Economic diversification is the best way to position Wyoming for the future. It is the way to lessen the harsh effects of mineral commodity bust cycles. And it is the way to ensure opportunities exist for current and future generations of Wyomingites to live and work here. After all, economic diversification is about avoiding reliance on a single industry to sustain Wyoming’s infrastructure and employ its citizens. In an innovative, rapidly-changing world one industry cannot shoulder the burden alone.
A recent article painted economic diversification as a bad strategy for Wyoming, arguing that, given our existing tax structure, new or expanding businesses not directly related to mineral extraction cost more in public services than they contribute.
A broadened tax structure must be a part of the conversation, to be sure, but our state cannot wait for tax reform before pursuing economic prosperity.
The answer to our economic situation is not inertia. The push to provide new career opportunities and well-connected, quality places for Wyoming families to live and work must happen now.
Smart investors don’t put all their money in one stock. Instead, they diversify their portfolios. They include real estate, bonds, treasuries from U.S. and international companies and well-established titans and risky startups.
Wyoming must act like a smart investor. That means not betting the state’s hopes for the future and the livelihood of its people on one industry. Wyoming must encourage the development of a variety of businesses of all sizes, in many industries. This must be done in addition to our extraction industry, not in lieu of it.
Encouraging a healthy mix of manufacturing, technology, agriculture, tourism and natural resource extraction is a bulwark against mercurial markets. It’s no better to be completely tied to the fate of one software company than it is to be beholden to a single coal mine.
Economic diversification is necessary to build a robust, resilient economy in Wyoming. It’s also important to use different approaches to accomplish that mission.
Wyoming dedicates resources to recruiting companies looking to relocate, but it has even more ways for businesses already at home in the Cowboy State to expand and grow. Likewise, we are encouraging designers, builders and creators who will drive tomorrow’s economy. At the same time, the state understands the importance of fostering the communities in which we all live.
In an increasingly interconnected world where workers are no longer chained to a geographic location, rural states like Wyoming can offer working families a lifestyle other places can’t match. Unparalleled beauty, caring communities, schools with small class sizes and motivated teachers – these are among Wyoming’s natural advantages.
Bold entrepreneurs, remote workers and others now have the freedom to choose a place to live first and tailor their work to fit that decision. Each small, nascent business has the potential to blossom into another community anchor. Some of these companies may be in established, flourishing industries and will help those industries expand. Some may pioneer the next trend. In all cases, they offer a patchwork of complementary commercial enterprise to serve as an antidote against economic catastrophe.
Here’s what diversification looks like to us:
· A mineral extraction industry that supports, but doesn’t need to carry, the state’s economy;
· Communities of all sizes flourishing in every region of Wyoming– each retaining their character but all feeling welcoming, attractive and resilient;
· An education system that prepares students with the skills to become engaged citizens and innovative thinkers capable of leading industry into the future;
· Many thriving industries demanding the variety of talents and abilities taught in Wyoming schools; and
· A tax structure that creates stability in revenue and keeps our state’s tax friendly, competitive edge.
The ENDOW Executive Council is working on a long-term economic diversification vision for Wyoming. It will be completed in August. The Wyoming Business Council is seeding the ground with new and expanded businesses from many industries to provide a more certain future. These are important goals right now. Wyoming is still experiencing the impact from the last energy downturn. We cannot simply stand by and wait for the next one.
Pete Illoway, Co-chair of the
Wyoming Business Council
Board of Directors
Greg Hill, Co-chair
of the ENDOW