It sounds so simple that it shouldn't even need to be said: If you're going to give priority to local businesses, then you have to give priority to local businesses.
That's right. You're reading that correctly.
But as it stands, Wyoming law gives preference to local contractors and businesses when it comes to bidding local, county and state jobs. At least that's what the law says. But Wyoming lawmakers, in creating the local contractor preference, also created a back door or work-a-round law that allows many companies, which aren't based in Wyoming, to get the same preferential treatment as the local companies the law was intended to help protect.
The concept behind a local preference law, which can be found in other states, says that government is obligated to take the lowest bid. It does that as a means of fiscal stewardship, ensuring tax dollars are maximized and cronyism, in theory, is thwarted. Yet, preference laws allow government entities to select the lowest-bid local contractor if its bid is within five percent of the out-of-state bid. The idea is: Local companies should be given the preference, and even an advantage, for projects funded by Wyoming taxpayers. And, if no local contractor comes within five percent, an out-of-state contractor or vendor gets the job because spending more wouldn't be a prudent use of taxpayer funds.
The concept behind local preference is straightforward. First, it helps local businesses-- meaning, contractors headquartered in Wyoming. The idea is that if local businesses are healthy the rest of the community benefits. The other concept at work here is that local contractors and vendors do business with other local companies, and the economy is stimulated by the increased business. Wyoming money stays in Wyoming.
The problem with the law is allows a company that has hired and maintains a local workforce of 15 to be considered local, even if the headquarters and majority of workforce is out of state.
However, the Wyoming-centric group, 307 First, wants to close the loophole in Wyoming, eliminating the provision that allows some companies to be classified as "local."
We support this group's effort because we believe if a state enacts a local preference law, then it has to mean something. Right now, it's a law without teeth.
Some larger construction companies or vendors would do well to establish a relatively small workforce, numbering 15 people, in order to compete for large jobs and an added five percent margin, especially if that meant being able to bring in out-of-state resources later.
This puts the same businesses the law was created to help at a disadvantage because they have to compete against larger, out-of-state businesses and the five percent margin advantage becomes meaningless. For those out-of-state companies, the five percent leeway just means a healthier margin.
In the interests of full disclosure, the Casper Star-Tribune would currently fall under a local business category. If the law changes, the Star-Tribune, which employs more than 100 people locally, would no longer be classified as local.
While we believe businesses that just happened to have home offices or headquarters out of state add quality jobs and give back to their Wyoming communities, we also believe the mission and intent of this law cannot be honored as long as the loophole exists.
307 First has to be more than just a group or a political statement. It has to be a priority.