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Wyoming Job Outlook Is Not All Doom And Gloom

Downtown Laramie, Wyoming
Bob Beck
Downtown Laramie, Wyoming

It was a rough spring for Wyoming's workforce. Unemployment skyrocketed with the closure of many businesses due to COVID-19. The federal government provided assistance, but it took awhile to get the roughly $336 million it paid out into people's hands. Robin Cooley is the director of Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. She told Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck that when the pandemic hit in Wyoming, things changed quickly.

Robin Cooley: I think that my job and my life changed like just about everybody in this agency. It was all of a sudden overnight, implementing new programs, recognizing the need out there in the communities and across the state and just really trying to ramp up all of these. All of this information was coming at us, not only ramping the program's up, but trying to get the information out to individuals in a timely and easy to understand manner. So it was quick, fast and all hands on deck. And I just have to give kudos to every person in this agency.

Bob Beck: You know, obviously dealing with the federal government and how slow some of the money was initially, I'm sure there were plenty of glitches. I assume there people that went a long time without income that you had to work with to get them back on track?

RC: I think that's an accurate statement. With these unemployment programs, they were tremendous programs, and really helped us get some money out to individuals that were in some significant need. But it took us a while to get these programs up and running. We have a real state-of-the-art program that we just implemented, actually finished implementing in November [2019]. Thank goodness we had that in place before this hit, because it made the job of programming some of these new Department of Labor programs a little bit easier. But it took time. And by the time we were getting some of this money out to individuals, they had been going three, four weeks without any type of income. So we were hearing from them and my heart went out to them because they were in dire straits and were literally in a panic mode. So, so yeah, it took a while. And when the money finally did start trickling out, it was a welcome relief not only to us, but to many, many, people across the state

BB: So this summer you were able to help get people jobs and unemployment numbers have improved. But I'm curious, as you look ahead to the next few months, and I know Congress is debating some things for additional help, but is there a concern on the horizon?

RC: I think there's a real concern on the horizon. As you know, we are implementing the last wage assistance program now. We got approved for the funding and hope to have those funds going out to individuals quickly. Because those are FEMA funds, and not unemployment insurance or Department of Labor unemployment funds, there's a finite amount of funds available there. And so we're figuring that we're going to have payments maybe for six, seven, potentially eight weeks for individuals. And then that funding runs out. I certainly hope that by that time, Congress will have come together and we'll have a package ready to go and ready for individuals out there. But again, we're going to be looking at some time to program and implement the new policies and programs that they're going to come up with. So again, we're going to have this lapse of time where people are not going to have funds coming to them in a timely manner. So every time that happens, it's certainly a difficulty for those individuals out there without income coming in.

BB: I know there have been new jobs that have popped up, but my understanding is when the fall and winter come some of those will disappear. And I wondered if that's gonna cause some of the anxiety out there?

RC: That's a possibility with the seasonal adjustments, but I have to tell you, I think that it's not doom and gloom, we're hearing about some real opportunities across the state for employment. You know, in our 20 workforce centers across the state, employers are reaching out to them and they are doing a lot of work with virtual rapid response, if there are layoffs, in order to get people re-employed. We've had drive up hiring events. A couple of weeks ago, they were looking for over 100 employees to hire. And in talking to that employer, they were getting more than enough people to choose from. So I think people are hiring. There are jobs out there. Now it's going to vary by community to community. But I don't think that it's all doom and gloom. There are hiring events happening across the state.

BB: Is that because many businesses are allowing people to do more virtually and that kind of thing?

RC: You know, I think that might be part of it. I hadn't really thought of it along those lines. But since April, the state has gained 7,700 jobs or 2.9 percent in employment, and those biggest job growth gains have been in leisure and hospitality, education and health services, trade, transportation and utilities and construction. So there are gains happening across the state.

BB: Do you see some new opportunities people aren't necessarily talking about yet that could lead to some better paying jobs?

RC: Yes, I want to mention to you a grant that we just applied for. It's called the Re-Imagine Grant with the Department of Education. That grant has actually quite a bit of money attached to it. But if we were to get it, the opportunities in that for entrepreneurs and innovators across the state are going to be tremendous. And we've had a lot of interest. We're working with educators, UW, the Community Colleges, K-12 and a lot of the incubators around the state. They helped us apply for that grant. We're waiting to hear back, but that's going to present a lot of opportunities if we are fortunate enough to get awarded those grant funds.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Bob Beck, at btwo@uwyo.edu.



Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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