Saturday, November 19, 2005

Yesterday Should have been a State Holiday!

“The price of brush ground has skyrocketed from $300/acre ten years ago to over $3,000 today. It is worth as much as the finest farmland in the county.” Bill McCartney, the head of economic development for Pittsfield, IL (population 4,211) was explaining to me on my tour of Pike County, IL earlier this week. I was stunned! What economic force could possibly be driving values to these levels?

McCartney quickly explained to how raw land values have escalated so dramatically, “Deer! We have the highest population of deer in the state. We have 35 outfitters in the county who are buying and leasing land for hunting purposes. They are building hunting lodges that are incredible. We have a new one that has 30 rooms in it. These hunters, who come from all over the country, are paying $2500/week.”

Bow season was just closing and shotgun season opened yesterday in Illinois. In many parts of the state, the local high schools close down for the day because if they didn’t their attendance would fall precipitously.

We take our deer hunting seriously. Last year one local plant manager told me, “I had one long-term worker who came up to me with a request for time off. He handed me the request with one hand and I asked him what he had in the other hand? He said, ‘That’s my letter of resignation, in case that you don’t accept my time off for opening day.’ And, he was deadly series.”

I did a quick, back-of-the-envelop calc of the financial impact of only the increase in value of this land, not taking into account the dollars that flow into the county each year with hunter’s spending money. Pike County has 830.2 sq. miles of land, or just over 500,000 acres. About 150,000 of this is scrub ground, which means that this previously worthless land has escalated over $400 million in value in the past 10 years, or $23,000 per capita increase in net worth for every person in the county. Add in the economic impact of the money spent each year, added tax revenue, etc. and you have an incredible impact and one that is growing!

Pike County is not an anomaly. The increased demand for hunting, fishing and other recreational pursuits is a growing one. It is being driven by the aging baby boomer generation, which has much more disposable income and is willing to pay to pursue their passions. If you have the natural resources in your community, you might look at how you take advantage of this phenomenon.

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