The Charture Institute was founded to try to answer a seeming paradox. Communities in beautiful places – resorts, national park gateways, the communities Charture has come to label “PEAS” – saw themselves as being “tourist towns,” places whose economies were dependent upon tourism. And during the 1990s, PEAS communities all over the country were growing and changing rapidly, much faster than the nation as a whole.
Yet a funny thing was going: during this period of rapid growth, tourism was stagnant. Hence the paradox: How could these communities be growing if their economic engines were idling.
Charture’s home of Jackson Hole, Wyoming presented a textbook case of this paradox. Located in Teton County, Wyoming, the Jackson Hole area is well-known for its downhill ski area. However, Jackson Hole’s tourism economy is grounded in summer visitation; in particular, in the fact that all of Grand Teton National Park, and the southern half of Yellowstone National Park, are located in Teton County.
Both Grand Teton and Yellowstone changed their visitor counting methodology in 1993. In the subsequent 13 years, visitation to both parks declined, a phenomenon experienced by most large U.S. national parks. Yet during that same period, both Teton County’s population and its constant-dollar per capita income rose sharply.
How could that be? More puzzling still, how could it be that this same basic”stagnant-tourism/rapid growth” phenomenon was happening in most other “nice” places to live? This was the question Charture set out to answer.