Ken Stoltz

Open Spaces levy will strengthen Boise’s economic landscape

Ken Stoltz

Stoltz Marketing Group

Friday, October 30, 2015

On November 3, Boise voters will have the chance to pass a temporary override levy to purchase lands in the Boise Foothills and along the Boise River for maintaining a clean water supply and preserving wildlife and recreation areas. On its surface, the levy seems like a simple environmental initiative. But in truth, its passage would significantly bolster activity in the local economy.

The most profound economic ripple from this levy will be the added allure for potential residents and businesses. The area has well-documented growth potential, as indicated by a recent University of Idaho study that showed an urban growth rate of five percent. But the value of this levy comes from its ability to direct even more growth without compromising the environment. This matters because environmentally friendly communities attract residents with high amounts of expendable income.

Since the start of the new millennium, America has seen a 37 percent boost in young, educated adults who choose to live in cities with high marks of health and recreation. As a result, cities across the country have invested more in public parks, trails and recreational areas that foster lifestyles for young adults looking for somewhere to live, work and raise a family.

Nashville is a great example of a city that has revitalized its urban areas by enhancing natural elements. For the past decade, the city has continually reinvested in its Riverfront Park district, and has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees living in its urban core.

Similarly, Denver has used public funds to improve areas along the South Platte River for the past 40 years, increasing foot traffic and galvanizing $2.5 billion worth of private and public investments in the surrounding downtown area.

And that’s just the beginning. Cleveland’s Cuyohoga Valley Park trails system attracts visitors from across the globe who spend $55 million annually in local shops and restaurants. Similarly, Philadelphia’s “green infrastructure” projects have saved the city $6 million annually on storm water management.

Part of these programs’ successes are due to the outdoor-recreation industry’s $646 billion pie, which draws more consumer spending annually than economic giants such as gasoline and other fuels, motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals and utilities.

The initiative at hand, however, is about Boise and its economy. First, we should recognize that some of the area’s most influential industries rely on clean water and habitats. Naturally, this includes the obvious agricultural and food service industries, but also healthcare, beauty spas, outdoor recreation and even tech manufacturing. These industries encompass some of the fastest-growing sectors of Idaho’s economy, with some projected to rise by 20 percent or more by the year 2020.

In reality, almost every business relies on the environment to support its employees. According to a recent poll commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council in 2013, a strong majority of business owners — 71 percent — said clean water protections are necessary to ensure economic growth. Only six percent disagreed, and two-thirds of respondents said water pollution would harm their business.

Ultimately, we should consider the costs, which will levy $2.39 per $100,000 of taxable value on residential property owners to reach the $10 million funding goal. The nominal impacts felt by these numbers will be relative to each individual and their financial state, but the opportunity cost of inaction would be felt equally by all residents. And while the consequences of opposing the levy might not be immediately detrimental, they will surely be disappointing because of the missed opportunities to attract new residents, money and business.