A Great Big Money Tree

Parks, Trails and Natural Areas Contribute to Economic Development

The country and the world are slowly waking to the fact that parks, trails and natural areas are not just for nature lovers. These eco-amenities also play a key role in creating and sustaining vibrant, competitive economies.

The Portland metro region, ever cutting-edge in this regard, is already tuned in. Research, combined with in-depth interviews with local business and economic development leaders, parks and recreation personnel, and community leaders, paints a very money-green story for The Intertwine.

Key economic development points about The Intertwine:

  • It fundamentally supports the athletic and outdoor industry “alpha cluster.”
  • It similarly attracts technology companies, the bicycle tourism industry, and the plethora of small businesses that anchor our economy.
  • It draws the talent that fuels our primary industries and gives our creative economy a competitive edge.
  • It provides many, many millions in ecosystem services, from stormwater management to increased property values and related tax revenues.

The ATHLETIC AND OUTDOOR INDUSTRY is what economists call an “alpha cluster.” In other words, the associated companies (including outdoor apparel and footwear companies, bicycle manufacturers and others) confer their employees substantial annual wages and are highly geographically concentrated. But it also means that The Intertwine offers the industry cluster a reflection of its own core values and ethos–a symbiotic relationship that both inspires and grows the industry. These companies benefit from The Intertwine by way of product-testing venues and opportunities for product marketing and company branding.

“You could not have an athletic and outdoor industry like we have in a city that did not respect, regard and invest in the natural environment … Having recruited and worked to retain companies for decades here, [I can say] the access to the natural environment, to the recreation activities, especially, is a big draw.” – Former City of Portland Mayor Sam Adams

“Authenticity is really important with brands … the amenities around us are a reflection of who our industry is and what we believe and what we want to support.” – KEEN Footwear Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Chris Enlow

“Part of our footwear testing is actually the outdoors around here, which includes any green space area.” – Columbia Sportswear Global Corporate Relations Manager Scott Welch

OTHER KEY INDUSTRIES similarly benefit, including the technology and bicycle tourism industries. The Intertwine also helps attract the small businesses that provide the backbone of the Portland metro region economy. For the bicycle tourism industry, The Intertwine provides both the sights to see and the means to get there, anchoring demand for the industry. For the technology industry and small businesses, The Intertwine provides an even more direct draw. When companies are not bound to plant themselves near a given natural resource (such as software design companies), or when decision-makers move with their companies (such as with small businesses), these companies often prefer parks, trails and natural areas nearby, and make their locational decisions accordingly.

“Many of the nation’s households and firms are mobile and make their locational decisions based, in part, on the quality of life available in different regions. To the extent that an environmental-protection initiative enhances a region’s natural resource amenities and increases their contribution to the region’s quality of life, it also can generate employment and income in the region.” – ECONorthwest Principal and Founder Ed Whitelaw and Senior Economist Ernie Niemie (in “Environmental Protection and Jobs: A Brief Survey”)

“Travel to and throughout Oregon represents an important component of the state’s economy, and participation in bicycling activities plays a significant role in terms of trip motivation, destination choice, and the associated travel expenditures.” – Economic and market research firm Dean Runyan Associates (in “The Economic Significance of Bicycle-Related Travel in Oregon”)

TALENT AVAILABILITY is vitally important to the above industries and provides a competitive edge in today’s creative economy. So, thankfully, The Intertwine brings talent here, too. The Intertwine is a huge talent-recruit-and-retention-tool for some big players in the Portland metro region economy, such as the athletic and outdoor industry and the technology industry. It also attracts entrepreneurs with big, unforeseeable, but ultimately inevitable economic contributions to make.

“The parks and recreation is one of the reasons, one of the big reasons, why people come here ... It’s without a doubt.” – Intel Corporation Executive Search Recruiter Don Cooper

“I have a huge e-mail I send to people from out of state that has a number of bullets about different things that people can enjoy and experience about what a green city we have." – Columbia Sportswear Talent Acquisition Program Leader Kristin Dagg

“The realization moving here is that we can recruit and retain good talent, because we’re in a good space with these amenities.” – KEEN Footwear Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Chris Enlow

​ECOSYTEM SERVICES from The Intertwine offer huge benefits and savings, many yet to be realized. The water filtration services that The Intertwine provides are a key asset for the makers of one prized Pacific Northwest product: microbrewed beer. Clean, reliable water is equally vital to the computer chip manufacturing industry, another key Portland metro region product. Meanwhile, these water filtration services have saved the City of Portland millions in stormwater management. And this does not even tell half the story. Other ecosystem services include flood protection, air purification, carbon sequestration, commercial and recreational fishing opportunities, and many more. Many of these benefits lead to higher property values, and resultantly higher property tax revenues for our cities. There are even huge emerging industry opportunities related to ecosystem services, such as the green infrastructure industry.

“The water is essential. You know, the fact that we have Bull Run, the competitive advantage is amazing. So it’s up to us to guard it…Water for breweries, internationally, has been a signature. And our signature is this very soft, unfiltered, slightly chlorinated water that is a great backdrop for any beer style.” – Hopworks Urban Brewery Owner and Brewmaster Christian Ettinger

“Of course, we’re part of a larger green infrastructure movement. So we definitely benefit from the perceived greenness and the cutting edge philosophy that Portland has. That reputation certainly follows it throughout North America.” – Columbia Green Technologies Technical Director Elaine Kearney

“By way of analogy, decision-makers would not make a decision about financial policy in a country without examining the condition of the economic system... The same applies to ecological systems or ecosystems. Decisions can be improved by considering the interactions among the parts of the system.” – The 2003 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Thanks to 2013-2014 Hatfield Fellow Joe Otts for this research. His full report is available for download.