Montanans have long known the allure that lies just outside their front doors. Our more than 100 mountain ranges, two major national parks, rugged badlands, wildlife refuges, rich river valleys and coldwater lakes draw hundreds of thousands of us into outdoor recreation every year.
It stands to reason that our great outdoors are thus a major economic driver. A recently released survey of 200 small, private business owners, commissioned by Business for Montana’s Outdoors, showed that 70 percent of them see the outdoors as a major factor in locating or expanding here. In particular, our Last Best Place is seen as the Next Great Place by young, developing businesses.
“Montana is fast becoming the next emerging technology cluster, following in the footsteps of Austin and Boulder,” Lance Trebesch, CEO of Ticket River and Ticketprinting.com, told the Montana Standard. Trebesch’s business employs 28 people in Bozeman and Harlowton.
Consider these impressive statistics for Montana:
-- The outdoor economy generates $5.8 billion annually in consumer spending.
-- It accounts for 64,000 jobs.
-- It generates $1.5 billion in wages and salaries.
-- It results in $403 million in state and local taxes.
Montana’s output is part of an overall U.S. picture that may be surprising. At $646 billion a year nationwide, spending on outdoor recreation rivals money spent on outpatient health care ($806 billion) and financial services and insurance ($807 billion) and far exceeds household utilities ($307 billion), according to figures compiled by the Outdoor Industry Association, a Colorado-based trade group.
Gov. Steve Bullock knows a good thing when he sees it. Earlier this month, he met with representatives from Montana businesses that were included in Outside magazine’s rankings of the nation’s top employers.
The businesses were Adventure Life of Missoula, River Design Group of Whitefish, Outlaw Partners of Big Sky, Ecology Project International of Missoula, the ZaneRay Group of Whitefish, Seeley Lake Elementary School and MercuryCSC of Bozeman. The governor and business representatives talked about the benefits of doing business here, how they’ve expanded, the role of the outdoors in their work and how they’ve gone about recruiting and retaining employees.
These businesses know that Montana is a great place to live and work. Bullock knows it. Attendees at the recent Montana Economic Development Summit, hosted by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, know it, too. We can think of no greater reason to celebrate — and preserve — Montana’s great outdoors.