Protecting Natural Amenities is Vital for Economic Development in the Crown of the Continent

Date:   July 31, 2012
Contact:   Michael Jamison, Glacier Program Manager, NPCA, 406.862.6722,
Kellie Danielson, President/CEO of Montana West Economic Development: 406-257-7711
Chris Mehl, Headwaters Economics: 406-570-8937
Liz Marchi, Innovate Montana, Frontier Angle Fund: 406-883-4044

Protecting Natural Amenities is Vital for Economic Development in the Crown of the Continent

WHITEFISH – When the management at Zinc Air was looking to locate their high-tech manufacturing firm, they could have chosen to go head-to-head with other energy innovators down in Phoenix, San Francisco, or even in far-flung Zhongguancun (also known as China’s Silicon Valley).

Instead, the company put down roots in the mountain wilds of the Crown of the Continent – because this is where its entrepreneurs, employees and investors want to live. As the new National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) “Pathways to Prosperity” report points out, it’s a whole new way of thinking about our economy.

“In the winter, we take clients skiing,” said Kevin Waldher, the firm’s vice president of business development. “In the summer, it’s hiking in the park or boating. Last year, we had several investors take a tour of Glacier Park.”

The Crown’s rural lifestyle – often far from markets but close to amenities that deliver a high quality of life – is no longer a trade-off, Waldher said. Today, it’s clearly a leg up, a magnet for economic development.

Waldher is among the many entrepreneurs profiled in “Pathways to Prosperity: the natural roots of economic success in the Crown of the Continent.”  This NPCA report highlights manufacturers and retailers, tech firms and ranchers, economists and loggers, Canadians and Montanans, and asks them why they choose to live and work in the Crown of the Continent region. What they share, according to NPCA Glacier Program Manager Michael Jamison, is a fundamental connection to the Crown’s wild landscape, with Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park at its heart.

The region’s leading economic development experts – those professionals whose job it is to attract jobs – agree. They wrote the report’s introduction, noting that “as we consult with business owners and investors looking to relocate, we hear that quality of life is as key to their decisions as are tax rates, labor costs and broadband networks.”

“These are ‘footloose times,’” the economic developers conclude. “New technologies and global economic shifts have enabled employers, employees and entrepreneurs to choose where to put down roots.”'
And increasingly, these businesses are choosing the Crown of the Continent, where we are fortunate to have inherited small, friendly communities set in a spectacular natural environment alive with recreational opportunities – hunting and fishing, clean water, wildlife and scenic beauty.

“Their vacations, then, are like job interviews, as they scout for towns in which to relocate their businesses,” Jamison said.

To be sure, our traditional “bricks-and-mortar” infrastructure remains critical, the economic development leaders say, and continued investment in schools, hospitals, airports and roads will be essential to our economic success. But what makes the Crown truly unique in the highly competitive world of economic development, they say, is its “natural infrastructure” – Waterton-Glacier, Flathead Lake, the ski slopes of Fernie, B.C. These amenities are in high demand and limited supply, and are “our unique strength in today’s economy.”

The region-wide report finds that leaders of business and industry are choosing the Crown because the mountain landscape is truly world class. Waterton-Glacier and Flathead Lake are the “Wall Street of wildlands;” like the banks of New York City or the ports of San Francisco, they are amenities that stand out to the world. And as global economies continue to de-centralize, and more businesses seek both lifestyle and livelihood, the Crown’s jewels will only increase in value.

“To maintain our competitive advantage in this emergent economy, the region’s economic development experts recommend maintaining, enhancing and investing in our ‘natural infrastructure,’ just as we do our traditional infrastructure,” Jamison said. “To fully capitalize on our exceptional lifestyle means safeguarding our invaluable natural assets – ensuring, as they recommend, “that our wildlands stay wild, our rivers flow clean and our communities sustain their traditional roots even as we move into a new economy.’"

To see the full report visit:



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