EDITORIAL: It’s past time to look at diversifying Wyoming’s economy

January 31, 2017

They say necessity is the mother of invention.


That could explain the recent-but-belated effort, first proposed in November by Gov. Matt Mead, to establish the ENDOW Initiative, short for “Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming.”


The initiative would coordinate statewide efforts to expand and diversify Wyoming’s economy, according to a Nov. 16 news release from the governor’s office.


Senate File 132, which would create an economic diversification council to oversee and promote those economic development efforts, has passed the first of many legislative hurdles on its way to possibly becoming a reality.


Last week, the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to approve the bill to form a 15-person ENDOW Executive Council, which would be tasked with developing a 20-year strategy to diversify the state’s economy. The council would coordinate with both the executive and legislative branches of state government as well as private and public partnerships to maximize positive impacts on Wyoming’s economy.


It’s about time we started seriously looking toward the future of the state’s economy. Far past time, actually.

When announcing the proposal, Mead cited several decades of economic studies and plans — some dating back to the 1960s. Many of them were aimed at addressing issues and needs that are still present in Wyoming today.


But, when minerals were paying the state’s bills and providing billions of dollars in surplus funding, few people gave more than lip service to looking beyond the boom to when Wyoming would fall on lean times again.


Shortly after the turn of the century, many lawmakers in the Wyoming Capitol gleefully repeated the heady predictions of some that Wyoming’s most recent energy boom would last at least 30 years — and perhaps much longer.


But, in fact, it lasted less than half of that, and when it ended, it fell over a cliff, fast and hard, leaving the governor and Legislature to deal with major funding shortfalls across the board.


Now, amid continued budget cuts, and while searching for ways to keep state government and education functioning as well as possible, we have a bill that seeks $2.5 million to fund a council that will begin planning 20 years into the state’s economic future.


“We have known for more than 50 years that it is important to add value to our natural resources, to improve air service and to expand research. The problem with the past plans is that they have addressed the next four years — or next eight years,” Mead said. “We need economic action that spans the next 20 years — efforts that go beyond this governor and the next.”


Mead called for building on successes in establishing technology as a fourth leg of the state’s economy, growing a manufacturing industry, and building on efforts to add value to coal, minerals and natural resources. 


From here, SF132 goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will determine the fate of the requested $2.5 million. Considering the committee’s task of reducing the size of the state’s budget, that’s a definite question.


It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t proposed a decade ago when Wyoming state lawmakers were deciding how best to use billions of surplus dollars; funding wouldn’t have been a problem then.


We hope that the Senate Appropriations Committee will find the ENDOW council important enough to leave the $2.5 million in place, and that the measure moves successfully through the remaining steps in the Senate and House to become law.


The ENDOW initiative has the potential to make a very real difference in Wyoming’s economy. It would have been much better if this initiative had begun decades ago so we could already be realizing the fruits of some of those efforts; they might have softened the landing when the boom inevitably fell.


But if we don’t take the first steps now, we’ll still be looking at lost opportunities decades down the road, and Wyoming will still be waiting for needed changes.





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