Some Signs That the Current Economic Bust Might be Easing

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Some Signs That the Current Economic Bust Might be Easing

“What a difference a year makes!” was the rallying cry made by Gov. Matt Mead as he greeted 650 people at the Wyoming Business Alliance Governor’s Business Forum in Cheyenne Nov. 8.

Mead was optimistic as he talked about the current Wyoming economy. “We are righting the ship,” he said.

This meeting is a unique gathering of state business leaders that has been going on for decades. Some of the best ideas in state history have come out of this group, including the Hathaway Scholarship program, Leadership Wyoming and the Wyoming Business Council.

Mead said the economy is headed the right way. For a state like Wyoming that relies on energy development so much for its job and tax revenue, he used the example there “was just one oil rig” drilling in the state at this time a year ago. Today, he said there have been large investments by energy companies and the future is bright.

“We have weathered the storm. We have shown our perseverance,” he proclaimed.

He talked about his ENDOW program, which will chart a future economic development course for the state that includes innovation with a focus on technological advances. “The world is changing. Are we going to change? Are we going to follow or are we going to lead?”

He told the big crowd that the younger generation is different from most of us, meaning the bulk of the crowd, most of whose male members had gray hair.

“Wyoming has what the younger generation wants. They want a quality of life, not just a job,” Mead continued.

“Lately, I have been talking to people about hyperloops, avatars, flying cars and other concepts we had not heard about until recently,” he said.

Mead said it has been proved that you do not need a large population to be successful. “It is quality, not quantity,” he said. “Our future is ours to build,” he said.

He touted Wyoming’s strong work ethic, small population and can-do attitude as attributes, which will attract young workers to the state. “We control our destiny. There is value in people evolving.”

He touted the state’s investment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) as paving the way for the state striding forcefully and confidently into the future. He credited former Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the legislature for their work with the NCAR computer and the School of Energy at the University of Wyoming.

Freudenthal then led a panel discussion about the state’s fiscal future. The former governor had some keen observations and a few tart opinions about Wyoming’s future.

Although he said as governor he always bragged about our state’s low tax structure, he then noted, “If low taxes are what creates diversity, then Alaska and Wyoming should be the most diverse economies in the country.”

Both states rely on energy and neither is very diverse.

He said in 1969, the state established a severance tax. Mineral taxes today pay 70 percent of the property taxes. In 1974 voters approved creation of the permanent mineral trust fund, which made “us all trust fund babies,” the former governor said. Then Wyoming pushed tourism big-time and now, out of state visitors pay 60 percent of the state’s sales taxes.

He said think of the guy who has a big house in Houston who pays $45,000 a year in property taxes in Texas and a big house in Jackson, where he pays just a fraction of that amount, implying that perhaps Wyoming could handle some increases in some taxes.

Although Freudenthal did not dispute Gov. Mead’s assertion that times are much better in Wyoming this year than last year, he said folks waiting around for another energy boom might be disappointed. “We may be waiting for a long time,” he concluded.

Freudenthal said Cowboy State citizens need to “cowboy up” and get a good handle on our financial situation. He complained that the state never really has had an accurate balance sheet. “I think (former Senate President) Phil Nicholas of Laramie was the only person in Wyoming who knew how much money we really had on hand.”

As governor, Freudenthal says he would hide coffee cans here and there (hard-to-find accounts) where he could stash some money so the Legislature could not spend it.

But the biggest deal is budget planning is difficult without an accurate balance sheet.

Also at the conference were plenty of potential governor candidates milling around, pressing the flesh, including Secretary of State Ed Murray, State Treasurer Mark Gordon, former State Rep. Mary Throne, State Sen. Leland Christensen, Liberty Group head Jon Downing and attorney Matt Micheli.



Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 30,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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