By The Des Moines Register
There has been ongoing debate in Iowa over the wisdom of state government handing huge grants or low-interest or no-interest loans to businesses in exchange for their promise to add more employees to the payroll. This debate revved up again last month when the Iowa Economic Development Authority reached an agreement with an Egyptian company to build and operate a fertilizer manufacturing plant in Lee County.
The state’s defense of such economic development initiatives is jobs and economic growth in a region.
A recently completed study by Iowa State University looks at a different type of economic development in this state that gets too little attention, and too little respect, from our state’s political leaders. That is outdoor recreation.
“Even though Iowa is not endowed with a stretch of the Rocky Mountains or a sandy ocean beach, the average percentage of Iowans engaging in wildlife-related activities is significantly higher than that of the country as a whole,” the report states. Yet this state spends less than almost all states per person on recreation. Our waterways are filthy. Monuments are crumbling. There is too little public land for hunting.
According to the study:
— Expenditures on travel to recreation sites and participation in recreation activities has resulted in more than $3 billion of spending, which in turn helps support approximately 31,000 jobs and $717 million of income in the state.
— Rivers are engines of growth. Almost 5,000 jobs are supported with $143 million of personal income earned from spending associated with river recreation. Soil conservation helps protect our agricultural economy and future, the efforts generate millions in spending.
— Physical inactivity costs the state about $4.6 billion annually in lost worker productivity. It means higher health and worker compensation costs. Expanding and improving parks encourages people to get moving, thereby reducing those costs.
An investment in Mother Nature is an investment in the economy. It attracts new residents, businesses and visitors and improves health. “Expanding and improving outdoor recreation opportunities is a no-lose proposition for Iowa,” the ISU study said.
It has been two years since voters in Iowa overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment to create a trust fund for recreation and conservation. Everyone from hunters to fishermen to bicyclists wants a dedicated source of revenue for the outdoors. They checked “yes” on a ballot, assuming lawmakers would follow through and increase sales tax a mere three-eighths of 1 percent to get money flowing into the fund.
Well, Iowans are still waiting. So far lawmakers have not finished the job. This should be a top priority for them next legislative session.
If lawmakers don’t want to listen to voters (that’s a bad idea), perhaps they will pay attention to the research. Study after study touts the health and economic benefits of spending on conservation and recreation. A new recreational trail means new customers for any business along the path. More places to fish and hunt mean more spending and more jobs. Green spaces increase property values and foster healthy lifestyles.
Maybe the new Iowa State University study will finally persuade lawmakers to do the right thing and give Iowans what they want.