Idaho's Outdoors Support a Diverse State Economy

Our state is abuzz.  The U.S. Census reported last week that Idaho has the fastest growing population in the nation.  Are we alarmed, ecstatic or cautiously optimistic?  Probably all three on any given day, especially if you live in the surrounding Boise metro area where the state is seeing the highest levels of growth. With growth comes change and uncertainty, but also economic opportunity if managed with a careful eye towards preserving our outdoor assets and Idaho quality of life. 

Photo by Trina Benson

Photo by Trina Benson

An article out in the Washington Post this week, titled:  Why people really want to move to Idaho but are fleeing its neighbor, Wyomingpaints a startling portrait of our coal dependent neighbor that failed to diversify their economy and is now paying for it. Wyoming is 51st in the nation for population growth. The article suggests the strength of Idaho's growth has come from our ability to diversify our land use to support a wider set of business interests, innovation, and foster a more resilient workforce. We are wise to carry this lesson forward.

Our economic story starts much like Wyoming's -- rooted in the gold rush of 1849 which led people across the land on their way to California in pursuit of their fortunes.  Wyoming also found its first coal deposit in 1843. In 1860, gold was discovered on Orofino Creek when Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming were still a unified territory. However, gold dried up relatively quickly in Idaho and we didn't have Wyoming's coal deposits. Early pioneers and homesteaders were forced to pave a different path. They turned to agriculture, ranching, timbering, and even recreation opportunities early in their statehood. Many of these farms and ranches are still going strong, with over 400 registered as Century Farms -- owned and operated by the same family for over 100 years. Let us not forget our early recreation innovations either. The first chairlift in the world was created in 1936 in Sun Valley, Idaho, paving the path for it to become the world class recreation destination it is today.  

Idaho continues to pave an increasingly industrious path of diversification and growth with technology, agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, education, outdoor recreation, and a growing service sector driving Idaho’s growth. Ask most people in Boise why they live in Idaho and they don't miss a beat, "Our mountains. Our outdoor opportunities and access. Our quality of life."  Businesses use brochures with pristine mountain landscapes and rivers to attract talent. Once people visit, they stay, because our outdoor quality of life is unrivaled. Yet, all too often, our leaders hear only about the economic benefits of selling off and commercializing our public lands and outdoors. A healthy, diversified long-term economy goes hand-in-hand with access to public lands and outdoors. This message must be delivered loud and clear. 

At Idaho Business for the Outdoors we unite a much needed, nonpartisan business voice to support the economic advantage our outdoors and public lands represent. We invite businesses, politicians and individuals to come together in support of the investments, jobs, innovations revenues and health benefits sustained by our outdoors and public lands. Idaho's lands have been working for Idaho for years. Now, it's time for Idaho's businesses to work together to ensure our outdoor spaces are preserved and supported to enable continued economic growth, opportunities, and the quality of life we all want to see maintained for future generations. 


Heather Parkinson Dermott