By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s sluggish population growth shows that they state still isn’t creating the volume of or types of jobs needed to keep its economy strong, according to a pioneer in Wyoming’s economic development efforts.
Bill Schilling, one of the founders of the Wyoming Heritage Foundation, which later became the Wyoming Business Alliance, told Cowboy State Daily the state’s 2.3% population growth over the last 10 years shows the state still has not developed a sustainable economy.
“We graduate more students, either high school or college, than we create new jobs,” he said. “We are not creating enough jobs to sustain our economy in the long-term. And Wyoming has not been doing that for a long time.”
Figures from the 2020 census show Wyoming’s population growth in the last decade ranks 45th in the nation out of all the states and Washington, D.C. The state gained 13,225 residents since 2010.
Schilling, who was also involved with the creation of the Wyoming Business Council, said the creators of the business council had hoped for better growth when the council was created in 1998.
“It falls well short of the original foundational work and goals when we created the Wyoming Business Council,” he said.
Although a number of economic development programs have been launched over the years, such as programs to add value to the state’s coal or enhance internet accessibility, not all have been successful in changing the nature of the state’s economy, Schilling said.
“There have been some wonderful initiatives,” he said. “There were certain pockets of great success, then there were pockets of disappointment.”
Schilling, who now lives in Hawaii, said while the state may have a good retail trade base, it needs to focus on industries that produce goods.
“We need jobs that are value-added, goods-producing vs. service-providing,” he said. “Wyoming’s foundational tax structure is at risk.”
The state has seen improvements over the years with its economic development efforts, such as the creation of economic development organizations at the local level, Schilling said.
He added to some extent, Wyoming’s economic growth is now tied to entrepreneurs who are either already in the state or are drawn here by its quality of life.
However, he added he is not sure the skills of entrepreneurship can be taught at schools such as the University of Wyoming’s new entrepreneurship program.
Schilling said he spoke about such programs with a former member of the Business Council, a successful businessman.
“I asked him … can you train someone in entrepreneurship academically or is it something a person develops on their own by the school of hard knocks,” he said. “He observed that it was the latter. You really can’t teach entrepreneurship.”
However, the state’s workforce continues to be the envy of other states, Schilling said, with out-of-state employers always happy to interview job applicants from Wyoming.
“Wyoming has a good workforce,” he said. “They’re hard-working, reasonably honest and pretty good neighbors. Those are the ingredients of a good workforce.”