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Location-Based Passions

mountains
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
Jack Marr

Dr. Jack Marr is a Clinical Associate Professor in International Business and Director of Global Programs in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. His research and teaching areas are around East Asia, global business, economic clusters, networks, and emerging markets.

Previously, he was on the faculties of City University of Hong Kong, New York University’s Stern School of Business, and the Kellogg School of Management. He was a consultant with McKinsey and Company in Greater China, served the US Foreign Agriculture Service in Shanghai and the State of Missouri in Tokyo. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.


The Mountains of Idaho, Prosperity, and a Call to Work Together

We all have to bide our time between what we love and what we must do. For those of us who are lucky, those ideas coincide in a mix of work and home and place. In the difficult times of COVID-19, we have all had to take a look inward at what we value as well as what we do.

Location Based Passions (LBPs) are a big part of what brought me here to Boise after many years around the world. I define LBPs as a kind of experience that is unique to its location. This is the opposite of McDonalds or Starbucks, where you demand a product that exactly matches your expectations, everywhere, in every place. LBPs are unique, and most available to the intrepid and passionate few who will make the effort to seek them out.

In my definition, Location Based Passions are recreational activities enjoyed in a singular and specific geographic place whose experience relies on knowing, understanding, and mastering the unique qualities that define them. Perhaps they put you at a certain coffee house, a certain church, or in my case on a certain mountain in Idaho’s fabled Sawtooths in a certain time.

So the Sawtooths are a kind of LBP, just like the fabled-Blues Festival in Milwaukee or the Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. The figure below defines what LBPs are and aren’t:

Characteristics of Location-Based Passions (LBPs)

 Place CharacteristicsCulture CharacteristicsParticipant
Characteristics
Amenity
Characteristics
LBPsUnique

Single location

Needs place
Inclusive

Networked

Rules implicit

Skill/background/ belief based
Leisure time

Willing

Networked

Find through specific information
Specific venues

Singular access
Non-LBPsNot unique

Multiple location options

Does not necessarily need place
Non-inclusive

Not necessarily networked

Rules not necessarily implicit

Not necessarily skill/background/belief based
Not necessarily leisure

Not necessarily willing

Not necessarily networked

Find through general information
May or may not require venue

Multiple points of access or not an issue

View Characteristics of Location Based Passions full-sized table

For Boise and Idaho in general, this puts us squarely in touch with both the outdoor crowd, who love the mountains, as well as the culturally-oriented who enjoy all of the great food, museums, and downtown recreation Idaho has to offer. According to the student survey data, I found that students here enjoy a mix of outdoor, cultural, and culinary passions:

LBP by Category, Spring 2019 and Fall 2019, Percent

OutdoorsCultureFood/ beer/ wineGroups and EventsOutdoorsCultureFood/ beer/ wineGroups and Events
SP 2019SP 2019SP 2019SP 2019FA 2019FA 2019FA 2019FA 2019
Top Passion38.423.621.39.938.525.720.68.2
Second Passion3723.3248.939.223.820.49.5
Third Passion35.124.825.67.634.527.423.87
Boise State SPS Virtual Lab Surveys, Spring and Fall 2019

View LBP by Category full-sized table

As we have seen, people are willing to trade off some of the higher salary and traditional benefits of living in a Mega-City to be closer to what they personally love. That is a cost in the short-term, as they could potentially make more money and have greater networks by going for the larger option, but in the long-term does it pay off economically?

In another part of my research, I take a more macro-level view of how cities known for being excellent LBP destinations attracting long-term economic benefits. Specifically, I find evidence that being widely recognized as a leader in outdoor sports leads to a corresponding increase in per capita income and housing values over time. I examine the relationship between per capita economic growth, the housing price index and the proxy of “making the A-list” of outdoor sports destinations by being listed in widely-circulated Outside magazine’s annual “Best Cities” list in 360 Metropolitan Statistical Areas over a 50 year period from 1989-2018. Of these, 36 unique cities were recognized by Outside and those that are enjoy a mean US 14.06% annual increase in pretax income (US $6,553 over the period) and an annual .69% increase in housing value over those that are not recognized. At their very essence, these outdoor-oriented cities can be seen as a type of economic cluster with many of the same spillover dynamics that occur in traditional clusters. I suspect that this dynamic will hold for whatever type of LBP is studied (and perhaps more strongly if the city or town is known for two different ones), and this is fruit for future research.

So if you are willing to take the chance on what you love and stick with it, there is also a long-term payoff. For Boise, which caters to a variety of LBPs, this helps add to the attractiveness perhaps at the expense of the traditional mega-cities- Boise has recently topped numerous top-ten lists. The people who live and come here are very passionate about their recreation, and I think this is a mitigating factor in some of the political dilemmas that have too often split the United States recently. In fact, I find that when LBPs are compared to political ideology, there is very little difference between liberals, conservatives, and those in-between. In this case, I looked at the level of passion for outdoor recreation versus self-stated political views of the respondents. The figure below compares the level of passion to political ideology in the survey, and finds that no matter how red or blue Boise State students are, they all have equal passion about the outdoors:

Political Orientation of Outdoor Sports Enthusiasts at Boise State University

  Very LiberalLiberalSomewhat LiberalModerateSomewhat ConservativeConservativeVery ConservativeHaven’t Considered
Spring 2019 Top LBP6%15%15%23%15%17%3%7%
Spring 2019 2nd LBP3%18%16%19%15%19%3%8%
Fall 2019 Top LBP5%19%17%19%13%15%8%4%
Fall 2019 2nd LBP6%16%11%23%14%19%6%5%
Boise State SPS Virtual Lab Surveys, Spring and Fall 2019

View Political Orientation of Outdoor Sports full-sized table

As we can see from this table, there is a standard distribution of the level of passion for LBPs vs. political orientation. Another way of saying this is that people who have different ideas about politics tend to be equally passionate about their LBPs. If you walk the same trail, sit in the same restaurant, or go to the same church event or concert, there is a high likelihood that no matter what you believe about the world in general, you share core beliefs about your LBPs.

These findings suggest that people from diverse political backgrounds who share passions for LBPs might be able to find common ground. I have also discussed these ideas in depth with other friends from around the world, including Russia, China, Thailand, Japan, Belgium, Mexico, Columbia, Burundi, and other places around the US and around the world and find a similar feeling.

Thus, LBPs are a way of bringing people together above economic and political concerns, and in the long-term seem to bring positive economic impact. This is a call to action for local policymakers to protect and grow the natural and cultural advantages they have at their doorsteps, for companies to identify what LBPs occur around various locations and align recruiting practices to attract passionate talent, and for individuals to follow their LBPs as well as their traditional work ambitions. Finally, for a city like Boise with a natural abundance of LBPs, we can expect continued growth as long as the focus remains on keeping the LBPs attractive to their passionate partakers and not allowing growth to be pursued for growth’s sake.