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What do the Ozarks export?

Tourists bring their money to the Ozarks to spend on fishing, canoeing, theme parks, and entertainment. While they’re here, they buy food and drinks and rent rooms and campsites. Retirees bring their money to the Ozarks and buy housing, medical services and the necessities of life with money they earned elsewhere.

In some ways, the Ozarks economy is like an export economy, in that the money spent by visitors and retirees was earned elsewhere. When the money was earned, it did not consume the labor or natural resources and other kinds of capital of the Ozarks. (Besides the tourism and retirement sectors of the Ozarks economy, there are many other economic activities that result in income from exporting, such as production of beef, dairy and poultry products; other food products; manufacturing; retailing; financial and insurance services; and others. )

The best scenario would be to have money come into the Ozarks without having to consume resources that are difficult or impossible to renew. Imagine having tourist income without tourists, who require pavement, drinking water, sewer treatment, solid waste disposal, and lots of low-wage seasonal labor. Imagine the income from retirees without having to construct houses and condominium units for them, which also requires streets, drinking water supplies, sewer treatment, police and fire protection.

To fill the jobs necessary for residential housing construction and maintenance and the tourism industry we have a large number of residents who have children that require education and health care, who lack private health insurance and who endure seasonal unemployment.

The exports – what we send away – for the tourism and retirement sectors are land and water and solid waste.

The Brookings Institute just released Export Nation: How U.S. Metros Lead National Export Growth and Boost Competitiveness, which contains this finding:

Export intensive industries pay higher wages than domestic oriented industries in large
metropolitan areas. In an analysis of the 94 of the largest 100 metropolitan areas, for every
$1 billion in exports of a metro area industry, workers in that industry earn roughly 1 to 2 percent higher wages. Even those exporting industry workers without high school diplomas earn a higher wage. This wage effect can be seen even adjusting for worker characteristics, occupation, or the characteristics of the metropolitan area.

The report identifies the Wichita metro area as having the highest percentage of export-related employment. Wichita is known for its production of aircraft.

While the Ozarks are unlikely to become a leader in the export of transportation equipment, chemicals, computer and electronic products and machinery, which together accounted for a third of U. S. exports in 2008 (according to the table on page 6 of the Brookings report), we should try to move in that direction.

To do so will require better education and redirection of capital.


About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer and mediator who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, nonprofits, and local government. As of 2022, I'm shrinking my legal practice so that I have more time to mediate real estate disputes. I'm happy to mediate using video platforms like Zoom and WebEx, or in person anywhere in Missouri.

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