Tourism is a huge part of Wyoming’s economy.
According to an internal report released by the Wyoming Department of Tourism earlier this spring, travel spending by all domestic and international visitors in the Equality State was approximately $3.8 billion in 2018 alone, bringing approximately 8.9 million visitors to the state.
Both numbers are significant for a state that has increasingly been on the lookout for revenues beyond coal, oil and natural gas. But, as industries like manufacturing have been slow to catch on in Wyoming due to a lack of skilled workforce in cities like Cheyenne, some have begun to ask the question: “What if some of those 9 million visitors stayed longer?”
In a meeting of the Joint Committee on Minerals, Business and Economic Development two weeks ago, finding a way to leverage Wyoming’s natural amenities and increase tourism was floated as one of the keys to bolstering more holistic economic development efforts throughout the state.
With Wyoming’s tourism industry showing substantial gains over the past several years, Diane Shober, the state’s director of tourism, believes the industry can leverage its growth in a way that can not only strengthen the state’s economic development efforts but its workforce development as well.
It’s a proven model: Shober mentioned that the technique was used when recruiting the gun manufacturer Weatherby to Sheridan several years ago, using a slickly-produced video of local rope maker King’s Saddlery to quickly and effectively sell them on the lifestyle offered in a place like Wyoming.
Places like California and Vermont, Shober said, have already found ways to tie their tourism sectors to economic development, building off the understanding that a strong tourism sector can often be used to build up adjacent industries, improve local quality of life and, ergo, help to recruit businesses.
While a strong tourism sector can boost outside spending, capturing new residents and businesses comes with challenges. A report from Regional Economic Models Inc. last year showed that Wyoming — under its current tax structure — fails to capture new revenue even as it adds population, meaning that the economic benefits gleaned from any new economic development would have to outpace the new expenses created by the population growth.
Either that, or the state finds ways to capture a greater share of that revenue through new taxes or other means — not always a popular prospect.
A message from an old friend
Earlier this week, the Star-Tribune published an article about the Wyoming Democratic Party passing a resolution not to lend money or resources to out-of-state candidates. While novel, there actually is precedent for out-of-state candidates running — and thriving — in Democratic campaigns in Wyoming.
One of those was Arizona resident Richard Grayson, who in 2014 ran a Democratic campaign for U.S. Congress against Republican Cynthia Lummis. Though he lost in a landslide at the state level, Grayson actually managed to defeat Lummis in Teton County by more than 100 votes — outperforming more established Democrats running in races for U.S. Senate and governor that year.
As it turns out, Grayson has Google Alerts set up in his name and, shortly after publication, he reached out to the newspaper to reminisce. Here’s the email:
I certainly did not expect to be the only person to file for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat in 2014 and was astonished when the filing deadline passed and no one else was the nominee and that I won the primary by default.
I didn’t ask anyone in the state party for money. In fact, I made a contribution myself. I didn’t ask for any endorsement, either, nor would I have expected one. The only endorsement I got, I think, was from United Auto Workers — perhaps because I was once a member of that union?
And I certainly didn’t expect, without campaigning or spending a penny, to get 23% of the vote. I thought I might pull in some of the votes of the top-listed-on-the-ballot Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator, who had a pretty active campaign. He got about 17% and the gubernatorial candidate got 28%, so I ended up in the middle — which was actually not more than 2% less than the House candidates got against Lummis in 2010 and 2012. (They both privately told me that they didn’t get any party support, either.)
I spent the days leading up to the election at a relative’s home in Jackson. It was dumbfounding to watch the election returns there and discover I actually had WON in Teton County while the Democratic senate and gubernatorial candidates had lost. I cannot account for it other than that Lummis was less popular than the Republican incumbent governor and U.S. senator on the ballot.
So I left that Wednesday morning feeling that at least I had given liberal/progressive/Democratic voters someone to vote for in the congressional race. A friend later joked that Lummis retired in 2016 because I’d gotten so many votes that she knew a real Wyoming Democrat might give her a hard time.
I have been back to Wyoming a couple of times since, but I know that in the Age of Trump, the Democrats will have no trouble fielding a state resident as a candidate for federal office. No out-of-stater would ever survive a contested primary, and certainly I wouldn’t have, either. I think the new rule is fine but unnecessary.
The Week Ahead
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Wyoming PoliticsOpposition to detention center strong at event in Evanston:
More than 200 individuals from around the state made the trip to Evanston to protest the potential construction of a detention facility for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, in Uinta County. (via the Uinta County Herald)
Storing nuclear waste would only net Wyoming $10 million annually — raising doubts of its viability:
Wyoming lawmakers made it clear this week they are serious about exploring the possible construction of a nuclear waste storage facility within state borders. Whether it will even be possible, however, still remains to be seen. (via Trib.com)
Several national news outlets published articles this week on the collapse of coal in Wyoming: one, on National Public Radio, came from Wyoming Public Media’s Cooper McKim. Dan Frosch, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, published an additional long-form article on the closures on Wednesday.
Gun-free zone ruling overturned:
Wyoming’s Supreme Court threw out a ruling from a lower court in the University of Wyoming gun case last week, saying the lower court overstepped its authority in ruling on a case regarding whether the university had the authority to enforce a gun free zone on its campus. (via The Laramie Boomerang)
Teton County employees prepare for rent increases:
Scott Coombes, his wife and their three kids have started looking for a new place to live after receiving notice of a rent increase at their county-owned employee housing unit. Coombes, a detention officer at the county jail, is one of only a handful of Teton County cops who live in the county. The rent hikes, if finalized by the Board of Teton County Commissioners, will likely force his family to move to Star Valley. (via the Jackson Hole News & Guide)
Eye On Washington
released a statement regarding proposed changes to mandates to include biofuels under the renewable fuel standard, saying the Trump administration “should pursue policies that help both American farmers and refinery workers.”
“It shouldn’t favor one group over the other,” he said. “By increasing the amount of ethanol blended into our fuel, we risk closing refineries and killing thousands of jobs. Across the country, refineries help grow our economy, boost energy production, and support local communities. We can do better. We don’t need to punish refinery workers to help our farmers.”
received praise in an op-ed by Jonathan Bydlak, president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, who lauded the senator’s efforts to reduce the national debt.