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Place Value: How Communities Attract, Grow and Keep Jobs and Talent in the Rocky Mountain West

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, September 7th, 2015


Executive Summary

Local leaders intuitively recognize that building a great community is essential to building a strong and resilient economy, but what underlies this linkage and how can communities strengthen it?

These are the guiding questions behind the Place Value study, which explores why people and businesses are drawn to particular communities in the Rocky Mountain West.

Place Value comes at a time when many communities are seeking new approaches to economic development that respond to changing market and fiscal realities. What people are seeking from their jobs and communities is also changing. A growing number of people prioritize quality of life over other factors, including employment opportunities, in decisions about where to live, work, or start a business. At the same time, today’s technology and the growth of knowledge-based industries allow people and businesses far greater flexibility in where they locate. Yet for many communities, particularly those with resort economies, high cost of living, long commutes and limited employment opportunities are barriers to attracting and retaining a talented workforce.

Place Value explores these trends and what they mean for Rocky Mountain communities. Drawing on the perspectives of business owners as well as community members, Place Value aims to clarify the role of different community attributes – from taxes and zoning to quality of life and cost of living – in creating and supporting resilient local economies.

Summary of Key Findings

Results of this study, based on a survey of nearly 1,000 employers and community members in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, indicate that building a strong and resilient economy is tied to creating a great community where people want to live and work. Both business owners and community members overwhelmingly prioritize community quality above and beyond other relevant factors, like employment opportunities, salary or business climate, when choosing a place to live or start a business. People are attracted to great places with a variety of neighborhoods, amenities, and transportation choices. In the Rocky Mountain region, people are willing to accept a lower salary in order to live in a community that offers these qualities. However, affordability is an issue, and business owners and community members report that there is not enough housing in many Rocky Mountain communities to meet the needs of people with a diversity of income levels. Other key findings include:

  • JOBS FOLLOW PEOPLE. The majority of business owners (70 percent) established their residence in a community first, and then decided to start a business at a later date. Less than one-third of business owners moved to a community with the purpose of opening a business.
  • COMMUNITY QUALITY IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR BUSINESSES AND RESIDENTS. In selecting a location to live, the most highly considered factor for business owners and community members was the overall quality of the community, with a score of 4.5 out of 5. Seventy percent of business owners responding to our survey indicated community character was “extremely important.”
  • BEING IN A PLACE THAT CAN ATTRACT TALENTED EMPLOYEES IS IMPORTANT TO GROWING BUSINESSES. Sixty-eight percent of business owners with unfilled positions said that the ability to attract or retain talented employees was an important factor in choosing their business location.
  • PEOPLE ON THE MOVE ARE LOOKING FOR GREAT PLACES. When making relocation decisions, people consider both the quality of the community and job opportunities. Most respondents (44 percent) felt that a job and the community are equally important factors in relocation decisions. Only 17 percent of respondents indicated job opportunities as the most important consideration.
  • PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO SACRIFICE SALARY FOR THE IDEAL COMMUNITY. Eighty-three percent of respondents favored “living in an ideal community with a lesser salary” over “living in a community that’s less than ideal with a high salary.” Safety, open space and trails, access to recreation, neighborhood character, and short commute times are all highly rated factors for people deciding where to live.
  • HOUSING COSTS ARE A CONCERN FOR BUSINESSES AND EMPLOYEES. Sixtyeight percent of community respondents felt there are not enough housing options for a range of incomes in their community. This issue matters to businesses too: 60 percent of business owners felt that housing costs had some impact on the ability to attract employees; the number jumps to 76 percent for those that are hiring.

These are just a few of the findings outlined in this report. Other findings relate to telecommuting, how business owners view the business climate in their community, and frustration with commuting, among others.

Job Growth in Idaho and Montana

Figure 6: Preferences in housing and neighborhoods


Download full version (PDF): Place Value

About Community Builders
At Community Builders, we know that a strong community creates a stronger economy. We provide information, research, insight and analysis for developers, realtors, planners, public officials and engaged citizens who are actively building stronger economies in the towns and cities of the American West.

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