated with greater job growth and higher incomes over the past forty years. The graph below, from Headwaters, shows this relationship.


The association is clear: greater portion of lands protected equals greater job growth. We’ve long appreciated the job-creating abilities of public lands – through outfitters, hunting and fishing supplies, guides, and local hotels, restaurants, and shops. Now we’re learning that high-tech and service companies want to move near these beautiful places as well, creating more jobs both within those companies and for people who depend on visits to public lands and the surrounding areas.

The folks at Headwaters also presented evidence that these new jobs are quality – an increase of 10,000 acres of lands protected in a county is associated with a $436 increase in yearly salary. To translate, in a county with 150,000 acres of land protected, we see an increase of $6,540 in per capita income.

It’s no wonder people love the high quality of life that greater public lands gives them. In a recent poll, 87 percent of American voters agree that their “state and national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of my state's quality of life.”[iii] And in the West, a near-unanimous 96 percent in six Western states agreed with the same statement. 

  Fly fisherFly fisher in Grand Mesa National Forest, CO. Photo creidt: USFS

Americans love their public lands, and the more they have, the more they love them, and the more their businesses and personal incomes flourish. We can only hope that more public lands can be established across the country to continue this promising trend, while encouraging millions of Americans to get outside to enjoy and appreciate our wild places.

 --Claire Price, Lands Team Intern


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