There’s a sense of hope as Wyoming lawmakers look to next month’s budget session. The state has weathered the economic storm that dampened recent years and forced lawmakers to draw millions of dollars from the rainy day fund.
While improving commodity prices have brought some sunshine back to Wyoming, the state cannot just sit back and wait for brighter days to come. We must use this calm after the storm to prepare for — and hopefully prevent — the next one. Socking money away in savings accounts isn’t enough, nor is slashing funding and services.
Instead, Wyoming must find a way to truly diversify the state’s economy so that we aren’t as dependent on mineral wealth. When 70 percent of Wyoming’s revenue comes from minerals, fluctuations in prices either send us soaring or scrambling.
“For a state that prides itself on independence, certainly we can say that our future is not just left up to the whims of commodity prices,” Gov. Matt Mead said Friday. “We have a greater say in our destiny than, ‘We hope things get better.’ We have to build it so it is better.”
Mead highlighted the work of ENDOW, which stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming. In a preliminary report released earlier this month, the ENDOW Executive Council outlined recommendations the state should focus on, such as expanding commercial air service, improving broadband access, teaching computer science and encouraging entrepreneurs.
Some of the ENDOW recommendations carry multi-million dollar price tags, and each one will take hard work to become a reality.
“We should not embark on these efforts unless we fully understand they will be multi-year and multi-million dollar undertakings,” ENDOW Chairman Greg Hill said in a press release earlier this month. “If we are not prepared to act decisively and commit for a significant period of time, we are wasting time and money.”
While it’s not going to be easy for Wyoming to wean itself from its dependency on minerals, it’s necessary.
Developing long-range plans and laying the groundwork for economic growth in other industries will pay off for the Cowboy State in the future.
The hope is to create new jobs and opportunities — not just to attract out-of-state employees, but for Wyoming’s own young people. Wyoming is losing 60 percent of its residents between the ages of 18 and 25, Mead said.
“There’s nothing more important to the future of Wyoming than those young people,” he said.
But in order for them to stay and raise their own families here, the jobs must exist. In Wyoming’s perpetual boom-and-bust cycle, young residents often find themselves out of work when a bust hits and must move away — and they may never return.
As Gov. Mead said, it’s time for Wyoming to take the reins and steer its own destiny. Then we’ll be better prepared to ride out the next storm.