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Economy

Wyoming’s Mining Employment Drops By More Than 25% In One Year

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s mining industry lost more than one-quarter of its jobs in the first quarter of this year compared to 2020, according to a state report.

Although the report from the state Economic Analysis Division showed the state overall posted modest gains in the numbers that point to its economic condition, some significant losses were seen in some areas, including mining employment and taxable sales.

The division’s quarterly report said Wyoming’s unemployment rate continued to decline slightly in the first quarter of the year from 2020, falling to 5.2% after peaking at a little more than 7% in the second quarter of 2020.

However, the state lost 15,730 jobs during the year, the report said, with the largest losses, 5,070, occurring in the state’s mining industry — a decline in employment of almost 26% in the industry.

“Payroll job declines occurred in nearly all industrial sectors, led by the mining (industry),” the report said. “This pivotal industry lost about 5,070 jobs, or 25.7% of its employees in a year-over-year comparison, and it showed little improvement in the quarter due to the continuation of depressed oil and natural gas activities.”

The construction industry lost 2,770 jobs during the year, while government jobs were reduced by about 2,600, the report said.

The only two sectors of the economy posting gains in employment were the retail trade and professional and business service sectors, posting job gains of 500 and 70, respectively.

However, personal income during the year grew by the highest level seen in almost 13 years, the report said, increasing by 11.4% from the first quarter of 2020.

Much of the growth, the report said, could be traced to government stimulus payments.

“Total earnings in the state shrank 2% annually in the quarter, while transfer receipts (income from government programs) increased by 89.3%, attributed to the new rounds of government pandemic relief payments from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act,” the report said.

Despite the growth in personal income, taxable sales around the state declined by 4.9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, led by a drop of more than 50% in purchases made by the mining industry, the report said.

“The mining industry contracted substantially, 56.2%, due to declining sales of equipment, supplies and services from energy exploration and production activity,” it said. “This was one of the largest year-over-year drops in Wyoming’s history.”

At the same time, sales in the retail trade sector grew by 10.7%.

“Consumer spending in retail stores such as furniture and home furnishings, liquor and sporting goods also demonstrated strong growth,” the report said.

Wyoming Tax Collections Up In April Despite Mining Slump

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite a decline of $6.7 million in sales and use tax collections from Wyoming’s mining sector, the state’s tax collections in April grew by $1.3 million over April 2020 figures, according to a state report.

The report “Wyoming Insight,” prepared by the state Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division, said statewide sales tax collections increased by 2.3% over 2020 figures despite the $6.7 million decline in collections from the mining industry.

The report showed that gains in collections from the retail trade sector of almost $3.7 million and in the public administration sector of almost $2.2 million offset the decline seen in the mining industry, where collections fell by 73.3% from one year ago.

Collections from the state’s leisure and hospitality industry, hit hard by last year’s coronavirus-related shutdowns, increased by $2 million in April over April 2020, the report said, a gain of 47.4%.

Teton County saw the largest increase in sales and tax collections over last year, $2.1 million, a gain of more than 60%. It was one of 16 counties to see increases in tax collections in April over 2020. The second largest increase was seen in Laramie County, $1 million, 13.6%.

Seven counties saw their tax collections decline during the year, with Campbell County posting the biggest loss, $3.9 million, a fall of 40.5% from April 2020.

Converse County had the second largest decline at $1.4 million.

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White House Details How Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Will Benefit Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Internet service, drinking water systems and renters in Wyoming would all benefit from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, according to details released Monday by the White House.

The White House laid out plans on Monday for how the American Jobs Plan would benefit each state, listing 12 areas that would be addressed in Wyoming.

The total $2 trillion package focuses on job creation, traditional infrastructure spending and investment in certain areas such as funding for care workers and for childcare to be offered at workplaces.

The American Jobs Plan action detail for Wyoming did not specify how much would come to the state for the 12 areas identified.

The White House report noted that Wyoming’s drinking water infrastructure will require $458 million in additional funding over the next 20 years and that 27,000 renters in Wyoming are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

The Biden infrastructure plan will spend $111 billion and $200 billion on drinking water and affordable housing, respectively.

The plan would also dedicate $600 billion for highway improvements, including $115 billion for repairs to road and bridges. The report said 218 of Wyoming’s bridges and 318 miles of its highways are in “poor” condition.

The release also said 27% of Wyomingites live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure, while 63.6% live in an area where there is only one broadband provider. Around 12% of Wyoming residents do not have any internet subscription plan.

Biden’s plan would set aside almost $100 billion to bring “universal, reliable, high-speed and affordable” internet service to “every family in America.”

Biden also intended to address manufacturing in the infrastructure plan, investing $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers and provide incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects in coal communities.

Wyoming’s congressional delegates have all come out against the plan, calling it “out-of-control” and a “political football.”

“This proposal…will hike taxes and spend trillions of dollars on the left’s radical agenda,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said. “Democrats are offering to hamstring the economy with higher energy bills and higher taxes for families in Wyoming and across the country. Republicans want to protect our energy dominance, and let hardworking Americans keep the money they earned.”

Appearing on Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said she couldn’t support Biden’s infrastructure plan because 94% of it has nothing to do with infrastructure.

“The National Association of Manufacturers has said that we will probably lose over a million jobs if this is enacted,” she said. “And you are certainly going to see in addition to the corporate tax increases in the bill, you’ll see middle class tax increases.”

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Wyoming Likely to Receive More Than $1B In COVID Relief

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is likely to receive more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds later this year, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced Thursday.

Gordon has appointed a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a blueprint for using and distributing the funds provided to the state through the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s stimulus bill.

Current estimates show the state will receive $1.1 billion in addition to the millions of other dollars being distributed to citizens through tax rebates and to local governments and other entities from the federal government.

Gordon said he wants to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” Gordon said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments. Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued in May, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

Reviews into each focus area will be led by a member of the executive branch in collaboration with the governor’s office.

Gordon stressed the importance of using these one-time funds for one-time expenses.

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Education Most Pressing Issue Of Session, Gordon Says In State of the State

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining the state’s quality of education is the most important issue facing the Legislature during its general session, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, in delivering his “state of the state” address to a joint session of the Legislature, told lawmakers the state could no longer rely on traditional sources of revenue to support education.

“We have relied, for years, on a funding model that is no longer sustainable,” he said. “The handwriting is on the wall. The can we kick down the road every year is broken. We have to deal with this issue.”

With the slump in the state’s mineral industry, particularly in coal production, funding for the state and its schools has dropped sharply. The school funding bill making its way through the Legislature would cut millions of dollars in how much the state gives to its schools and proposes new taxes if necessary to maintain funding.

But Gordon urged lawmakers, as they look at resolving the funding problems facing schools, to look at the issue more broadly than just one of revenue shortfalls.

“This is far more than a budget issue and I want our stakeholders and our communities to be involved in establishing a plan and vision,” he said.

Among the ideas he endorsed was a consolidation of early childhood learning programs, now found in four separate state agencies, into two agencies, the departments of Education and Family Services.

He also discussed the value of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a program launched in January to improve collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges to better prepare students for the workplace.

“Education is changing,” he said. “Work is changing. People want, and need, more opportunities and approaches. Wyoming needs to respond. We know our financial challenges will likely necessitate it.”

Education was one of a number of issues Gordon touched upon during his address, which was delivered on the second day of the Legislature’s one-month in-person session.

Gordon also discussed the state’s financial problems, which forced him to cut state spending by $250 million in 2020 and propose another $500 million in budget cuts in his supplemental budget.

“Undeniably, we are entering more frugal times and we will have to continue to temper wants and emphasize needs,” he told lawmakers. “It is now your turn to consider how best to meet the needs of our people without burdening the generations to come.”

Much of the state’s financial troubles can be traced to slumps in the state’s energy and mineral industries and Gordon said the policies of President Joe Biden could further threaten those industries.

“In just a few weeks, through a series of executive orders, cabinet appointments and policy announcements, we are facing a clear and present threat to our long-term core industries,” he said. “All decisions from D.C. must now pass a superficial, climate litmus test that ignores jobs, cost, reliability and in many cases, real climate solutions. In D.C., they claim to follow the science, but they adopt policies that resemble science fiction.”

Gordon said while he looks forward to the contributions the wind and solar power industries can make to the state, he continues to support a diversified approach to meeting power needs.

“To achieve meaningful climate goals, and provide a resilient affordable energy supply, fossil fuels, coupled with a commitment to improving the ways we utilize them, must remain a substantial supply option,” he said. “I will continue to fight for our state’s future and defend the right to responsibly develop all of our resources.”

Despite financial problems and the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the state is strong, Gordon said, adding that the Legislature will need to remain focused to help move Wyoming past the pandemic with legislation aimed at encouraging existing businesses, economic development and luring new business to the state.

“I am sure there will be temptations to get sidetracked with politically oriented legislation, but this year, we have to keep our eye on the ball,” he said. “Because we are only going to have one chance to turn this welcomed spring into a thriving summer and a bountiful future.”

Gordon thanked the state’s residents, particularly state employees, health care workers and teachers, for their hard to work to keep the state moving during the worst of the past year.

“Today I can say, with pride and confidence, that the state of our state is strong,” he said. “Not because our economy is as robust as it was a year ago, for that’s certainly not the case. Not because we are free of this dreadful virus, because it is still a pain. Not because we have solved all of our budget problems, for we have yet to face that piper.

“It is because we are the people we are: weathered, tested and resilient,” he continued. “We are a stubborn people, unwilling to concede during tough times. It is that resolute spirit that is our greatest asset. That, I believe, will see us through these times.”

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Wyoming 211 Saw 285% Increase In Rental Assistance Requests In 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a 285% increase in rental assistance requests and a 95% increase in utility assistance requests in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal report.

The latest federal emergency rental assistance program report released by the office of Gov. Mark Gordon’s office said the state had 2,717 rental assistance requests and 2,913 utility assistance requests in 2020 as recorded in calls to Wyoming 211.

Wyoming 211 is a central number people can call to find out where they can go to obtain assistance through various state and federal programs.

The spike in demand for rent and utility assistance has continued this year, the report said, with requests received by 211 in the first six weeks of 2021 amounting to more than double the average of requests received during a six-week period in 2020.

So far this year, Wyoming 211 has seen 668 rental assistance requests and 678 utility assistance requests.

Around 40%, 899, of applicants to the state rental assistance program were denied, though, the report said.

“We believe that the federal program will apply to a wider net of families in need,” the report said.

A survey of landlords across the state showed they were owed an average of $6,800 in past due rent, totaling $458,000 owed to 72 respondents.

The respondents also reported an average of $583 owed in past due utility bills, totaling $34,000.

One utility company reported $1.6 million owed in past due utility bills from its customers since April.

Earlier this month, Gordon issued an executive order to allow the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute federal emergency rental assistance.

The federal government has provided the state with $200 million in funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

One county relief agency reported providing financial assistance to 349 area families unable to cover rent in the final quarter of 2020, even though 77% of such households were at least partially employed.

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Report: Wyoming Airports Contribute $2 Billion To Economy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s 34 airports generate more than $2 billion in economic activity each year, according to a Wyoming Department of Transportation study.

The department’s 2020 review of the economic impact of Wyoming’s airports, the first conducted since 2013, also showed that the airports generate $87.7 million per year in state and local tax revenues.

The study bases its measurement of economic activity on the payroll paid employees of airports and related businesses and those arriving at or leaving from the airports and the annual spending by airports, related businesses and passengers.

It is based on figures from late 2019 and early 2020, before the coronavirus led to travel restrictions. The study was released to the public this week.

The study found that since 2013, the amount of annual economic activity linked to airports around the state has grown by about $600 million.

Some airports around the state saw “notable growth” between 2013 and 2020, while others experienced “relative declines,” the study said.

“Airports that experienced notable changes in their economic impacts generally either gained or lost one or more aviation-related business tenant, had higher or lower average annual capital investment for improvements, or had increases or decreases in their number of annual visitors,” it said.

The largest share of the economic impact from Wyoming’s airports came from visitors to the state’s nine commercial airports, defined as publicly owned airports that receive scheduled passenger service and at least 2,500 passenger boardings per year.

The study said visitors to the airports in Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Gillette, Jackson, Laramie, Riverton, Rock Springs and Sheridan spend almost $543.8 million per year and generate $1.2 billion in economic activity.

The airport seeing the most visitors by far was the Jackson Hole Airport with 397,468 visitors per year, followed by Natrona County International Airport with 42,162.

The Jackson Hole Airport was also the airport with the biggest share of economic activity by all sectors at $1.3 billion. The Cheyenne Regional Airport was second at total economic impact of $205 million.

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Report: Wyo Taxes Collected From Education, Health Sectors More Than Double In January

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Sales tax collections from almost every sector of Wyoming’s economy declined in January from figures one year ago, but taxes generated by one sector more than doubled in the year, according to state figures.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its monthly report “Wyoming Insight,” said sales and use taxes generated by the state’s education, health and “other” economic segment increased by almost $3.2 million in January over January 2020, an increase of almost 115%.

The increase was one piece of good news in a largely negative report on sales tax collections.

The report said collections from the mining industry, which includes oil and gas drilling, fell by $5.6 million in January from 2020, a decline of 54%.

The state’s leisure and hospitality industry saw its tax collections drop by 10.8%, almost $600,000, from January 2020.

Also dropping were collections from the construction, manufacturing, transportation, information and financial activities sectors.

However, the state’s wholesale trade sector saw its tax collections grow by 72.8% over 2020, almost $3.9 million.

Total sales and use collections in the state increased by $400,000 in January over January 2020, the report said, but the amount generated by some counties dropped significantly during the one-year period.

Campbell County collections, as an example, dropped by almost $1.9 million, 18.3 percent, while collections in Sublette County fell by $805,000, a drop of 42.6% from 2020.

However, some counties saw increased tax collections, such as Carbon County, where tax collections grew by almost 168% — $3.1 million — during the year. Carbon County is home to a significant wind energy project now being built.

The report also looked at the state’s unemployment rate, which increased from 3.7% in December 2019 to 4.8% in December 2020.

The report said the state’s mining industry saw the largest decline in jobs, 5,900, about 28.4%, from December 2019 to 2020.

The state’s leisure and hospitality industry and state and local governments also saw cuts in employment, with each sector losing 2,800 jobs over the year.

However, the retail trade sector added 2,300 jobs during the year and the construction industry added 1,000.

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Gordon Announces Steps to Boost Wyoming Energy, Tourism, Ag

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A series of steps aimed at improving Wyoming’s primary economic drivers has been proposed or endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Thursday announced the actions he will take or support to improve conditions in the state’s agriculture, tourism and energy sectors.

In the area of energy production, an industry shaken by recent executive orders halting the leasing of federal land for oil and gas production, Gordon said he will pursue an “all the above” energy industry that encourages the development of new industries such carbon capture technology and rare earth production in addition to oil, gas and coal.

Along those lines, Gordon is backing proposed legislation that would grant several tax reductions to the energy sector.

“Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better,” he said in a statement. “Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.”

At the same time, Gordon welcomed steps to increase the ability of the new Wyoming Energy Authority to encourage the development of non-traditional resources.

“Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future,” he said. “So too should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”

Gordon is also backing measures that help the state’s tourism industry, its largest employer.

He singled out House Bill 85, which would let Wyoming State Parks use money raised through entrance fees to finance a large portion of their operations and outdoor recreation rather than construction projects. The measure is expected to allow for a $1.1 million reduction in money given to the parks from the state’s general fund, its main bank account, without affecting the visitor experience.

A number of bills aimed at bolstering the state’s agriculture committee are also part of Gordon’s initiative, including one that would give the state attorney general the authority to look into antitrust matters.

The measure is a response to consolidation of 80% of the meat packing industry within four major companies. Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained the four companies have kept prices for producers artificially low.

The state now lacks the authority to investigate such charges.

Gordon is also backing HB 52, which would increase Wyoming meat products used by school districts to feed students.

The governor said he is also working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity.

“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” he said. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”

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UW, Colleges Launch Collaborative Effort To Improve Wyoming’s Economy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges are launching a collaborative effort to better prepare Wyoming students for the state’s evolving economy and encourage entrepreneurship, officials announced Monday.

Gov. Mark Gordon, in a news conference with UW President Ed Seidel and presidents from the state’s community colleges, announced the launch of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a joint effort by all the schools to focus more on Wyoming’s economic needs.

“The economic challenges Wyoming is facing are going to require us to develop and deploy innovative solutions,” Gordon said. “It is critical to have this coordinated effort from our state’s institutions of higher education.”

Under the WIN program, community colleges and UW will work to align courses to prepare students for industries that will need skilled workers in the future, such as tourism, advanced manufacturing and digital technology, Gordon said.

He added by working together, the schools will also help students become entrepreneurs and help make Wyoming more attractive to new businesses by making sure they have access to a skilled workforce.

“Our goal is a unified effort that will help launch this economic development as well as strengthen our economy and help our workers succeed here in Wyoming,” Gordon said.

The initiative will also look at ways to increase the availability of higher education to students who might not be otherwise able to access it, perhaps through digital means, he said.

The effort will require the UW and community colleges to develop closer relationships with private industry, Seidel said, both to determine what skills employers need and to seek financial support for the effort.

Seidel and the presidents of the community college have already formed a working group which will meet regularly to determine how to move forward with items such as making educational programs align and making sure community college students have access to the university.

Darren Divine, president of Casper College, pointed out the university and community colleges are already working along those lines, such as with the development of a bachelor’s degree in applied science and the bachelor’s of science in nursing.

In addition, a program announced Monday will allow community college students to know exactly how their college credits will apply should they attend the UW, Divine said.

“The community colleges and the university are very cohesive and aligned more now than ever before,” he said. “This new effort will enhance Wyoming’s ability to meet the challenges created by our current economic environment.”

There will be a cost connected to the effort, Gordon said, but he said his direction to the presidents was to look at what could be done and then perhaps look to sources other than the state for at least part of the funding.

“Then comes the part of how do we raise the funds,” he said. “We’ve got to reach out to the private sector. That’s something that Wyoming is going to have to do more of. We can’t depend entirely on the (legislative” block grant, on what the Legislature does.

“What is important here is a new direction in a way to collaborate among our institutions, to work from the ground up,” he said. “As money comes its direction, as it proves its worth, then more investment will result in more success.”

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