Gov. Mark Gordon offered an optimistic vision for Wyoming’s economy at a Thursday night dinner in Barr Nunn.
In attendance for an awards ceremony for the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce, Gordon – who has given several legislative updates around the state since the close of the 2019 session – spoke for roughly 20 minutes on the achievements of the Wyoming Legislature this past winter and why he believes the state is poised to become one of the nation’s best places to do business.
“I got in trouble a little bit ago because during the session, two of your native sons ran two different houses that were a little bit in conflict,” said Gordon, in reference to some mid-session dysfunction to emerge this winter under Speaker of the House Steve Harshman and Senate President Drew Perkins, both of whom hail from Casper. “But we had a very productive session.”
In addition to a number of key initiatives pursued between himself and the legislative branch – creating a more transparent budget process, addressing opioid addiction and improving the states’ air ambulance service – Gordon highlighted the inroads Wyoming made this year in agriculture and emerging technologies, particularly in legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp and the passage of bills to improve prospects for digital enterprise and expand the state’s skilled workforce.
“The most important thing tonight is that we worked tirelessly this session to address workforce issues,” said Gordon. “This is something the state needs, and we want to bring them into businesses that are being built right here in Wyoming.”
The governor also pointed to efforts currently underway in the Secretary of State’s office to help streamline the division into a sort of one-stop shop for businesses looking to put down stakes in the Equality State. He added he is currently working with Endow – the state’s economic development agency – and the Wyoming Business Council – the state’s grant-writing arm – to examine their aspirations and see what policies need to be implemented over the next five years to ensure the maximum level of success.
“What do we need to look like in health care? What do we need to look like in technology? What are the underpinnings that allow for the type of entrepreneurialism we think is so important and know will grow our economy, what will we need to put in every single community, and let’s get after that,” Gordon said.
But one of the best aspects Wyoming already has, Gordon said, is the level of access average citizens have to individuals of considerable influence. Gordon told the audience about his first foray into entrepreneurship roughly three decades ago, and how the connections he made in Wyoming’s intimate political network and tight-knit business community led him to befriending the founder of a Fortune 500 company — Raymond Plank — obtaining a role on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and an appointment to the Wyoming treasurer’s office that, eventually, led him into the governorship.
“This is a state where you have access to the most opportunity and the best chance to make a difference of anywhere in the country,” said Gordon.
The evening was not without its flubs, however. At one point, the governor touted the successful passage of a study to expand Medicaid that, actually, had failed in the House of Representatives and, to close his speech, accidentally praised a number of local business leaders for their work in revitalizing downtown Cheyenne – a city 178 miles away – while discussing the renewal that has been seen in Casper over the past several years.
D.C. delegation reaffirms commitment to free enterprise
Also making cameos at Thursday’s dinner were Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso, who each gave brief remarks.
Barrasso – a Casper resident – relegated his comments to memories of attending previous Chamber of Commerce dinners during his days as an orthopedic surgeon and offered a number of choice quotations from former presidents John F. Kennedy — and his pronunciation of ‘soda ash’ during an appearance in the state in the 1960s — and Ronald Reagan on the value of free enterprise and bootstrap determination.
Cheney’s remarks contained a number of tropes familiar to those tracking her recent press reel, disparaging the efforts of “socialist” Democrats in Washington D.C. to undermine the values of Wyoming’s business community, particularly the virtues of free enterprise.
“In Wyoming, we have firsthand knowledge of what happens when the federal government gets too big, when they try to exert control over our fundamental way of life in terms of regulation over industry,” said Cheney. “That is going to continue to get even worse if we pursue the types of policies the Democrats are pursuing now.
“Most of us in the room who are old enough to remember the Cold War thought we would never again have to be explaining why socialism doesn’t work, that we’d never again have to explain why freedom is fundamental to who we are or that our rights are not given to us by a government, they’re given to us by God,” she later said. “But that is the task ahead of us, that’s the task that John and Mike [Enzi, the state’s senior senator] have in front of us every day.”