New Analysis: Protected Public Lands Create A Competitive Advantage For Businesses

by Jessica Goad

A report released today by the economic consulting firm Headwaters Economics adds to the growing body of evidence that protecting public lands is good for the economy and jobs.

West is Best:  How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage,” outlines how public lands in the American West allow the region to boast a higher quality of life, thus attracting entrepreneurs who help the region experience higher growth rates in employment, population, and personal income compared to the rest of the country as a whole.

The report discusses in detail how the West’s economy has been changing rapidly over the last few decades, shifting from one based upon resource extraction to one primarily supported by service industries like health care, technology, and finance.

Companies in these highly-competitive service sectors (where most of the West’s job growth has been) are constantly looking to attract new talent and workers by advertising one of the region’s most important competitive advantages: that it has a higher quality of life because it offers places to play like national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas.

As one CEO put it:

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.

The West has seen incredible growth in terms of jobs; between 1970 and 2010, employment grew by 152 percent compared to only 78 percent in the rest of the country.  Both population and personal income growth mirror this trend, as seen in the chart below:


The authors of the report note: “As the West’s economy shifts toward a knowledge-based economy, new research shows that protected federal public lands support faster rates of job growth and are correlated with higher levels of per capita income.”

A number of previous studies have shown how protected public lands are good for the economy.  Last spring, Headwaters Economics determined that jobs in Western non-metro counties containing significant amounts of protected public lands increased by more than 300 percent over the last 40 years, compared to just 80 percent for counties without any protected places.

Additionally, the Small Business Majority recently conducted a poll in which small business owners agreed that creating new national parks and monuments would have a positive impact on jobs and the economy by a 4-1 margin.  And, a study from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that in many regions of the U.S. home values are higher when they are sited closer to wildlife refuge.

And yet not all policymakers are heeding the advice of such analyses. For example, on Monday, Republicans Rob Bishop (UT) and Steve Pearce (NM) sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner calling for the selling off or transferring of public lands (“divesting the federal government of its vast landholdings”) as a way to reduce the deficit. And Bishop has previously stated that national monuments and wilderness areas are a “detriment” to local economies.

Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

2 Responses to New Analysis: Protected Public Lands Create A Competitive Advantage For Businesses

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘.. higher growth rates in employment, population and economic growth…’ is precisely what got us into the hideous straits we now inhabit. And they coyly, but predictably, do not mention the only growth that really matters-the growth in profits.

  2. Daniel Coffey says:

    “U.S. home values are higher when they are sited closer to wildlife refuge.” Wow, some statements are ironic without meaning to be, and this is in that category.