Economy

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many have turned to the great outdoors in an effort to get out of their house but still stay away from people. And with more people out of work, it also helps to be able to fill the freezer. For some, stocking up on food during the pandemic means buying extra meat. For others, it means buying a hunting license and heading into the field. For Tylynn Smith from Laramie, it's her first time going hunting.

If this was a normal year, right now, thousands of people would be flocking to the middle of the northern Nevada desert to watch “The Man” burn. But it’s not a normal year, and this year’s Burning Man counterculture outdoor festival has been canceled along with many, many live events across the region. That’s taking its toll on the arts, the community and the economy. 

Downtown Laramie, Wyoming
Bob Beck


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.

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A new report from the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information shows that sales tax numbers last spring dropped dramatically in both mining and lodging.

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This week, Gov. Mark Gordon started addressing Wyoming's $1.5 billion shortfalls with $250 million in budget cuts.

The cuts are due to the economic fallout from COVID-19 and a sudden drop in energy prices. Gordon has said he would like to see cuts, reserves, and some new revenue sources used together to address the shortfall, but that remains difficult.

President Donald Trump says an executive order he signed on Saturday funds a $400 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits. But it likely won't be as helpful as it seems.


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Tourism to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks is humming along this summer despite the pandemic, but it appears that out-of-staters are bringing more than just their money with them.

 


Navajo Transitional Energy Company

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) announced it will be hiring back 73 furloughed employees, who will be able to return to work at the Spring Creek Mine on August 3. The mine in southeastern Montana employs many Wyoming residents as well.

The economy may be on life support due to COVID-19, but housing sales across the nation soared in June, according to a report released Wednesday from the National Association of Realtors. It found that housing sales jumped about 20% nationwide compared to sales in May – the largest single-month recovery since the organization began collecting data. 

This story is part of a collaboration between the Mountain West News Bureau and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Read about how a U.S. border town is responding to the shutdown here.

Paul Samycia started his fly fishing company two decades ago and has grown it into the largest in Fernie, British Columbia. But these days, Samycia's Elk River Guiding Company is adrift. 

Traditionally more than two-thirds of the company's clients are Americans, and with the border closed, Samycia says the season is almost a write-off.

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The U.S.-Canada border crossing north of Eureka, Mont., is quiet these days. No buses or vans packed with mountain bikes and vacationing families. Just a single logging truck. 

"No traffic hardly at all," says David Clarke, owner of the First & Last Chance Bar and Duty Free Store.

Surgical Face Mask by NurseTogether is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In the past month, Wyoming saw 700 new COVID-19 cases. At a press conference Gov. Mark Gordon said this is partly the result of people not following social distancing recommendations during the fourth of July holiday.

As the pandemic wears on, leaders across the country are looking at how to economically recover after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some in the Mountain West are calling for more outdoor recreation spending.

Sightline Institute

In early July, reports surfaced that Japan could shutter up to 100 of its oldest coal plants. Shortly after, Trade Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama confirmed that the country was in the process of developing a "concrete framework" for closing down inefficient plants — though he didn't mention a specific number.

After 27 months of continual decline, the number of Americans falling behind on their mortgage payments is on the rise.

Kamila Kudelska

In mid-March, right before the COVID-19 pandemic fully hit the United States, professional bullfighter Dusty Tuckness was at Rodeo Houston in Texas. He said it was going well, until soon, it got shut down.

Maggie Mullen


The first time Mark Ritchie and Leah Hardy laid eyes on their new camper, it was after they'd bought it.

"It was like, 'Oh my God, it's tiny.' Which was great," Ritchie said recently while standing outside their home in Laramie, Wyo. "It made me feel actually more confident dragging it around. Because when I see people with giant trailers, I go, 'Thank God that's not me.'"

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Park County's tourism numbers are slowly increasing as the state reopens.

Yellowstone National Park kept its gates closed until mid-May and both of its entrances in Wyoming opened for day use only.

Park County Travel Council Executive Director Claudia Wade said since then Cody and the county have seen a steady increase of tourists but nothing like what was originally predicted.

Professor James Arvanitakis is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship as the Milward L. Simpson Visiting Professor – University of Wyoming. A former economist and free market advocate, James changed his position after witnessing child and indentured labour. After 9 years of working in finance, he has since worked with a cross-section of organizations across Australia, Asia, the Pacific and Europe.

This story was powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

Short-term vacation rental bookings are surging across the Mountain West, even as the region grapples with a growing number of coronavirus cases.

 


Taylar Stagner

Riverton has seemingly returned to normal from months of closed businesses, social distancing, and mask-wearing. This while Fremont County has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.

Even so, Riverton Mayor Richard Guard said that people are happy to get back to work.

Roger Sylvia; This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tourism is the second largest industry in the state. The summer of 2019 was a big year for the industry. More than three billion dollars were spent in the state and tourism generated $230 million in tax revenues. Wyoming Office of Tourism Executive Director Diane Shober said the state had set even loftier goals for 2020. But when Shober spoke with Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska, she said this year COVID-19 has hit tourism hard but there is hope that things could improve.

Hotel slowdowns alone could cost states in the Mountain West more than $1.7 billion in tax revenue this year, according to an analysis commissioned by the American Hotel and Lodging Association.


Jacob W. Frank / NPS

Tourism is the second largest industry in the state and has been hit hard by COVID-19. Wyoming Office of Tourism's Diane Shober said the tourism outlook for this summer was grim when COVID-19 first hit.

National Park Service

Tourism numbers are helping the state out at a crucial time.

That's according to Gov. Mark Gordon, who in a press conference on Tuesday, June 16, said, business owners across the state are reporting higher sales tax from tourism than what was expected under the ongoing pandemic.

Yellowstone Forever

The official nonprofit organization of Yellowstone National Park laid off more than 30 employees and closed its education branch.

Most businesses in the outdoor recreation industry are seeing sales decline because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and 88% are reporting that they’ve had to lay off or furlough employees.

Catherine Wheeler

Gov. Mark Gordon and leaders from some of the top rodeos in the state this month announced the major events would be canceled this year. That's due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the health safety measures that would have to be put in place for those events. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with Billy Craft and Zane Garstad, the president and vice president of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. First, Craft explained how they came to the decision to put the 90th anniversary celebration on hold this year.

Wyoming Department of Health - State of Wyoming


In early 2020, very few people had ever heard of Dr. Alexia Harrist. Since that time, the State Health officer has become a well-known and important figure as she tries to guide the state through the COVID-19 pandemic. Harrist has lately been opening things up. She told Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck that she's optimistic as the state deals with tourists and other challenges.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has grown worse in Wyoming since the state started loosening restrictions last month, and health experts are saying the two are likely related.

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