By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

Securing Montana’s economic future requires a look at what’s wild. More than 100 economists have sent a letter to President Obama and Congress, calling for investment in public lands infrastructure along with more protected designations to help local economies grow.

Ray Rasker, executive director of Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics, says years of research show there’s a strong connection between economic prosperity and natural landscapes.

“Protected public lands attract companies and workers and they create jobs. In today’s economy, job creation is very important.”

Rasker says companies today have mobility that allows them to succeed in rural settings, and with fierce competition to hire the smartest and best workers, quality-of-life is a strong recruiting point.

“We have a company outside of Bozeman that has a big billboard on the way up to the mountains with the Spanish Peaks Wilderness in the backdrop, and they’re saying, ‘Apply with us, and one of the benefits–you get to live here.'”

The letter was coordinated by Headwaters Economics, and notes that public lands in Montana and throughout the West boost economies because of resource extraction, as well as recreation and tourism. The letter stresses that investments in education are important, too, and that economic success tied to newly-protected public lands takes time.

The letter and supporting research are at headwaterseconomics.org