Friday, November 29 2019
Always eager for economic diversification, Wyoming has created and implemented innovative programs to smooth the path of growing or relocating a business in the state. As the nation’s workforce tires of hectic big-city life and remote technology continually evolves, Wyoming offers the best of both worlds—job opportunities with low taxes, as well as slower, safer, small-town living. And, while many states grapple with balancing environmental preservation and industrial growth, Wyoming has been balancing the two for decades.
The mineral extraction industry – right alongside the outdoor-inspired tourism industry and agriculture industry – is the heart and heritage of Wyoming. The equation adds up to an industry-friendly culture and regulatory environment that is welcoming to all types of business.
Wyoming is the nation’s top coal producer and, as the market for coal shifts, state leaders are laying the foundation for the private sector to find innovative uses for both the coal itself and the carbon it produces.
For example, the state helped fund the Integrated Test Center in Gillette, a $21 million state-of-the-art carbon capture research facility. It currently hosts five teams competing for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, a $20-million global competition to develop technology that will convert CO2 emissions into other valuable products. The state has also invested in the world’s first and only carbontech accelerator, Carbon180.
As it does with outdoor recreation and agriculture, the mineral industry coexists with the up-and-coming wind industry in Wyoming. The state is home to nearly 40 percent of the country’s Class 5, 6 and 7 inland wind resources. Currently in development, the Chokecherry Sierra Madre project is the world’s largest wind project, harnessing 3,000 megawatts of energy. Other wind projects are also in the works, including an additional 1,920 megawatts announced by Rocky Mountain Power in their recently updated 20-year plan. All told, Wyoming will have upwards of 8,000 megawatts of "name-plate" capacity pumping electricity into the grid.
Wyoming is also a leader in another up-and-coming technology: blockchain. It’s poised to impact nearly every industry and add economic diversity. The state has established a regulatory environment that is more welcoming to this emerging tech than anywhere else in the world, and policy leaders continue to embrace its potential.
Wyoming’s innovative approach to blockchain regulation has caught the industry’s eye. Cardano moved its home base from Hong Kong to Wyoming in 2019. And several ‘blockchain banks’ are considering making moves in Wyoming.
“Wyoming is the CryptoFrontier,” said Charles Hoskinson, CEO of Cardano and cofounder of the cryptocurrency Ethereum. “I’m happy to support them in any way that I can.”
The University of Wyoming is regularly ranked among the best-value universities in the nation. It offers 80 undergraduate and more than 90 graduate academic programs, including a robust Computer Science program and a variety of engineering degrees such as Petroleum Engineering, Chemical, Mechanical and Energy Systems Engineering, and Energy Resource Management and Development.
Last September, the University opened the new Engineering Education and Research Building, which will feature an expanded makerspace for students, faculty and the public, as well as an upgraded Drilling and Completions Simulator where students can simulate land and offshore oil and gas simulation.
Although Wyoming boasts only one four-year university, state leaders have recognized the value of post-secondary education and have bolstered the network of community colleges across the state, recently authorizing them to offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees designed to prepare students for industry management positions.
The community colleges are designed to be flexible and nimble enough to quickly stand up certificate programs or other offerings to meet ever-changing industrial demand in individual communities.
“For a decade or more, we have been aligning with what the region is trying to accomplish,” said Wendy Smith, Sheridan College’s director of public relations. “We ask community members, employers and industry experts to come to the table and tell us what skills they need in employees, and we make sure it’s part of our curriculum.”
An example is Laramie County Community College’s wind energy technology program, which offers students an Associate of Applied Science degree and a variety of certifications to help make them successful in an industry anticipated to more than double nationally in the next decade, and grow exponentially in Laramie County.
Since 2004, the Wyoming Business Council’s Business Ready Community program has helped build business parks, install water, power and sewer, and improve community amenities to ensure the state is ready to meet a business’ infrastructure needs at a moment’s notice. To date, the Wyoming Business Council has helped create more than 5,000 acres of business-ready land across the state with basic infrastructure already installed, ready to be customized to fit the big dreams of business owners.
The High Tech Business Park in Sheridan is just one example of these successful shovel-ready sites. It now bustles with recruits like Vacutech and Weatherby, which relocated from Colorado and California, alongside homegrown success stories like Kennon Products, Inc.
“I sense a snowball effect when it comes to light manufacturing,” said Joe Wright, the CEO of Kennon Products, Inc. “There’s definitely a palpable energy in Sheridan within the manufacturing sector.”
Microsoft, the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center, EchoStar Data, Green House Data, Schlumberger, Granite Peak, Volvo and others call business parks in Cheyenne home.
Despite its rural nature, Wyoming has great internet connectivity, with several gigabit cities. In fact, 100 percent of the state’s K-12 schools well exceed the minimum connectivity goal set by Education SuperHighway. Wyoming leaders have long recognized the importance of good connectivity in the state’s wide-open spaces and have invested in meeting that challenge.
The state legislature set aside money in 2018 for improving broadband in the state’s most remote regions. It included money for hiring a state broadband manager and grant funds to help develop infrastructure.
Kevin Clark is the owner of Shell Campground in Shell, Wyoming and volunteers with the Big Horn County Citizens for Economic Development. He said the state’s new approach helps bring more broadband providers to the community with the aim of expanding service in even the state’s most remote locales.
“If you have an advocate, someone at the state level, (they) can make those introductions, or just bring people around the table to start the conversation,” he said.
The state also established the Broadband Advisory Council, which created a Broadband Enhancement Plan that aims to position Wyoming as a leader in broadband accessibility and sets standards for other states to follow.
Through its broadband program, the state has successfully negotiated for and supported infrastructure improvements that have boosted reliability, redundancy and connectivity to some of Wyoming’s smallest towns and most remote homes.
Wyoming supports its entrepreneurs by sponsoring regional startup challenges and by matching funding from Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The state’s matching grants have funded 11 companies with nearly $1.4 million. Other state initiatives to support entrepreneurs are in the works, as well.
“Entrepreneurs provide diverse, nimble jobs and markets that the next generation of workforce craves, and they are a driving force in Wyoming’s economic future,” said Vivian Georgalas, the Wyoming Business Council’s entrepreneurial services coordinator. “Every company – from candy shops to Microsoft – began with a risk-taking entrepreneur.”
Welcome to Wyoming
More and more, employees are choosing to find work where they want to live, rather than prioritizing their work over their quality of life. Wyoming has that fresh air, open space and walking-distance commute that today’s workforce craves; all with welcoming neighborhoods, great schools and modern Main Streets that offer everything from local craft beer to yoga studios.
Wyoming prides itself on staying out of the way of industry. If you’ve got the grit, we’ve got the Great American Dream.
Visit WhyWyoming.org to learn more.