By Ellen Fike
Cowboy State Daily
It’s not hard to spot a legislator downtown during the legislative session. Any Cheyenne resident who’s lived in the town for more than a year or two can attest to being behind a representative at Mort’s Bagels or seeing a group of senators walking toward the closest parking garage.
On Feb. 10, 75 legislators from all over the state (excluding the 15 that live in Laramie County) will descend on Cheyenne for the 2020 budget session, which is tentatively scheduled to run for four weeks.
This year will also be the first time in four years the legislators will meet at the Capitol, meaning that they’ll definitely be frequenting the downtown area. But it won’t be just legislators; this influx of visitors to downtown Cheyenne will include lobbyists, constituents traveling for various committee meetings and other individuals.
Estimates for the 20-day session put its direct economic impact at more than $500,000.
Darren Rudloff, chief executive officer for Visit Cheyenne, said the visiting legislators generate about $1.25 million in direct spending during a typical 40-day session. Direct spending means that this is what the legislators (or their spouses or staff members) spend in Cheyenne, whether it’s for meals, lodging, transportation and business services.
As for indirect spending, Rudloff said the legislators will add another $1.9 million to the economy in 40 days. Indirect spending is expansive, almost like a ripple effect, where businesses will buy more inventory or bring in more staff to take care of their guests.
“So indirect spending is something like if you went to The Metropolitan downtown and wiped them out of broccoli and tequila,” Rudloff said. “This means they need to restock their supply of broccoli and tequila. This is also going to mean things like a hotel bringing in more cleaning staff to ready the legislators’ rooms or something along those lines.”
As for local taxes, Rudloff said Cheyenne receives around $37,000 during a 40-day session.
While it’s not quite the same impact that Cheyenne Frontier Days brings every year, Rudloff did note that potential hotel developers often ask why there’s such an increase in traffic every February. This annual increase helps developers decide whether or not to put a new hotel in the city.
“It definitely makes a difference, their being here every year,” he said. “It’s a nice shot in the arm to the economy. Constituents usually worry when there’s a special session, but for the local economy, it’s great.”
Little America Hotel and Resort general manager Tony O’Brien said that while the hotel definitely brings in its share of legislators every year, he’s noticed a shift toward the lawmakers choosing rental properties when they come for a month-long stay.
AirBnB’s website boasted more than 300 listings in the Cheyenne area that would be available during this year’s session, ranging in price from $600 to $1,400 for a one-month stay in not only guest rooms but entire apartments and houses.
O’Brien and Rudloff mentioned occasions when lawmakers would rent an AirBnB house or an apartment and split the cost.
“We haven’t seen a decrease in legislators staying with us, but I’ve talked with some of them during receptions and other events and I’ve noticed the younger legislators using an AirBnB instead of a hotel,” O’Brien said. “I think sometimes when you’re staying here for a long time, you want to be able to have that home away from home experience.”
The legislators aren’t just coming to the hotel for overnight stays, though. There are also a number of receptions held throughout the session that are hosted at Little America.
But O’Brien is quick to point out that the legislators’ leisure activities affect all of Cheyenne, not just his hotel.
“There has been some quality space added to Cheyenne in the last few years,” he said. “Cheyenne just offers a great product for visitors, not just the legislators. Obviously, we at Little America want to provide quality service for all of our guests, including the legislators, but the city and county have just incredible services as a whole.”