- For future economic development, access to major markets is an important indicator of likely economic and demographic performance and potential.
- Metro counties largely are younger, growing faster, with higher earnings, less income volatility, and a more educated workforce.
- Connected counties, those in rural settings but with airports connecting them to larger markets areas, tend to perform like Metro areas.
- Isolated counties are likely to be older, growing slower, with a higher dependence on retirement income, agriculture, and more jobs in resource industries.
Research by Headwaters Economics shows that there are three distinct types of counties in the West—Metro, Connected, and Isolated—defined by their access to major markets and population centers.
The peer-reviewed technical paper, was published in the Journal of Rural Studies.
The three types of western counties were shown to have different economic performance and socioeconomic characteristics. For future rural development, access to major cities is an important indicator of likely economic and demographic performance.
The Metro and Isolated counties are the most distinct. Metro areas are younger, growing faster, with higher earnings, less income volatility, and a more educated workforce. Isolated counties tend to have slower growth rates, a higher dependence on retirement income, and employment concentrated in agriculture and resource industries.
Connected counties—in rural settings but with airports that provide access to larger markets in Metro areas—frequently outperform Isolated counties. These counties more closely resemble Metro counties, with higher education levels and more high-wage services jobs.
The Three Wests county types have different economic potentials. As a result, economic development strategies should be tailored for each type of place, with access to markets a driving consideration.
In addition to the importance of access to markets, research has shown the value of natural amenities as an important economic asset that extends beyond tourism and recreation to attract and retain people and businesses.
Such amenities by themselves, however, often are not a sufficient condition for economic development. This study and recent data show that access to larger markets via transportation infrastructure, in particular airports, also is important.
Connected counties are more likely to benefit from nearby natural amenities and capture high income workers of the modern service economy.
Isolated counties also can benefit from natural amenities, but likely will need to invest as well in a mix of more traditional industries.