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Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation continually seeks way to assist and promote the communities that we work in, which includes Carter, Dawson, Fallon, Prairie and Wibaux Counties.

This often involves researching new ways to diversify the local economy. Studies are finding that for many individuals location is more important than jobs for determining where people decide to reside long-term. Gone are the days that people depend on their job as the primary determination of where they will live. This poses both a unique challenge and incredible opportunity for rural communities. Many people, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, are seeking the lifestyle that rural communities have to offer: the slower pace of life, the unity of a small community and the decreased crime.

When examining migration data from the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates, we find that between 2010-2016, six out of every ten counties in the U.S. had more people moving out than moving in. However, across Metropolitan, Micropolitan and Rural categories, counties defined as “Recreation Counties” were significantly less likely to have more people move out than move in. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has a set of typology codes identifying whether a county’s economy is particularly dependent on specific sectors: recreation, manufacturing, mining, or government. The Recreation typology is determined from three components: the share of employment in entertainment and recreation, accommodations, eating and drinking places, and real estate; the share of personal income from these same categories; and the share of vacant housing units that is for seasonal use. Counties with the highest scores are identified as Recreation counties.

While some rural counties have been shrinking for years, others with strong recreational industries have been growing rapidly. These populations are growing as it becomes easier to work from anywhere, and as more people retire and move away from the city. Living in a community that offers a variety of recreational opportunities, like hiking, community clubs or interest groups, hunting, and golfing makes a community a more desirable place to live, work, raise a family and invest in. Developing recreational resources has the potential to make a long-term impact on the economic and social health of a city or town.

Households moving into Recreation counties have, on average $8,700 per year higher income than those of households moving into non-recreation counties. Economic benefits of a well-developed recreation industry include short-term support by growth in tourism-related businesses and long-term support through recruitment of new residents who may be business owners or additional workforce that will increase job earnings and investment across the community. Outdoor recreation generates about $124.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue each year, according to a 2017 report by the Outdoor Industry Association. That is up from about $79.6 billion in 2012. Western rural counties with more protected public land have higher income levels and faster economic growth, according to a 2012 study by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research organization based in Bozeman, Montana.

Current non-recreation counties have an opportunity to examine the resources and amenities that their community offers and begin to prioritize areas and organizations that are working to increase recreation access. Eastern Montana has a treasure trove of recreational potential from our incredible state parks like Makoshika and Medicine Rocks to our community bowling leagues, garden clubs and motorcycle groups to the Yellowstone River, the longest free flowing river in the lower 48. It is now up to each community to utilize the resources that we already have to create a vibrant, strong and diversified economy.

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