CHEYENNE — Like many long-time government observers, I am skeptical about any new study of ways to diversify the economy.
There have been so many in past years. They end up on a shelf somewhere, tossed aside after the state’s economy once again perks up from positive jolts in mineral production and prices.
It’s an old story here.
Yet riding the waves of the volatile mineral industry is not as appealing as it once was. Future booms, if there are any, will be mild or moderate, not explosive.
Recognizing the need to do something major about this rather dismal forecast, Gov. Matt Mead last year proposed a new study called ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming).
The preliminary report, released late last year, identified barriers to diversification such as lack of air service and a workforce. It listed 10 recommendations with a funding request of $37.5 million.
Mead’s budget for the 2019-2020 cycle includes a “placeholder” for that amount for ENDOW initiatives. The placeholder status means the dollar figure can change.
The final report from the ENDOW council is due in August 2018.
The effort has its supporters and its critics.
In anticipation of the latter, the preliminary report to the governor from Greg Hill, the chairman of the ENDOW board, and Bill Schilling, the vice chairman, acknowledges that ENDOW does not offer anything new and shiny.
“These are not new ideas,” they wrote, “but the commitment to truly collaborate and coordinate, along with an emerging attitude to ‘at least try’ as one Powell business leader put it is an invitation to solve old problems with new energy and priority setting.”
What the plan offers is a different approach to old and new problems.
“We are steadfastly optimistic,” they wrote. They cited stories of Wyoming residents who left the state to pursue education or careers and returned later and the successes of new companies that opened here.
The two chairmen also warned that if there is not lasting commitment to such endeavors as improving air service and broadband in rural communities, the state will be wasting time and money to proceed.
This preliminary report offers a lot to chew on. Yet there are gaps.
For example, wind energy, a neglected step-child in Wyoming’s energy family, also gets little ink in this report. It is mentioned briefly in the utilities section as an opportunity along with nuclear and solar energy and carbon capture.
A note on the ENDOW preliminary study suggested an added recommendation to the initial ten.
It lumped renewable wind energy development with the esoteric technologies of blockchain and Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) as worthy of efforts to encourage research and development. These technologies, the note said, are considered to have “high potential for diversifying and differentiating Wyoming’s economy.”
There has been no promise that wind energy will fare any better in the final report.
Well, the supporters wanted a bold and innovative program. You can’t get much bolder or innovative than blockchain and VTOL.
This is an ambitious, pricey effort. It is important to remember this is also a long term, 20-year program, said Pete Illoway of Cheyenne, a former legislator and member of the Wyoming Business Council.
In contrast, the Wyoming Business Council’s work at economic diversification and development is short term, he added.
Flawed or not, a new study was inevitable. It’s been 18 years since the last big one, 2000 Tax Reform. Lots of good recommendations there but nothing came of it.
This time may be different. ENDOW could get more attention as people realize the state needs to do something big to prevent it from drifting into an economic wasteland.