Travel guru Arthur Frommer says, “People travel in large part to visit the past." This includes archaeological sites; historic small towns and urban places; and heritage foods, products, and experiences.
First of all, it creates construction jobs. The effect then spreads to create more jobs. Preservation is much more labor-intensive than new construction, and all those laborers spend their wages locally. One example: in Michigan, $1 million spent rehabilitating buildings creates 12 more jobs than $1 million spent making cars.
Donovan Rypkema, an expert in the economic influence of historic preservation, says he has not seen a single example of sustained success in a downtown revitalization that did not have a preservation component. On the other hand, all of the expensive projects he has seen that did not incorporate historic preservation failed.
Ordinances for local historic districts can protect the integrity of the district, giving property owners the assurance that their investments will not be eroded by inappropriate development. This assurance usually leads to higher property values.
Quality of life makes a huge difference to businesses who need a creative, energetic talent pool to draw from. Creative, entrepreneurial people are drawn to unique historic, culture-rich areas.
Worker housing is one of today’s most crucial economic development issues. Small historic homes, historic apartment buildings, and historic buildings re-used as low-income housing can help fill this need. Tax credits for historic preservation as well as low-income housing are often available for projects that involve preservation and housing.
Historic preservation keeps demolition debris out of landfills. Because landfills are a major expense, historic preservation helps save money for local governments.
Historic buildings are often energy-efficient. Building and demolishing buildings uses a great deal of energy to mill, mine, transport, and assemble materials. When you keep a building, you keep that "embodied energy" instead of sending it to the landfill.
See a discussion of this principle by State History architect Don Hartley.
These are only a few of the economic benefits of preserving and developing heritage resources. These benefits are taken from Donovan Rypkema, The Economics of Historic Preservation. For more benefits (100 in all!), see the book.