December 5th, 2012 by

A new report from Headwaters Economics is out that highlights a growing trend: Talented workers are choosing to move to the West. The report, “West Is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage,” identifies the West as 11 states: Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Its findings indicate that the natural beauty and allure of public lands in these states are being used as recruitment tools to entice the best companies and workers to move there. I can see how that strategy works. Based on the few trips I’ve taken out West, the landscape would be a huge incentive to live there.

Credit: the_lazy_daisy/Flickr

The report takes an even deeper look at the economic role public lands are playing in the West. As companies and workers continue to move westward, the result is a huge impact on economic growth. While you may think eastern cities like New York and Washington, D.C., appeal to people looking for a job, the West’s economy is actually outperforming the rest of the country due to the appeal of natural landscapes and outdoor recreation opportunities such as skiing, fishing and hiking.

Here’s a striking statistic: Employment growth over the last 40 years has been almost twice as high in the West compared to the rest of the U.S. — 152 percent in the West versus 78 percent in the rest of the country. This growth rate is even higher in counties where at least 30 percent of the land is federally protected (like national parks and forests), where there is an astounding 345 percent increase in employment!

What gives the West such a competitive advantage in the job market? Economists have found that in addition to faster rates of job growth, public lands also correlate to higher per capita income levels. This may be because high-paying (non-labored) industries such as healthcare, finance and technology have made up the majority of that job growth. As the West’s economy shifts from labored (mining, farming, construction, etc.) to non-labored income, workers are seeking a higher quality of life. That means good school systems and modern transportation infrastructure, as well as access to clean natural resources and outdoor recreational opportunities.

So the next time you find yourself job hunting, consider proximity to public lands and outdoor recreation. It’s the not-so-secret job perk that’s benefiting companies (and the economy) out West.