There’s no question Montana’s public lands are great for business. In fact, our outdoor lifestyle is one of the top reasons most businesses are in Montana. The work we do, the products we manufacture and the services we provide are invaluable to our economy. And the value of our public lands is priceless.
You can’t put a price on taking a fly rod to the river during the lunch hour. Nothing matches being able to unwind in the wilderness over a weekend. Innovators that create jobs understand this, and they want to take advantage of the unique lifestyle value that our public lands provide.
Right now Montana’s economy is buzzing with opportunity. In 2010, then Gov. Brian Schweitzer launched a powerful initiative called Innovate Montana to harness the momentum in Montana’s high-tech sector and expand cutting-edge businesses here. Gov. Steve Bullock has continued to make Innovate Montana’s mission of connecting Montana entrepreneurs and growing our innovative economy a priority since taking office this past January.
A coalition of companies across the state has also joined forces to create an organization called Business for Montana’s Outdoors. BFMO believes that standing up for Montana’s outdoor places also protects our businesses and our economy. After all, that’s what gives so many of our businesses a sharp competitive advantage.
So what, exactly, do public lands mean for Montana businesses? Earlier this month, Business for Montana’s Outdoors commissioned a survey to find out. A polling firm called Public Opinion Strategies reached out to 200 business owners and top-level employees in every county in Montana.
What we found is a good reminder that we all benefit from Montana’s outdoors:
• 70 percent of business owners said "the Montana outdoor lifestyle" was a factor in deciding to locate or grow their business in Montana. The second highest factor for businesses was the “presence of public lands like national forests, national parks and wildlife refuges, and access to rivers and trails.”
• 73 percent of business owners said we can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time.
• 89 percent of Montana business owners surveyed said national parks, forests and wildlife areas are an essential part of Montana’s economy.
Earlier this month, several members of Business for Montana’s Outdoors also had the honor of leading one of the most popular sessions at Senator Max Baucus’ Economic Development Summit in Butte — a workshop about the value of Montana
Public lands, with a specific focus on how our outdoor spaces hold the potential to boost Montana’s economy.
Their message to the hundreds of Montanans who took part was simple: Access to Montana’s rivers, mountains, high peaks, forests and wide open spaces is a powerful force in Montana’s economy. According to research conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association, nearly $6 billion is generated by outdoor recreation spending in Montana, generating 403 million in state and local tax revenue and nearly 65,000 jobs.
The lifestyle amenities created by our public lands is a critical component of our recruiting efforts to attract world-class talent to our state. And none of us can afford irresponsible policies that dull our competitive edge.
Many of us Montanans count ourselves among the luckiest people in the world to be able to live here, to raise our families here, and to work and build our businesses here. We ask all Montanans to join us in working together to protect our outdoors. It’s important for our bottom line. And it’s critical for future generations.
(Marne Hayes is director of business for Montana’s Outdoors. Shannon Hughes is marketing director for Innovate Montana.)