Large Landscapes and Quality of Life: Gaining a Competitive Economic Advantage

by Larry M. Weil, West Fargo, North Dakota

Nick Kaufman with WGM Group, Inc. and Andrew Hagemeier, AICP, with Land Solutions LLC provided an interesting session at the Western Planners Conference relating to an individual’s  “choice” of where they want to live, work and enjoy life.  

Today people choose where they want to live similar to how businesses choose the communities where they want to locate.  People’s decisions on where they want to live are becoming less correlated to economic reasons and more to quality of life opportunities.  Though many of the traditional values for local units of government are still of importance, individuals are rating them much lower than values like walkability, recreation, and quality of life.  Individuals more and more are choosing where they want to experience life’s qualities and then find employment opportunities.  Business trends are finding companies locating to where they can find the people living that would work for their company, so essentially jobs are following people.

The locational theory model still holds true, however in the new industrial revolution technology is reorganizing locational factors.  We are finding ourselves in a very mobile economy.  Technology has provided the liberty of mobility while still having access to information at our fingertips.  Chasing large companies and offering tax subsidies is an economic development model that is obsolete in this environment.  The futuristic model focuses on creating quality of life.

Quality of life may be different for different people.  However, significant natural environment landscapes offer unique opportunities.  Montana has two of the largest intact terrestrial ecosystems left on the planet, and they anchor the northern and southern borders of the state.  The state’s economy is being positively impacted and is diversifying as a result of these wild and pristine places.  Small towns with world class scenery, high levels of biodiversity, recreation, and national parks are appealing to individuals searching for quality of life opportunities.  A recent Colorado study found that quality of life was the number one locational factor for people.  The majority of people moving to Montana are moving for quality of life reasons.  Seventy percent of the people moving to national park areas is because of those features.

Communities need to be mindful of quality of life issues as they seek to attract individuals.  Taxes may be going up in dollars, but in real value, they are going down, because of inflation.  People’s values to quality of life are increasing which relates to infrastructure costs.  Teamwork within the community is important if the community is not going to fall behind.  Understanding a community’s needs or desires ties back to planning which should translate into community goals, objectives, and policy implementation to address the needs.
People in today’s world choose where they want to live, because of quality of life factors.  Communities that can utilize the quality of life factors of their surroundings when building their infrastructure will be more competitive at attracting talented and educated people and the businesses that seek them. 

Larry Weil is the Director of Planning and Community Development at City of West Fargo, North Dakota. He serves on the Western Planning Resources Board.
Paul Moberly