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Weatherby's Grand Opening in Sheridan

Conservation groups set up displays and raffled off gear during the June 13 grand opening of gun manufacturer Weatherby in Sheridan. The company relocated from California citing quality of life for its employees, and is now housed in a building funded by a state grant. 

The Wyoming Business Council has attracted some measure of controversy for much of its existence. Its mission is one that most people support: economic development in Wyoming. But critics have questioned whether the council is the correct vehicle for boosting our economy. Others wonder whether government should be picking “winners and losers,” as some in the Legislature like to point out. Finally, there are those who have suggested the council lacks accountability for its actions. Given that criticism, especially from state lawmakers, the council wisely decided to change course.

Three years ago, it announced that it would seek to “positively impact the state’s gross domestic product.” The council laid out a five-pronged approach that included construction of large-scale industrial parks, nurturing homegrown entrepreneurs, expanding exports, making technology the state’s fourth largest sector and expanding the Wyoming Main Street program.

Lawmakers have grown increasingly skeptical, however, and tried last year to enact accountability measures for the agency, which were ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Now, the council has a new strategy, which, according to council CEO Sean Reese, is to focus more on economic diversification than economic development.

That means looking for opportunities to “activate” sectors like health care, finance, research and advanced manufacturing.

This editorial board has a long history of advocating for diversifying Wyoming’s economy.

Our state needs a broader economic mix if it’s ever to break free of the boom-and-bust cycle or retain higher proportions of its young people.

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But we’re not convinced that the council’s new course is the right one. For one, Wyoming already had an entity working to diversify the state’s economy – the Endow initiative launched by former Gov. Matt Mead. Do we need two groups tasked with similar missions?

Similarly, it’s fair to question the motivation for the change. Is the council making this decision because it recognizes that it can fill a need? Or is it trying to stay ahead of its legislative critics, who’ve long questioned the need for the organization? The council is, after all, making a significant change of course. It’s fair to ask whether if it’s now headed in the proper direction, given that it’s dropping the plan that it proudly announced three years ago.

We believe there are likely better ways to encourage a diverse Wyoming economy.

The public’s money, for example, may be best spent on educating Wyoming students who can become the creative, critical thinking workforce that our state needs.

Farming doesn’t start with the harvest. Rather, you have to till the field first.

Critics of the council’s new direction are right to be skeptical. We remain unconvinced the council’s new strategy is a winning one, or that it can exist alongside other diversification efforts that are already occurring.

A business should be judged by what it delivers, not by what it says. The business council hasn’t delivered enough to conclude its new plan will be any more successful than its last.

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