Pacific and Clatsop counties have something big in common with Napa Valley, Calif., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Missoula, Mont., and Austin, Texas. All rate high in "human amenities," a set of attributes crucial to economic growth.

Whether it means attracting high-demand professionals who prefer to live in a pleasing environment, or improving the lives and employment prospects of current residents, these positive traits are directly related to community prosperity.

The Center for the Study of Rural America, a division of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, recently began looking into what factors drive entrepreneurship - the private creation of new wealth and opportunities. What they found, according to researcher Sarah Low, is that scenic places with a set of natural and manmade advantages are attracting a big slice of the nation's economic pie.

"The entrepreneurs are specifically relocating into these areas," Low told the Missoulian newspaper. "They see a beautiful place with a great quality of life - a quiet community, with skiing or fishing or whatever, and they choose to do business there. ... Especially now that we have things like broadband Internet technology, amenity living is really driving economies."

Most states have at least a handful of counties rated high on the "human amenities" index, but a map shows several large clusters of current or potential success - the Eastern Seaboard counties from southeastern New Hampshire to Philadelphia, Arizona, California, the Yellowstone and Glacier National Park regions, the Colorado Rockies, southern Utah, most of Florida, most of Washington, most of western Oregon.

Many of these places used to rely on natural resource extraction for jobs, "But today the amenities are driving a whole new kind of business growth," Low said.

Locally, Pacific County garnered a 36 and Clatsop County a 37. The nationwide median score for rural counties like Clatsop and Pacific is just 27.

Aside from nice scenery, what goes into the amenity rating? Points are awarded for things like availability of health care, restaurants per capita, proximity to a national park and the number of patents issued per resident.

Other than congratulating ourselves again for living in a wondrous place, what can we learn from the amenities survey?

For one thing, we must do all we can to preserve the beauty and charm of this place. An area's popularity can turn sour if roads become jammed with traffic or views become cluttered with houses. Defending Washington's land-use laws continues to be essential to this aspect of our success. Our open spaces and clean water are big factors in Pacific County's renaissance.

For another, the human amenities index tells us that it is vital we continue to invest in local hospitals, community colleges, public schools and the other fundamental infrastructure that help keep us healthy and grow as human beings.

Living here has always been its own reward, but now it's gratifying to know that good places like ours have an enhanced chance at economic success. Let's cherish what we have. By doing so, we'll continue to attract dynamic new residents who can make this great place even better.

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