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Secret Weapon Helps Western States Outperform the Rest

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Graphic: Percent Change in Employment, Western Non-Metro Counties, 1970 to 2010
Graphic: Percent Change in Employment, Western Non-Metro Counties, 1970 to 2010
November 29, 2012

The West is best for job growth and personal income thanks to the region's popular national parks, wilderness areas and other public lands, according to a report released today.

The study was done by the nonprofit group Headwaters Economics. In the past four decades, says Headwaters executive director Ray Rasker, rural western counties with more than 30 percent federally protected lands increased jobs by 345 percent.

"Compare that to counties with no protected lands; they grew 83 percent. So, the growth is almost three times faster for counties with protected areas."

Rasker says the study shows that entrepreneurs and America's most talented workers are choosing to live in places where they can enjoy outdoor recreation and quality of life. The western job growth was mostly in health care, real estate, high tech and finance, creating more than 19 million new jobs, many of them high-paying.

Regina Weatherspoon-Bell, a small-business owner and chief executive of Gi and Associates in Apple Valley, moved her marketing business to the high desert for its recreational activities and quality of life.

"Healthy individuals make healthy communities. And when you have healthy communities, people are thriving and that helps to build a solid workforce."

By highlighting access to national parks, forests and other public lands, Rasker says, western communities and companies have created the majority of the nation's new jobs.

The full report, "West is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantange," is available online at headwaterseconomics.org.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA