How Premium Outdoor Recreation Increases Employment

Knowledge Worker

As you know, our mission to improve your health by encouraging you to explore the outdoors, but the benefits of getting outdoors don’t end there.  The way your community supplies local outdoor recreation opportunities can lead to a marked improvement in your community’s employment situation.  The key here is knowledge workers.

What is a Knowledge Worker?

Back in 1969 Peter Drucker, writing in The Age of Discontinuity, coined the term ‘knowledge worker’  to further his view that new industries will be using fewer manual workers and more workers that primarily use knowledge to produce value.  These workers might include physicians, pharmacists, architects, engineers, scientists, public accountants, lawyers, and academics, whose job is to “think for a living”.   For the most part these occupations are tied to a specific place where these workers can ply their trade for the benefit of a, generally,  local market.

Knowledge Worker RecreationIn a broader sense,  these workers acquire knowledge then write, analyze and advise while capturing, organizing and providing access to their knowledge.  The occupations mentioned above all acquire a base of knowledge in academia, then apply that knowledge to new situations to create value for their patients or clients.

There are other knowledge worker occupations that don’t depend upon being close to their primary markets.  They include authors, marketers, inventors, artists, film makers, software developers and many more.  To the extent that these individuals operate as entrepreneurs,  they can live wherever they wish.  To the extent they work within corporate structures,  they typically live where corporations that need their expertise are located.

Dropping the Unemployment Rate

We often hear that we need more jobs to drop the unemployment rate.  That then translates into trying to draw new businesses to a community.  If successful,  this approach will lead to hiring local people if the local people have the skills the business needs.  To some extent, businesses look for communities that offer pleasant surroundings for their employees, so they can attract the best workers to their operation.  Premium outdoor recreation opportunities go a long way in drawing the interest of these types of businesses.

Bicycle SunsetGetting more jobs by attracting new businesses is not the only way to drop the unemployment rate.  Individual, entrepreneurial, knowledge workers can be drawn into or developed within a community giving these people an occupation outside of the typical job market.  These are the people that can live anywhere, but come to or stay in a particular place because it offers them the style of living they desire.  More and more,  that style of living is based upon outdoor recreation.

It’s much easier for an individual to relocate to a place with outstanding recreational opportunities that it is for a large corporation.  Once settled,  these entrepreneurs can build their businesses and ultimately hire workers who are already living in the area and the local economy improves.

Enhancing Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

“Information about the economic benefits of parks and open space has burgeoned over the last 20 years. Hardly a week goes by without the appearance of a new academic study or news story illustrating these benefits. It is now widely understood that parks, greenways, and natural lands can boost property values, attract and support businesses, save energy and water-treatment costs, and safeguard the natural systems on which our economic well-being depends.”

 – Conservation: An Investment That Pays, The Trust for Public Lands, 2009

Does this approach work?  Ralph Heath writing in The La Crosse (Wisconsin) Tribune said: “Outdoor recreation is an essential reason for our record low unemployment rates, attracting those who enjoy challenges at play and work. Studies reveal knowledge workers make informed decisions about where they choose to play and work based on the outdoor recreation available to them. The greater La Crosse area is the mother of outdoor recreational opportunities.”  In La Crosse, the recreation opportunities include road and mountain bicycling, hiking, sailing, canoeing, wind surfing, fishing, cross country skiing and more. One key to the success in this effort is the easy accessibility to these opportunities from the city of LaCrosse.  A second key is the past and continuing effort to develop these opportunities in the best way possible.

So,  yes, this approach to job creation can work, but it isn’t as easy as saying “Well, the forest is there, go hike in it.”  If hiking is the opportunity, well maintained trails that are accessible to residents and lead to worthwhile places, like world class viewpoints, are necessary.  This takes serious planning and execution.  It also requires that all the details about these opportunities are available to users and those users have access to support systems, like bicycle or canoe rentals, maps or whatever else they may need to discover and enjoy the available opportunities.

The Bottom Line

A solid, community-based approach to developing, maintaining and presenting a broad range of outstanding recreational opportunities can drop your local unemployment rate. It takes some work,  but as these efforts bear fruit,  your community will be much more liveable and attractive to those that are looking for premium outdoor recreation opportunities – current residents and new residents alike.

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