While members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee were hearing testimony from Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, one floor away, a less high-profile but nonetheless equally important hearing was underway that will also impact American innovation and business growth.
Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke was testifying before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to defend his agency’s budget proposal to Congress for the next fiscal year. While most of the testimony and questions from lawmakers on the panel focused on issues like excessive spending on travel and office equipment, less attention was paid to a pressing issue: Without action in Congress and approval from the president, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September.
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Since it was created in 1964, the LWCF has been utilized by Republican and Democratic administrations alike to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide access to recreation opportunities for all Americans. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf is authorized to be put into the LWCF. In turn, these LWCF funds help create, protect and support national parks like the Grand Canyon, Bears Ears, national wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, trails and ballfields in every one of our 50 states.
Allowing the LWCF to expire would threaten Americans’ access to and the integrity of our public lands and waters. It would also deal a particularly large blow to our economy. The LWCF is not only critical to so much of the recreation we all make part of our lives, it is actually a key driver to job growth, as well. The LWCF is essential to the creation and maintenance of outdoor recreational opportunities that help us to recruit the best and brightest employees who support the culture of our companies — whether that be outdoor team-building, employee family gatherings or other company activities.
When venture capitalists like myself analyze an investment opportunity, or fast-growing company executives are searching for a place to locate their next facility, the probability that the company will be able to recruit top-quality employees to help the company grow is central to their decisions. And access to first-class outdoor recreational opportunities is extremely important to these target employees.
Moreover, outdoor recreation helps inspire, recharge and refocus the people who already drive success in our companies. These outdoor opportunities – even in a community park or local ballfield – fuel teamwork and innovation. But you don’t have to take my word for it: A national survey of over 4,000 employees of fast-growing companies recently published by The Muse found that nearly 70 percent said that these opportunities were either important, very important or extremely important to their lives outside the office. Even more striking, 25 percent said it was important in making their decision to accept their current job.
So, while members of Congress are right to focus their attention on the ways in which innovative companies have changed the way we consume information, let us not lose sight of the fact that Facebook and other leading companies in this country utilize our treasured public lands as a dynamic tool in recruiting and retaining the talent necessary to help them flourish.
Reauthorization and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund are critical to the expansion of recreational opportunities so important to the growth and culture of entrepreneurial, job-creating companies in our country. I urge Congressional leaders, in the strongest possible terms, to work together to ensure that legislation reauthorizing this vital program is passed.
Nancy Pfund is a co-chair of the Conservation for Economic Growth Coalition, an advocacy group made up of founders of fast-growing entrepreneurial companies and venture capitalists, and she is the founder and managing partner of DBL Investors, a venture capital firm located in San Francisco.
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