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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Study: Western public lands a job-generator and lessons for PA

A new report: “West Is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantagefinds that the national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and other public lands in 11 western U.S. states - Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming - offer a competitive advantage to high-tech and service industries. 

The recreational and cultural opportunities offered by the public lands are are identified by the study as a major reason why the western economy has outperformed the rest of the U.S. economy in key measures of growth–employment, population, and personal income–during the last four decades.  The study found that between 1970 and 2010, these western states grew 52 percent compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country. Health care, real estate, high-tech, and finance and insurance industries created 19.3 million net new jobs in those eleven states over the last four decades. 

Strikingly, the study found 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 four times more than counties with no protected public lands.  Jobs in public lands-rich counties grew by 345 percent over the last 40 years, compared to 83 percent job growth in similar counties with no protected federal public lands.  As a result, the study found that per capita income in 2010 in western non-metropolitan counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands is $4,360 higher than per capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands.

The study says that entrepreneurs and talented workers are choosing to work where they can enjoy outdoor recreation and natural landscapes.  Increasingly, chambers of commerce and economic development associations in every western state are using the region’s public lands as a tool to lure companies to relocate, and high-wage services industries themselves also are using those same lands as recruiting and talent retention tools.

The report echoes previous studies and presents something that Pennsylvania has known and been a national leader in practicing - that conservation is economic development.  The Western report underscores the dramatic economic gains made possible by a commitment to public lands conservation.  But Pennsylvania's documented success - and the potential to duplicate the West's success - is threatened by budget cuts and shale gas development that is already affecting state forests and that could impact state parks

Pennsylvania's 2.5 million acres of state parks and forests must be conserved if we are to grow the state's economy.   

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