The rural growth trifecta: outdoor amenities, creative class and entrepreneurial context

Reposted from the Journal of Economic Geography

“Rural development in the industrialized world is at crossroads. Primary industries continue to shed employment. Traditional strategies of promoting exogenous growth through the recruitment of employers are now much less effective. Routine and low-skill functions are increasingly outsourced to low-wage countries. At the same time, more knowledge-intensive functions tend to agglomerate in cities.

Despite these disadvantages, many rural areas have continued to grow. During the 1990s in the USA, over one in every five rural (nonmetropolitan) counties gained jobs at a faster rate than the urban (metropolitan) county average. The ineffectiveness of traditional rural development strategies within this new environment has turned attention to entrepreneurship and endogenous development as more viable approaches (Rowe et al., 1999). Yet, notwithstanding the strong rhetorical appeal of home grown development, the empirical analysis has provided little theory and few clues as to where and when these processes play a role in contemporary rural economic growth.

This article applies the urban economics construct of the ‘creative class’ to explain how some rural places may be economically dynamic even in a national context where growth depends on the novel combination of knowledge and ideas. The key insight from the urban creative class literature is that workers in occupations specializing in creative tasks demonstrate strong preferences for various amenities and these preferences affect the location of talent. Opportunities for outdoor recreation is one set of amenities that is consistently mentioned in these works but which has not commanded the attention of Florida, other creative class researchers or the popular press the way diversity, tolerance for alternative lifestyles and the distinctiveness of central city amenities has. Our rural variant of the creative class construct re-emphasizes outdoor amenities as an attractor of talent. We posit that some creative workers may choose to forego higher urban earnings in exchange for the quality of life found in places endowed with natural amenities and that where this occurs, it may lead to business formation and economic growth, facilitated in part by the attraction of more creative class members.

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