Understanding Natural Amenities:
Impacts on Population and Employment in Missouri

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David J. Peters

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It has been well documented that natural resources are a factor in population and employment change in the United States (Kusmin et al. 1996). However, the nature of this relationship has changed over the past 50 years. Natural resources were once heavily used in extractive industries (i.e. farming, mining, timber, etc.), which drove population and employment change. With the advent of increased technological innovation and environmental regulation, many extractive industries have declined in economic importance (Kusmin 1994). At the same, however, the retirement and recreation sectors of the economy have grown, locating to areas of natural beauty (Beale and Johnson 1998). More recently, information-based industries have grown, allowing many to relocate in high-amenity rural areas (Cromartie and Nord 1996). Given that natural amenities are becoming an increasingly important part of the economic development equation, it is imperative for state agencies to both define and understand this relationship in Missouri.

An amenity is an attribute that enhances a location as a place of residence. This is distinct from attributes that make a location attractive to tourists, which is usually some unique attraction (historic sites, amusement parks, monuments, etc.) or seasonal venue (skiing, rafting, etc.). Oftentimes, unique places are not necessarily attractive places to live. Natural amenities also pertain to the physical environment, rather than the cultural or social-economic environment. Following this line of reasoning, a natural amenities scale was created using six variables that have been frequently used by other researchers (Beale and Johnson 1998; Kusmin 1996). The variables that make up the scale include:

Each variable was standardized to a z-score to remove the effect of different scales. The amenities scale is highly reliable (a=.81), and is stable across 20 years of data. The scale shows each county´s comparative advantage or disadvantage in terms of natural amenities, relative to the United States as a whole. Scores below 0.0 indicate below average amenity attractiveness, relative to the national average. Scores at or near 0.0 indicate that amenity attractiveness is about average, relative to the nation as a whole. Scores above 0.0 indicate above average amenity attractiveness, relative to the national average.

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Natural Amenities Map for United States, 1999


Sixteen Missouri counties ranked in the top 25% of all counties in the United States on the desirability of its natural amenities. Out of 3,111 counties in the United States, the top Missouri counties are: Perry (416), Stone (427), Wayne (437), Ste. Genevieve (459), Barry (486), St. Francois (546), Camden (549), Taney (565), Ozark (571), Benton (607), Reynolds (632), Cedar (717), Carter (719), Hickory (724), Morgan (725), and St. Clair (771).

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Missouri Counties by Natural Amenities Chart, 1999
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Natural Amenities Map for Missouri, 1999

These counties have the same degree of amenity attractiveness as those found in North Carolina, Idaho, Florida, Colorado and Arkansas. This indicates that several Missouri counties have natural amenities on par with these other states. A list of top-ranked Missouri counties and their national peers can be found in Table 1.

Table 1
Natural Amenity County Rankings - Missouri and U.S. Peers

Missouri County Rank Upper County Peer Lower County Peer
Perry 416 Pope, AR Comache, OK
Stone 427 Otero, CO Haywood, NC
Wayne 437 Walton, FL Buncombe, NC
Ste. Genevieve 459 Knox, ME Franklin, AR
Barry 486 Washington, FL Avery, NC
St. Francois 546 Weld, CO Baylor, TX
Camden 549 Franklin, ID Malheur, OR
Taney 565 Sabine, LA Morrill, NE
Ozark 571 Union, FL Coosa, AL
Benton 607 Yakima, WA Alleghany, NC
Reynolds 632 Nez Perce, ID Jefferson, ID
Cedar 717 Rockingham, VA Surry, NC
Carter 719 Surry, NC DeKalb, TN
Hickory 724 Habersham, GA Morgan, MO
Morgan 725 Hickory, MO Musselshell, MT
St. Clair 771 Red River, LA Scott Bluff, NE

Within Missouri, it appears that high amenity areas are located in the southern portion of the state, which is dominated by varied terrain, public forests and reservoirs. These high amenity areas are centered around Mark Twain National Forest and in the reservoir regions of the state -- particularly Truman Reservoir, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake and Wappapello Lake.

Low amenity areas are located in the northern portion of the state, which is dominated by relatively flat terrain and by intensive agricultural production. The counties with the lowest amenities are Nodaway, Caldwell, Lawrence and Audrain. Interestingly, the area of Mark Twain Lake (Monroe and Ralls counties) posted below average amenity scores for the state as a whole. This is counter to the trend observed in the southern portion of the state.

Another anomaly is Perry County, in the southeast portion of the state. This county is ranked 1st in Missouri and 416th in the United States on natural amenity attractiveness. However, Perry County has no national or state forests, no state parks, and no sizable body of water. The only discernable amenity is the Mississippi River. What makes Perry County highly attractive is its varied topography -- numerous river bluffs and rolling hills -- which places it well above the national topographic average. This indicates that counties do not necessarily need large tracts of public land or large bodies of water to possess attractive natural amenities.

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