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New Report: West is Best

PHOTO: Maroon Bells in Summer, Aspen, Colorado. Courtesy Headwaters Economics.
PHOTO: Maroon Bells in Summer, Aspen, Colorado. Courtesy Headwaters Economics.
November 29, 2012

DENVER - A report due out today puts it succinctly: Colorado and the West are the best when it comes to job growth and economic development.

The report from Headwaters Economics finds the West's employment grew by 152 percent during the last 40 years, compared with a national growth average of 78 percent in the same time period. Towns near national parks or wilderness saw their jobs jump by nearly 350 percent.

Headwaters Economics associate director Benjamin Alexander says these aren't just low-paying tourism jobs or jobs in the energy industry. He says the growth is in the high-paying service sector, which in Colorado includes health care, the science and tech industry, and real estate and financial services.

"In the western United States - and Colorado is a great example of this - our success is based on our ability to attract talented, skilled people. Our public lands are a tremendous asset in our competition for those knowledge workers."

Some critics in Congress have suggested the United States should get rid of its public lands because the resources could be better used in private hands. However, Alexander says the report shows just the opposite - that access to public lands is one of the reasons why these businesses are settling in Colorado and the West.

Boulder-based social-media marketing firm Movement Strategy is one of those service industries. For that company, says co-founder Eric Dieter, the old real estate adage proved true: it was all about location, location, location.

"It's just kind of a place where the stars aligned for us. It's great for our industry. It's great for us personally. If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't have changed anything."

Alexander says it's not just the typical Front Range hubs such as Boulder or Golden that are booming. Even more isolated towns such as Salida in central Colorado or Glenwood Springs on the Western Slope are benefiting from the trend.

"That's what's amazing. It's driven part by the more footloose nature of today's industry. So, they can locate in other places, and they're finding that they can use delivery services, Internet and regional airports as a way to stay connected."

The report looks at the economies of 11 Western states: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. The full report is available online at headwaterseconomics.org.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO