This November, Outside Magazine released its annual list of the nation’s 100 best places to work, highlighting companies that make “employee health and happiness a point of pride.” Of the 100 companies, nearly 70% are based out West where work-life balance isn’t just a company goal, it’s a lifestyle.
Of those Western companies, 49 are based in the Rocky Mountain West, making their home in either Idaho, Utah, Colorado, or Montana. According to Outside, these states, with their wide open spaces, towering mountains, and red rock vistas are home to nearly half of the nation’s healthiest, happiest companies. Colorado alone has 37.
A closer look at three of Outside’s top 100 places to work — one in Montana, another in Colorado, and the last in Utah — sheds light on why the West attracts such outstanding companies.
Wisetail, a software company based in Bozeman, Montana, is ranked 32 on Outside’s list. According to the magazine, the company heads believe that “being based in Montana gives them a competitive advantage in recruiting workers.” This was certainly the case for Wisetail’s founder, Justin Bigart, who writes, “My move to Bozeman from San Francisco resulted in a 50% pay decrease, no benefits and no clear career path. Even with this reality, I was happy to make the move because the mountains were calling and I was consciously choosing lifestyle over luxury.” But as companies like Wisetail choose to locate in the West, people like Bigart don’t have to compromise career for outdoor access.
Number 46, Bluetent, is a digital marketing agency located in Carbondale, Colorado, population 6,553. Bluetent, which draws employees from Silicon Valley to the heart of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, highlights why being based in rural Colorado gives them a leg up in a competitive hiring environment. In a county where national public lands such as national forests and wilderness areas make up nearly 63 percent of the total acreage, Bluetent describes their homebase as “paradise” with access to “great road and mountain biking, hiking trails 5 minutes away, ski mountains just up-valley, a short walk to world-class fly fishing, and a park right behind our office with a track, tennis, basketball, and a cross country ski trail.”
And finally, Mountain Hub, a tech startup ranked 22 on Outside’s list, describes their headquarters in Park City, Utah, as one of the “most beautiful places on earth,” where it’s “easy to ski a few laps at lunch or head out on a post-work bike ride.”
The point is this: the West’s open spaces, and by extension our extensive system of national public lands, attract not only outstanding companies that value incorporating a healthy work-life balance into the office culture, but also talented employees looking to step out of the rat-race and into nature.
To Westerners, this isn’t news. In Colorado College’s 2015 Conservation in the West poll, Westerners ranked the region’s “clean air, clean water and environment,” “healthy, outdoor lifestyle,” and the “ability to live near, recreate on and enjoy public lands” as the top three reasons they live in the West, outranking the region’s cost of living, economic opportunities, and quality of public schools.
In focus groups conducted earlier this year by the Center for Western Priorities, Coloradans were asked why they like living in Colorado. The most frequent response? The outdoors, of course. One respondent said, “You can go on the lake. You can go camping. You can go hiking, skiing, ice skating…. It’s outdoor people that live here.”
But the West’s sweeping presence on Outside’s list suggests that national public lands don’t only draw people to the West, they actually help drive the region’s economy. In a poll conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association, 97 percent of Coloradans believe that outdoor recreation and related tourism on the state’s national public lands are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.
Research from Headwaters Economics backs up this commonly-held belief. Western rural counties with the highest share of national public lands outperform those with little to no public lands in population, employment, and income growth. On a national scale, employment in the West grew by 152 percent between 1970 and 2010, compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country.
Now that growth will be fully reflected in our nation’s economic outlook. Congress just passed the Outdoor REC Act, which ensures the Department of Commerce tracks the impact of the outdoor economy on America’s gross domestic product. The bill, which passed with broad bipartisan support, is awaiting President Obama’s signature.
Outside’s list of the nation’s 100 best companies demonstrates the power of the outdoors to drive the Western economy. As the region continues to attract new companies and promising employees, national public lands, which sit at the heart of the Western way of life, will continue to star.