On Monday the group ENDOW, which stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming, will release its preliminary findings on ways to diversify the state’s economy.
ENDOW has been working while many have been quietly skeptical, but those involved in the effort think they will finally break through.
75 percent of Wyoming’s tax base is paid for by the energy industry and so when revenues from the industry suddenly declined a couple of years back, there was a lot of hand-wringing, lots of budget cuts, and arguments over whether Wyoming should increase taxes.
While telling the University of Wyoming that it needed to cut millions of dollars a couple of summers ago, the Governor also mentioned that he was going to once and for all develop an effort to diversify the economy. That become ENDOW. Senate President Eli Bebout says the hope is that by diversifying the economy that Wyoming will finally expand its tax base.
“To eliminate some of these bumps that occur because they are devastating. You know when we have the money we can’t say no, and when we don’t have the money it’s so hard to cut, so that’s the only way I know to do it.”
But Bebout, who helped create the Wyoming Business Council, says diversifying the economy isn’t easy.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll make some progress, but it’s going to be a longer-term thing to get to where I’d like to see us.”
Not surprisingly Governor Matt Mead is very optimistic.
“I think there’s a lot of exciting opportunities that we all have a chance to look at from outdoor recreation to innovation and technology. Just in the last several weeks, I’ve met with people who had discussions about flying cars, avatars.
Mead believes that he has set up a dream team of those involved in all walks of life in Wyoming to be part of ENDOW’s executive council.
It involves entrepreneurs, those from a wide range of business sectors, including finance and technology, and they represent different age groups. Mead says the idea is to think big and do things differently. Former Governor Dave Freudenthal has obviously been involved in economic development efforts in the past.
During a discussion at the recent Governor’s Business Forum, he noted that a new approach is essential.
“The answer lies in our thinking about things differently and not just falling off onto the standard stuff, you know we’ve got low taxes, we got lots of space, we got all of that, you know that’s all good, but if it was so damn fine we’d have a diversified economy.”
Barbara Hoeft of Jackson works on investing in her day job. Since she’s been part of ENDOW she’s heard similar comments as those expressed by Freudenthal. She notes that as ENDOW Council members have traveled the state there is a common theme.
“A willingness to actually change, because we can’t go on this cycle of the boom and bust, that’s a crisis and whether you are in the public sector or the private sector, you know that is something that has to change.”
One thing that ENDOW members have picked up on, is the large number of entrepreneurs in the state who are doing well. But they keep hearing about the lack of support for entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to financing. Getting startup funding and funding to keep a project afloat is difficult. Hoeft says they are working on private sector solutions.
“The financial services part and piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle is a really important one. And I think that when we look at comparable states we see where they are creating more connectivity between capital and entrepreneurs. If we were work on that then we can see successes in the short term, near term, and in the future.”
University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols is all in when it comes to ENDOW. She wants departments to provide research and outreach to help with diversification efforts. Nichols is also moving forward with a plan to make it easier for UW to contribute even more.
“Including working with our faculty, so that when they do their research in the labs, or out in the field, and as they have innovations/research that can turn into more commercial products, we are ready to work with them, so we need to up our game in that regard a bit too and we are working on that.”
Nichols is hopeful that UW will introduce businesses and services that are not currently available in Wyoming.
Wally Wolski is a Goshen County Commissioner and has been active in the local economic development board. He’s seen diversification efforts come and go, but he thinks the ENDOW initiative will work.
“The innovation that will be coming forward and the technology is going to allow us to do things that we’ve never done in the past.”
For it to be a complete success, ENDOW may have to solve a couple of sticky problems. Access to affordable health care and air service. Governor Mead says they also have to make high-speed internet and similar services available to everyone in the state. The first set of ENDOW findings will be presented to the governor on Monday in Laramie.