Public Lands Can Lure Businesses

By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012

While there has been quite a bit of well-founded concern and hand-wringing locally about New Mexico’s economic prospects, now is an appropriate time for us to take stock, hit the reset button and start thinking about what works as we try to build a 21st century economy.

Clearly, there are a number of important initiatives that need to be championed in the areas of education, incentives and workforce development. These are real challenges and are critically important to our future success.

Also, recently I was struck by another aspect of New Mexico’s innate attraction that should play an important role as we seek to attract new companies and their highly-trained workforces. I’m talking about New Mexico’s public lands and their role in making a quality-of-life argument for companies looking to relocate.

Increasingly, corporate America recognizes that to recruit and, more importantly, retain top employees and reduce turnover, it needs to create corporate cultures that treat people fairly, build loyalty and produce solid profitability.

One key to building loyalty is offering employees a balanced quality of life. That might mean offering employees the opportunity to telecommute from home. It might also mean access to parks and outdoor recreation.

Just last month, a local CEO described how New Mexico’s attractive outdoor environment is what closed the deal on bringing a new attorney to her organization.

Also last month, an interesting new report was released on the economic benefits of protected public lands. The study was created by Montana-based nonprofit Headwaters Economics. It showed that places with a higher percentage of protected public lands had much more job growth between 1970 and 2010 than places with lower percentages of public lands.

In particular, the study found that non-metro counties in the West with more than 30 percent public lands saw job growth of 345 percent while counties with lower percentages of public lands saw 83 percent job growth.

Another of the report’s key findings is that over the last four decades, western states are generally outperforming the rest of the country. The region’s employment, for example, has grown by 152 percent compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country.

You might say: sure, of course the West would see job growth — it’s been the fastest growing portion of the country for decades. You’d be right. But you’d also be foolish to ignore the numbers that show places with protected spaces saw much better job growth than those without.

We actually relocated People Ink in New Mexico, in part, because of our gorgeous scenery and outdoor quality of life. When I left JetBlue Airways and started People Ink, I wanted to be in a place where the mountains cut the sky and the lands go on for days.

And this leads to the moral of my story: There are many strategies to turning our economy around and creating long-term prosperity here in New Mexico. Business-friendly policies and expecting excellence from our schools are vital.

But we should also recognize and actively promote the job-attracting and quality-of-life benefits of our public lands. And we should use our protected public lands as a promotional tool as we paint our economic-development picture. To not view these protected lands as an economic asset and recruiting tool would truly be a missed opportunity.

Before founding People Ink, Rhoades served as Chief People Officer of Southwest Airlines, Promus Hotel Company (Doubletree Hotel, Homewood Suites, Embassy Suites and Hampton Inn brands) and JetBlue Airways. She has an MBA from the University of New Mexico.