How do businesses attract and maintain top talent? Locate near great places to play. We’ve known for some time that access to protected open spaces and to recreation opportunities vitalize business opportunities. The American West is booming, thanks in large part to its incredible access to nature.
This week, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell presented her case for public lands. She intends to measure their direct economic value in collaboration with the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, for the first time tying the outdoor economy to GDP. She said, “Industry estimates show that consumer spending for outdoor recreation is almost equal to pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles and parts combined — and yet the federal government has never fully recognized or quantified these benefits.”
Secretary Jewell knows how important wild lands are to the American West. Outdoor recreation based on access to wild places is big business, $646 billion a year to the U.S. economy. She also knows that the great outdoors is a giant classroom, connecting today’s kids with nature at a time when many things compete for their attention. And in this centennial year for the National Park Service she knows that America’s foresight in protecting our natural and cultural heritage; is one of the things that sets this nation apart.
Technology, creative, and innovation sector workers prefer to locate near national and state parks, forests, and wilderness – and employers are taking note, considering a location’s ability to attract talent when choosing a site for operations. And strikingly, even through the Great Recession, job creation and growth in western states with significant public and protected lands outpaced the rest of the country. Protected open spaces simply make for good business.
It’s time to recognize the outdoor economy for what it is: a major driver of sustainable local economies. Kudos to Secretary Jewell for her action this week. It stands in stark contrast to recent calls by those who would have the federal government cede these precious resources to private interests. This year, we should continue to elevate the value of public lands for citizens and members of Congress. This year we need to tie the vitality of protected open space to the life, liberty, and happiness of the people who live, work, and play around them. This year, we celebrate the “forever business.”