EDITORIAL: Diversifying our economy


An important and difficult challenge

We’ve all heard the old saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket. But when they’re golden eggs, it’s been tough for Wyoming to follow that advice.

For decades, the Cowboy State has relied heavily on its mineral resources, leading to the boom-and-bust cycle we know all too well.

Under the state’s tax structure, 70 percent of all tax revenue comes from minerals, while residents make up the remaining 30 percent through sales taxes and property taxes, Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, said recently. He said Wyoming needs to address that 70/30 deficiency and ask more of state residents to help balance the budget.

Like Sen. Peterson, we’re not fans of new taxes, but citizens have enjoyed years of benefits without being asked to contribute much more. Wyoming spent more than $15,600 per person for services in 2014-15 — the second most in the United States, The Associated Press reported. The state has been able to fund that level of per-person spending because of ample tax revenue from minerals.

Unfortunately, times have changed.

As Wyoming has lingered in a painful bust in recent years due to the downturn in the energy market, there’s been a new push to diversify the state’s economy.

It’s a great concept, and one we’ve heard discussed numerous times over the years. But the problem, as with anything, is making it a reality and not just something that’s talked about.

Earlier this year, Wyoming took a worthwhile step by creating the ENDOW Initiative, which stands for Economically Needed Diversification Options for Wyoming. Gov. Matt Mead and the Legislature partnered to commit $2.5 million toward the initiative with the goal of stimulating new industries — such as technology — and creating jobs here.

Economic development takes time, and the state leaders behind ENDOW recognize that. The goal is to build a diversified and value-added economy by 2038.

Why set the goal so far ahead?

Past plans fell short because they were tied with political terms and only addressed four or eight years, Gov. Mead said in a news release. “… we need economic action that spans the next 20 years,” Mead said. “Efforts that go beyond this governor and the next.”

The ENDOW Executive Council is in Park County this week. The group will meet in Cody today (Thursday) and Friday. They spent Wednesday touring Cody Labs, the Powell Makerspace, Northwest College’s nursing and firearms simulators and learning about local efforts in the fields of unmanned aerial vehicles, value-added agriculture and virtual reality.

It’s good to see ENDOW leaders visiting northwest Wyoming, and we believe our area offers unique opportunities for economic growth — Gluten Free Oats, the Makerspace and the Northwest College Center for Training and Development are great examples of unique ideas becoming reality.

As one of the most tax-friendly states in the nation, Wyoming certainly has potential to attract new industries and create more jobs. However, we also face challenges — our low population is a blessing at times, but it’s also an obstacle. Earlier this year, Smucker’s talked about building a new factory in Cheyenne and hiring up to 500 people. Ultimately, the company chose Colorado instead, because they felt Cheyenne lacked a large enough workforce for the factory.

While it may not be easy to attract new companies here, it’s necessary for Wyoming to get away from the boom-and-bust cycle moving forward.

We’ve been putting most of our eggs in one basket for too long.