Best of the West: Regional economies booming; vertical farming provides sustainable animal feed; western states embrace blockchain technology; driverless shuttles hit the road in Colorado  

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Aug. 16, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Olivia Hutcherson and RJ Sangosti) 

Western economies are booming. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the ten states with the largest economic growth from 2000 to 2020 are all in the West. North Dakota led the way with an astounding 111% GDP growth during that period, followed by Utah (82%) Washington (74%), Texas (71%), California (59%), Oregon (59%),  South Dakota (59%), Idaho (56%), Arizona (54%) and Colorado (50%).

Those states have also experienced some of the fastest economic recoveries from COVID-19, according to Forbes Magazine. Much of this success is closely tied to population growth. Five western states accounted for nearly half of the total numeric population increase in the United States between 2010 and 2020. Utah was the fastest-growing state, increasing by 18%, followed by Idaho, Texas, North Dakota and Nevada, which each grew by roughly 15%. 

Open spaces, high quality of life, and less expensive land in the West has led to a mass exodus from traditional employment hubs as more people have embraced remote work. This, in turn, has resulted in a renaissance for mountain towns such as Carbondale, Colorado, which has seen a remarkable variety of new businesses open. 

The increase in population has also caused the housing markets to skyrocket. In Boise, Idaho, home prices have risen at a faster rate than any other metro area in the country, jumping 13% between December and June 2021. Provo-Orem in Utah ranked second with a 12% increase over the same period. The high demand has also led to a surge in home construction. 

Those who didn’t move to the West came to visit, especially the National Parks, many of which, including Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Badlands National Park in South Dakota, set visitation records. These visitors also supported local businesses. Sedona, California, took in 35% more in sales and bed tax receipts during May of 2020 than it did in May 2019. In March, Big Sky, Montana collected more taxes in a single month than ever before. The demand for Montana was so high this past year airlines more than doubled the number of flights coming into Bozeman each day.     

VERTICAL SUSTAINABLITY: Grōv Technologies in Utah has created an indoor vertical farming operation that can take wheat or barley grass from seed to feed in seven days, allowing it to grow 1,500 acres of food on just three acres while only using 5% of the typical amount of water. The system provides stability and sustainability to the meat and dairy industry,  explained Steve Lindsley, president of Grōv Technologies. “We feed the cows fresh nutritious grass year-round, grown without pesticides, and minimal water and fertilizer with no runoff to rivers or lakes.”    

EMBRACING BLOCKCHAIN: Mountain West states are embracing Blockchain technology and actively addressing barriers to adoption in hopes of attracting investors and technology companies. Even as federal regulations around cryptocurrencies remain murky, at least 31 states introduced legislation involving cryptocurrency and its underlying blockchain technology in 2021, including ArizonaHawaiiIdahoNevadaNorth DakotaOregonSouth DakotaWashington, and Wyoming.  

AIRMAIL: A California-based technology company successfully dropped supplies from airplanes into remote towns and government facilities in rural Alaska this summer. It was the first time a private company delivered supplies that way. Using a “land the package, not the plane” approach, it aims to make next-day delivery available in remote areas. For more than a week in July, the company tested the technology at four drop sites over 7,000 miles in rural Alaska.

DRIVERLESS FUTURE: A pilot program at the Colorado School of Mines is testing electric driverless shuttles to transport the college community around campus and into the town of Golden. The shuttles seat six and drive along a pre-planned route at 12 mph. Lasers guide the way, responding to potential obstacles, and a digitally programmed map tells the vehicle where to go and where to stop. “I hope (the shuttles) inspire our students to think about what innovations they’re going to do,” said Colorado School of Mines President Paul Johnson. The Denver-based autonomous vehicle company EasyMile, after proving the concept at the School of Mines, hopes to expand operations to Colorado Springs and Greenwood Village.  

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Check out our podcast, Out West, on PodbeanSpotify and Apple Podcasts

sign up for our newsletters