We all know the saying: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Last month, the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (Endow) Executive Council released their Economic Diversification Strategy – a critical first step in what will be a 20-year journey for Wyoming to make a fundamental shift from an economy overly reliant on the energy sector, to a more robust one that helps us avoid the boom-and-bust cycles that have driven our collective fate for too long.
Less than two years after Gov. Matt Mead announced Endow and the Wyoming Legislature passed legislation authorizing the initiative, the Endow Executive Council has released an aspirational, collaborative and private-sector driven plan to support Wyoming’s natural resources, tourism and agriculture industries while growing additional sectors including manufacturing and technology. With the input of thousands of Wyoming citizens, hundreds of Wyoming businesses, the University of Wyoming, community colleges and industry and community leaders from every corner of this state, the Endow Executive Council has produced a vision for economic diversification driven from the ground up.
Central to Endow’s report is embracing technology and innovation across traditional sectors like energy and agriculture as well as new and emerging fields such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and advanced robotics. To support quick adoption of new technologies with the potential to forever change the landscape of existing and emerging industries, Endow recommends the appointment of a Chief Innovation Officer and developing a platform that provides private-sector innovators the ability to test and evolve at state scale. By reassigning and realigning state business development services and roles, we can do more at no additional cost to taxpayers.
Endow has already seen success encouraging the adoption of new and innovative technology with their encouragement this past legislative session of a suite bills to foster Blockchain and virtual currency business in Wyoming. The result? Wyoming has been launched onto the international stage as the place to establish these new technology businesses. Beefchain was incorporated in Cheyenne earlier this year, a company with the potential to transform the beef cattle supply chain using Blockchain technology. At the beginning of October, Wyoming opened the Asia-Pacific Trade office in Taiwan, a market with a growing demand for American beef and agriculture products.
Technology is but one piece of the puzzle. Central to long-term economic diversification is strengthening the core building blocks of a strong economy – a quality education system, adaptable workforce training, affordable healthcare, sound infrastructure and nimble state regulatory framework. These have long been a priority of legislators and statewide elected officials in Cheyenne. The Endow report points to a number of opportunities to make even greater strides in improving our education system and enhancing the lives of Wyoming citizens, and we look forward to exploring many of these during the upcoming session.
Among Endow’s ambitious goals over the next twenty years is to create more than 100,000 new jobs, grow personal income by 79 percent and decrease youth outmigration to 30 percent.
This Economic Diversification Strategy is not a silver bullet to solving the serious challenges we face as a state. Nor is every recommendation going to prove to be the right fit for Wyoming. Naysayers will say many of Endow’s proposals are unattainable, unaffordable or unrealistic. However, the report provides the critical vision and momentum we need to keep moving forward to make lasting changes to our state and local economies. We must continue to look for ways to improve, streamline and in some cases remove burdensome regulations, to get government out of the way for Wyoming businesses to prosper. What we cannot do is wait for another boom that may or may not happen.
Criticism and skepticism is inevitable. All bold initiatives face critics. However, we are committed to doing the hard work – from start to finish. Endow represents both the beginning of a journey and tremendous work from citizens all across the state. Progress happens one step at a time, and Endow is helping us create the map that can drive lasting, meaningful diversification in the economic engines that drive Wyoming forward.
In January, Wyoming will have a new governor, new statewide elected officials and new legislators. This change in leadership will bring with it new ideas and fresh perspectives on how to tackle many of our biggest challenges, including economic diversification. The framework of Endow is adaptive and responsive and we look forward to having the opportunity to work with our next governor to braid the excitement and energy that comes with a new administration with the momentum Endow has brought to our state. Now is the time for movement, for progress, for continuing forward – one step at a time.