Bill Sniffin: Lord, Please Give Wyoming One More Boom

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “It is important to note that usually all our recent booms were short-lived, like 5-10 years. One bust that I lived through was 20 years, 1982-2002. That was a long dry spell.”

Bill Sniffin

May 25, 20246 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

When you live in a commodity state like Wyoming, you learn to live with a boom-bust mentality. When things are good, they are truly wonderful. And when things are bad, they can be just horrible.

Historian Phil Roberts has documented 13 booms over Wyoming’s 134-year history.

Are we now experiencing our 14th boom? By all indications, probably yes. Hold on to your hats, folks, this is going to be a hell of a ride.

One More Boom?

A famous Wyoming bumper sticker reads: “Lord, Please Give Me One More Boom — This Time I Promise Not To P*ss It Away.”

Also, it is important to note that usually all our recent booms are short-lived, like 5-10 years. One bust that I lived through was 20 years, 1982-2002. That was a long dry spell.

You can’t write about booms without also writing about the busts. Former Gov. Ed Herschler always said that my town of Lander was the worst hit town in Wyoming during that bust. I recall one time when we had 600 homes in foreclosure.

Lander lost 550 high-paying jobs at the U.S. Steel mine on South Pass 35 miles from Lander, and Fremont County lost 2,000 uranium mining jobs in the Jeffrey City and Gas Hills area.

Today, Lander is a prosperous, touristy town with literally no sign of mining activity. Newcomers refuse to believe that such a mining place existed back in the 1970s. But it did. And then, alas, it did not.

The biggest newspaper between Chicago and Los Angeles was the Denver-based Rocky Mountain News. I recall The Rocky doing a front-page Sunday feature showing a deserted Lander Main Street. The headline: “Modern Ghost Town.”

That was then, this is now.

Energy Breadbasket Of America

If you read energy reporter Pat Maio’s reports in Cowboy State Daily over these past months, it is a constant recital of huge projects getting ready to happen all over the state in all sorts of energy industries.

Our legacy industries of coal, oil, natural gas, trona and uranium continue to produce. But there are lots of newcomers.

Biggest might be the huge $4 billion TerraPower nuclear plant being built in Kemmerer. Construction on the project began this month, with billionaire Bill Gates invited to attend the groundbreaking ceremony in June.

The possibility of smaller nuke plants being built in Wyoming was announced when L&H Industrial in Gillette got involved with one of the country’s biggest developers of small nuclear power plants.

Meta (Facebook and Instagram) also has plans for a multibillion-dollar, enterprise data center project near Cheyenne.

Rare earth mines in Albany, Platte and Weston counties are projected to produce huge reserves of strategic minerals for electric vehicles, wind turbines, batteries, and military weapons and fighter jets when big finds are finally mined in the coming years.

A gold and copper mine near Cheyenne has incredible potential to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars.

A new trona mine is planned west of Green River and other expansions are planned in that industry.

There is a promising nickel deposit that could be worth $1 billion near Jeffrey City in Fremont County.

Some smart people have come up with gigantic projects for carbon capture that will make a lot of money.

More computer centers will be located in Wyoming because of high winds, low humidity and open spaces.

Solar farms and huge windmill projects are moving from the drawing boards to reality.

All these projects and more make the end of the first quarter of the 21st century look like one of the most promising in the history of Wyoming.

That motto that we are the “energy breadbasket for America” sure is sounding more genuine all the time.

The only downside to growth-oriented folks is that so many of these projects are funded by out-of-state folks and non-American companies. It seems operators from all over the world have discovered the Cowboy State.

May Be Biggest Tourism Year

Tourism reporter Renee Jean recently wrote that some experts forecast 2024 could be one of the biggest tourism years ever for Wyoming.

Yellowstone is ready for the huge influx.

International tourism is coming back in a very strong way.

New attractions like the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois will continue to attract more first-time visitors.

This industry already employs more folks than any other in the state (34,000) and it looks like it will grow even more.

And Then There Are The Missiles

Possibly the biggest dollar project in the history of Wyoming continues to chug along — the updating of the missile base at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

This is a multibillion-dollar upgrade. As the world becomes less safe with wars all over, this project could get even larger and move along faster than the snail’s pace it has been on.

Even Agriculture Prices Are High

Ag columnist Dennis Sun recently reported in Cowboy State Daily that ranchers are getting top prices for cattle and sheep.

Sure, costs continue to be high and the meat packers seem to be working together to keep profits down, but those prices mean now is a good time to be in the ranching business in Wyoming.

Sun is cautious, though, as he says the high input costs are a huge problem. The future looks bright for continuing high prices for this sector.

And Then There Is Real Estate

Again, Jean has been writing about the crazy real estate market in Jackson Hole. The average home sold for over $7 million last year. And demand is at an all-time high.

But the story here is that because of national inflation, house prices have soared across the Cowboy State.

Many homes and other residential units have nearly doubled in price everywhere from Cody to Pinedale to Lander to Casper to Cheyenne. This is the case of a rising tide raising all boats.

It’s All Good News

Kudos to all the local economic development groups in the state for their hard work.

Also, we give credit to the Wyoming Business Council and Gov. Mark Gordon’s innovation efforts, and of course, lots of folks in the mineral industry for helping all this to happen.

I have spent my entire career in Wyoming working in economic development and know just how hard it is to get projects going.

Folks, from where I am sitting, if you want growth in Wyoming it is all good news today.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.