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Public Lands Are Good For BusinessIt is not either / or
Public lands are good for business
By Alex Philp and Lance Trebesch, HELENA INDEPENDENT RECORD
Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Public lands are a vital piece of the relationship between a healthy, innovative economy, a healthy landscape and vibrant, diverse communities. Business innovation and conservation priorities are not mutually exclusive or competing pieces of Montana’s economy, and Montanans should not be asked to choose between landscape and innovation. Rather, they should be encouraged to support public lands as an asset to our economy. This is key to advocating for policies that connect our outdoor spaces to great business opportunities in Montana. A growing body of research supports what a large variety of Montana businesses have always believed: public lands are a valuable asset in building great businesses. The premise that a balanced, healthy economy is an either/or choice jeopardizes the multifaceted model of business in Montana.
The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) recently released a report on the economic impact of outdoor recreation and its connection to the economy in the West. The research showed that nearly $646 billion annually is funneled through the outdoor recreation sector, and as a multidimensional sector, that helped fuel traditional sectors like manufacturing, finance, retail trade, tourism and travel. In addition, the industry helped support 2.3 million western jobs. Similar to Montana, where our economic prosperity depends on protecting the spaces between the places, our nation’s public lands and waters support the economy of outdoor recreation. Quality public lands and open spaces are critical to not only our recreation-based businesses, but also to our tech, manufacturing and health-based businesses, offering fundamental tools for recruiting employers dedicated to creating healthy and productive communities and high value jobs across Montana.
The connection between Montana’s economy and our tremendous public land and outdoor offerings goes beyond our friends who manufacture backpacks or sell fly-rods. Recent research by Headwaters Economics, an independent Bozeman-based research firm, shows that protected federal lands are an important driver of economic growth, demonstrating how they play a positive role in attracting people, investment and business to Montana. Specifically, the research shows that western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent federally protected lands saw the most increase in employment, with a staggering 344 percent increase in jobs from 1970-2009. It shows how protected federal lands and outdoor access play a positive role in attracting people, encouraging investment and creating businesses that bring jobs to Montana communities. The research documents a trend we have all seen: high tech and web-based businesses increasingly choosing to settle in communities with great natural amenities. It is clear that people are drawn to Montana for its quality of life and natural amenities, as is the case with some of Montana’s leading businesses representing manufacturing, technology, health care and, yes, recreation. It is this collection of businesses that bring value to our Montana communities in the form of economic growth and job opportunities stemming from the integral part of the basic economic foundation of protected public lands.
These reports are another reminder that there doesn’t have to be an either/or choice between protecting our public lands and growing our local economies. Common sense policies like the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, and the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act which have been championed by Montana’s senators can protect Montana’s open space legacy, bringing jobs, business opportunities and economic benefits for years to come.
Common-sense conservation has led to jobs, livable communities and an entrepreneurial economy that encourages innovative businesses to thrive all across Montana. Policies like the LWCF are an investment in our rural and urban economies, and as the data clearly shows, it is our protected lands in these areas that draw visitors as well as new business, jobs, and investment to the West. We have a responsibility to our heritage as much as to our future. Protecting the legacy of our public lands and the policies that secure these valuable assets is simply the right thing to do for an innovative, entrepreneurial Montana.