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The West is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage

Submitted by January 2, 2013 2:02 pm

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It seems to be stating the obvious that, in the west, our public lands play a major role in shaping our communities, culture, and identity. A recent research paper by Headwaters Economics (Bozeman, MT) took that piece of common knowledge further, finding that the West’s (“West” defined as AZ, CO, CA, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, and WY) public lands are primary reason why the western economy has outperformed the rest of the US economy in key measures of growth – employment, population, and personal income – in the last four decades.

This study, titled “West is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage” affirms that access to public lands – national parks, monuments, forests, and wilderness areas – and the quality of life their proximity provides, offers a growing high-tech and services industry a competitive advantage. More frequently, talented entrepreneurs and works are choosing to work where they can enjoy the natural environment and outdoor recreation activities. 

Some figures from the report:

  • From 1970 to 2010, the West’s employment grew by 152 percent compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country.
  • This western job growth was almost entirely in services industries such as health care, real estate, high-tech, and finance and insurance, which created 19.3 million net new jobs, many of them high-paying. 

Bringing it home – I don’t know how these facts and figures can be translated to Prescott’s, or Arizona’s, economic condition, but this report supports the local efforts to protect and restore our watershed. It provides further evidence that our public lands, open spaces, and natural environment have economic value and contribute to quality of life and, ultimately, the local economy. 

As we attempt to peer into the hazy future from our currently degraded economic state, it seems time that we start appropriately valuing the natural resources that make this community such a great place to live. Embracing this fact could lead to more investment in the protection, stewardship,and restoration of these resources that would help position this community for reasonable growth and a sustainable economy.

Read the full report here.