Return of the Rocky Mountain high
Towns in the Mountain West, once held back by their isolated geography, are luring a new generation because of their scenic beauty. The hub of the 'Green Coast' movement: Bozeman, Montana.
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According to a recent Headwaters Economics study, prepared with Stanford University, Western rural counties with more than 30 percent of their land safeguarded as national parks, federal wilderness, or national forests collectively increased job creation by 345 percent over the past 40 years. By comparison, similar counties in the West with little or no protected federal lands increased employment by 83 percent.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Unexpected Bozeman
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Rasker estimates that 95 percent of the net new jobs in the region are professional service positions. These are not low-paying hamburger flippers in fast-food restaurants or ski bums operating chairlifts. They are software sultans, accountants, architects, lawyers, and "Internet cowboys" riding bandwidth in search of their fortunes.
Some of the new arrivals can be found in nondescript offices in Bozeman, near the intersection of Technology Boulevard, Analysis Drive, and Research Drive (yes, these are actual street names, which exist in contrast to older lanes around the city named after 19th-century pioneers).
Zoot Enterprises makes software that helps companies expedite credit-card approval when consumers make purchases. The firm is located, enviably, near the banks of the Gallatin River, the blue-ribbon trout stream featured in the Robert Redford movie "A River Runs Through It." In another building, the upstart firm Schedulicity produces virtual secretaries – online appointment calendars that help people organize their schedule.
Nearby, on the campus of Montana State University, one professor, a lifestyle migrant from South Africa, is pioneering aspects of nanotechnology for use in artificial intelligence, medicine, and information storage. Like colleges in many cities with high-tech corridors, MSU is helping spur commerce. Its faculty pulled in more than $100 million in research grants and contracts just last year.
Similarly, TechLink, an offshoot of the university, works with companies trying to develop products based on intellectual capital and patents invented by federal agencies such as the Pentagon. Between 2000 and 2011, TechLink's director, Will Swearingen, says it helped facilitate the transfer of Defense Department technology nationwide that, he estimates, had a total economic impact of $3 billion, supporting 17,800 jobs – 1,700 of them in Montana.
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Nor are high-tech companies the only new arrivals drawn to the West by its lifestyle and sylvan scenery. In May, rock climber Peter Metcalf, president and CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, a Salt Lake City-based purveyor of mountain-climbing gear, spoke at a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., sponsored by a confederation of Green Coast businesses.
Mr. Metcalf noted how the outdoor-gear industry is ascending as a 21st-century force in the New Economy. Destinations that have natural amenities are enjoying the fruits, he says, of an industry that contributes $650 billion annually to the US economy – $110 billion in the West. When politicians in Utah called for opening more of their state wildlands to energy development, the Outdoor Industries Association, which represents thousands of companies, said it would pull its annual convention out of Salt Lake in protest. The conclave annually pumps millions into the local economy and has helped bring green commerce to the state. Ultimately, the politicians backed down.
K.C. Walsh is a member of the booming outdoor-recreation industry and a political conservative in the mode of Theodore Roosevelt – in other words, a green conservative. He was a senior manager with a Big Eight accounting firm in Los Angeles, and became so enthralled with trout fishing that he bought a Bozeman-based company, Simms, that makes premium waders. He calls Bozeman "the fly-fishing capital of the Western world."
Though he settled here two decades ago, Mr. Walsh continues to expand the firm's operations. Last year he added 15,000 square feet to a manufacturing facility west of town, where workers now turn out the only waders made in America. It employs 120 people.