By Dave Simpson, columnist
When I tell folks I have family in Gillette, they get a concerned look on their faces.
“How are they doing?” friends ask.
It’s as if I told them a family member had been diagnosed with a serious illness. Friends might need to send a casserole up to our poor, suffering relations in Gillette.
That’s because they’ve heard so much about climate change, the evils of coal, the loopy Green New Deal, coal-fired power plants spewing deadly CO2, and the desperate need for Wyoming to diversify its revenue sources and free itself from its dependence on the energy industry, otherwise little children won’t be able to go to school anymore.
Surely folks in Gillette, they assume from what they have heard, are hurting as we transition to fueling our cars and furnaces from coal, oil and natural gas to rose petals, happy thoughts and smoke blown up, well, you know where.
Our progressive friends want electric cars, not the dirty fuels that will provide a good share of the electricity for electric cars. They love windmills and solar panels, and figure the wind will always blow, and the sun will always shine. They live in a happy place.
When I tell folks that I drive from Cheyenne to Gillette every couple months, and that Highway 59 leading into Gillette looks as busy as Dell Range here in Cheyenne, they look at me like I must be crazy. A deluded grandpa. Or I must be in deep denial, refusing to admit the hard-scrabble future that awaits my grand daughters in Gillette.
After all, they recall hearing about mines closing down, people being laid off, stacked oil drilling rigs, and scary estimates of how much less revenue the state will get from the energy industry, to which the Gillette area is a huge contributor.
But, I never seem to see the desperation, the defeat, the abandonment when I arrive in town. Every time I go up there, despite what I’ve heard, the place looks pretty good.
Turns out, I didn’t know the half of it.
I was in line at a fast-food drive-through in Gillette last week, waiting for a cup of coffee, when I noticed a big electronic billboard across the street. The service was slow (there was a “help-wanted” sign), so I had plenty of time to read the ads that kept popping up. It told a downright optimistic story:
“CDL Drivers needed, $1,000 sign on,” read one.
“Now hiring, Flowback.”
Cyclone Drilling hiring casing hands and CDL drivers, $25 to $30 an hour.
Keiwit Buckskin Mine, now hiring, $23 to $35 an hour.
Kissick Water and Oil, now hiring.
TCRI Energy Systems, $1,000 sign-on bonus.
Cordero Mine, now hiring.
Visionary Broadband, now hiring.
Peabody, Rawhide Mine, offering a $5,000 sign-on bonus.
And I saw “help wanted” signs posted all over town.
This is count-their-ribs, living-on-the-edge Gillette? I don’t think so. Later, I heard one company is offering a big bonus to anyone who can shanghai a new employee.
Turns out the real estate market is hotter than a pistol, too. While the city usually has several hundred houses on the market, it’s hovering around 80 these days, and people who don’t even have their houses on the market are sometimes getting offers.
A life-long resident told me a major factor may be people from other states moving in, looking for the freedom and low taxes we enjoy here in Wyoming. (Think about that next time you hear the tiresome “we need a state income tax” screed.)
We attended a junior high girls basketball game one night, and there was a good crowd. (Our team got skunked.) We decided against dinner at a popular pizza place afterwards, because it’s always crowded. There are lots of nice restaurants in town, and a big new one under construction.
Now, I understand that the days of coal trains lined up four abreast at Bill are probably not coming back. But Gillette has an interesting combination of attributes with a lot of moving parts, and a great work ethic. That’s a hard combination to beat.
I doubt we’ll have to send CARE packages to our family up there any time soon.