Economist Ray Rasker has been saying since the early 1990s that focusing on the West’s natural wonders instead of its traditional resources would improve, not hurt its economy.
Now, his organization, Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont. has released a new report that shows it has worked.
The West is Best Report shows that high-tech and health care, are leading the West’s job growth from 1970 to 2010, of 152 percent compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country.
Health care, real estate, high-tech, and finance and insurance, are the industries that have driven the growh as people move to the place they want to live because of the lifestyle. These industries created 19.3 million net new jobs. The report shows that western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent of the county’s land base in federal protected status such as national parks, monuments, wilderness, and other similar designations increased jobs by 345 percent over the last 40 years compared to similar counties with no protected federal public lands employment growth of only 83 percent.
The report says in 2010, per capita income in counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands is on average $4,360 higher than per capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands. Think about Blaine County and Teton County versus Adams County here.
But there there also are places like Idaho County that have yet to gain in this shift despite the wilderness areas. But then these areas Lemhi County for one, are only beginning to tout their natural amenities.
And they remain limited with poor bandwidth and lack of air service. The report is not a breakthrough after 20 years but it remains a useful roadmap as a part of economic development.