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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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Gordon Launching Oil, Gas Economic Recovery Program This Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is launching a program this week that is designed to help with Wyoming’s economic recovery and to boost employment in the oil and gas industry.

The Energy Rebound Program will utilize up to $15 million in CARES Act funding to provide business relief targeted towards drilled, but uncompleted oil and gas wells, wells that were unable to be recompleted and plugging and abandonment projects which could not be finished due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When global demand for oil plummeted due to COVID, work stopped almost immediately in the oil and gas industry in Wyoming,” Gordon said. “This program is tailored to provide opportunities for employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased.”

The program will reimburse operators for work done on completions, recompletions, workovers or plugging and abandonments before Dec. 30, up to $500,000 per project.

Operators who were unable to perform or finish projects in these categories for wells they operate due to the effects of the virus, and who can spend funds before Dec. 30, are encouraged to apply.

The Wyoming Business Council will start accepting applications at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Applications will be accepted through 10 a.m. on Nov. 23rd.

Operators are encouraged to start preparing information for the application, including basic well data, type of project (completion, recompletion/workover or P&A), estimated start and end dates of projects, estimated production, costs of projects and other information.

Priority will be given to projects that provide the greatest immediate economic and employment benefit to Wyoming.

Other factors include, but are not limited to: estimated time of start and completion of the project; completeness of the application; estimated amount of increased production of oil and gas; and ability to commence P&A projects in a timely manner.

“We recognize this is a short window for applications, however, these funds are for projects that were planned, but could not be completed due to the effects of COVID-19. Companies who were ready to roll last March should have the information in hand. We will maximize the impact these dollars have on restoring economic and employment opportunities in Wyoming” said Randall Luthi, Chief Energy Advisor to Governor Gordon.

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Despite Improvement, Gordon Says Wyoming’s Fiscal Picture Still Concerning

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite recent improvements in the Wyoming’s financial outlook, the state still faces some major challenges, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon’s comments came in response to a report by state fiscal analysts that showed the state’s main bank account, the General Fund, will fall about $451 million short of what is needed to pay for government operations in the current biennium.

The estimate provided by the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group showed a deficit that was $426 million less than what had been estimated in a report issued in May.

However, Gordon said the state still must deal with significant drops in funding.

“I have a fundamental belief that we must live within our means,” he said. “Wyoming suffered its greatest budget shortfall in history this year … By any stretch of the imagination this crisis is unique, but it is real and we must be prepared.”

The report also showed that the state will end its current biennium about $300 million short of what is needed to continue current funding levels for schools.

Gordon earlier this year asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 10% and he said he is still asking agencies to consider further cuts of 10% to make sure state spending stays within its revenues. He noted that the state’s savings will not be sufficient to offset budget shortfalls in the long-term.

“I am not interested in building a budget that just tries to get us to next year,” he said. “Wyoming, if she wants to remain competitive and productive, must live within her means and structure herself for economic opportunity.”

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Gordon Making More CARES Funds Available For Wyoming Businesses, Nonprofits Next Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is allocating remaining CARES Act funds to help Wyoming businesses and nonprofits with ongoing coronavirus-related losses and expenses.

The Wyoming Business Council is finalizing two new funds for the COVID-19 Business Relief Program: the Agriculture Fund and the Endurance Fund. Applications for both funds will be accepted from Nov. 2 through Nov. 18.

“The effects of COVID-19 haven’t disappeared from our communities and businesses,” Gordon said. “There are impacts still being felt by business owners, nonprofit organizations, and agriculture producers.

“Right from the start we worked with the Legislature to pace our programs so that they would reach each sector as the needs became clear,” he continued. “The Business Council will distribute these federal funds where they’re needed to help continue our economic recovery.”

The Agriculture Fund has $90 million reserved to support Wyoming farmers and ranchers who have experienced business interruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Awards up to $250,000 are available for Wyoming agricultural producers who were established on or before March 13.

The Endurance Fund will have at least $24 million set aside for businesses and nonprofits to cover COVID-19 related losses and expenses. Money available in this fund may increase as unused CARES Act dollars from other programs may be diverted into it.

Awards up to $250,000 will be available for all affected Wyoming businesses. Eligible nonprofits in Wyoming include 501(c)(3), 501(c)(6), 501(c)(12) and 501(c)(19) with no more than 50% of time spent on lobbying.

“These two funds serve important purposes as we near the deadline of the current CARES Act funding,” Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell said. “First, because of the seasonality of agriculture production, this $90 million relief fund allows farmers and ranchers to better capture 2020 losses and expenses related to the pandemic.”

“Second, many Wyoming businesses and nonprofits are not out of the woods yet, and this opportunity for another round of funding will help with the losses businesses have continued to endure.”

Eligible entities may apply once for money from the funds. Recipients of previous Business Relief Program awards (Interruption, Relief and Mitigation funds) may apply if they have had eligible losses or expenses since their previous application dates.

In May, the Wyoming Legislature created three programs to distribute $325 million in federal CARES Act funding to Wyoming businesses and nonprofits that have experienced hardship related to the coronavirus crisis.

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Legislature Will Have To Examine What Services Not To Offer, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s next round of budget cuts will require the Legislature to carefully examine what services the state should stop providing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a news briefing, said the next cuts will start legislators on the difficult job of deciding which state tasks are required by state law and the Constitution.

“The implications of the next set of budget cuts are going to require that the Legislature not pass new laws about new things we’re going to do, but start considering the things they no longer want government to do,” he said. “Those are going to be hard discussions.”

Gordon already cut about $250 million from the state’s two-year budget in August to offset a projected $1.5 billion shortfall in state revenues. However, the cuts were only the first in a series needed to bring state spending in line with revenue projections.

Gordon said revenue projections prepared by state fiscal experts in July showed some unexpected improvement in the revenue picture,  and when combined with the cuts he made in August — which amounted to a reduction in state spending of about 10% — things looked a little more promising.

However, he said more cuts will be needed, even as the impacts of the August reductions are being felt.

“There are services that are being decreased,” he said. “There are people who have lost their jobs. There is consolidation that is happening.”

A new report on state revenues is expected next week and Gordon said it will help state officials get a decent idea of what must be done going forward.

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Study: Wyoming Residents Don’t Need Loans (As Much)

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming came in almost dead last in a recent ranking of states where residents need loans due to the coronavirus.

According to personal finance website WalletHub, Wyoming was ranked 49th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia when it came to states whose residents were in the greatest need of some type of loan due to the coronavirus.

The loans ranged from payday to home equity.

Wyoming was 51st when it came to the number of times residents searched the Internet for information related to loans in general, but was No. 11 for searches regarding payday loans.

Wyoming was followed in the overall ranking by North Dakota and Alaska, respectively, in 50th and 51st place.

New York, Virginia and Washington state were the three highest-ranking states, meaning their residents needed loans the most due to the pandemic.

WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across four key metrics, which combined internal credit report data with data on yhe increased use of Google to search for three loan-related terms.

The analysis compared loan-related search interest values for August.

George Mason University professor Frank Shafroth suggested going to a trusted friend or relative if a person needs cash quickly instead of using a payday loan service. If that doesn’t work, he recommended a credit union.

“If a person has a trusted financial institution or bank, I would suggest meeting with a loan officer to assess what the credit implications might be,” Shafroth said.

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Wyoming Sales Down In Second Quarter, But Up In Retail

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While sales for most of Wyoming’s industries declined in the second quarter of the year year, recorded online sales actually went up, due largely to a change in tax rules, according to a state agency.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, in its quarterly report on the state’s economic conditions, said taxable sales across the state declined by almost 13% from the second quarter of 2019.

However, sales in the retail sector in the period from April through June actually increased by 6% over the same period last year, the report said, due largely to new laws requiring the collection of sales taxes on online sales. The department uses tax collections to monitor sales.

“This increase was mostly attributed to the increasing amount of submission from remote sellers, which is a result of a new legislation on collections of sales tax by marketplace facilitators,” the report said.

Overall, taxable sales in the state declined during the quarter by 12.8% from the same period one year ago to total $4.1 billion, the report said.

The largest reduction in sales was in the state’s mining industry, where the purchases of equipment, supplies and services fell by 53%.

“(This) was the largest year-over-year drop since the first quarter of 2016 — middle of the previous turndown,” the report said.

Sales in the leisure and hospitality industry dropped by 34.6%, the report said, while sales in the manufacturing and financial services sector fell by about 20%.

More than half the state’s counties saw declines in taxable sales during the period, the report said, with Sublette County seeing a 61.3% drop.

But Carbon County’s taxable sales more than doubled over last year’s figures.

“Carbon County experienced the largest growth of 108.6%, mostly reflecting a boost in activities of a wind power project,” the report said.

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Wyoming Lost 25K Jobs During Second Quarter Of 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming lost more than 25,000 jobs in the second quarter of fiscal 2020, a recent analysis confirmed.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information released its economic summary of the second quarter on Monday, which ran from February through April. The summary noted that compared to the same period in 2019, Wyoming’s employment fell by 8.9%, or 25,890 jobs, during the peak of the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic during the second quarter of the year.

Nationally, employment declined by 11.3% during the same period..

Wyoming’s unemployment rate of 8.9% during the period was the highest seen in the state since the first quarter of 1987. The leisure and hospitality industry (mainly restaurant and lodging) saw the biggest hit, with 10,700 jobs lost during the quarter.

The state’s mining industry also saw major losses, with about one-fifth of the industry’s employees being laid off due to “plunging” oil and natural gas prices that were affected by low energy demand caused by restrictions on businesses and travel.

Manufacturing was the only industry in Wyoming that wasn’t affected by the pandemic, and employment increased slightly compared to 2019, the report said.

However, Wyoming’s total personal income (income received by all residents from all sources) grew by 7.7% this year, the largest increase seen since the first quarter of 2018. The U.S. also saw a personal income grow by 10.4%.

The report also noted that visitation was down at both national parks during the second quarter, but this was due to the complete closure of both park because of the pandemic.

Lodging sales for the state were down by 49.6% compared to one year ago, which again was caused by the park closures, as well as a decline in mineral activities in the state.

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Wyoming Relief Fund Demand Nearly Over Available Amount

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With the deadline nearing for Wyoming businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for federal funds to offset coronavirus losses, the state had already paid out more than $120 million for assistance through the two of its programs still running, according to state figures.

Numbers posted on the WyOpen.gov/wbc website showed that as of Sept. 10, the state had distributed $123.4 million through its coronavirus business relief and mitigation programs.

The numbers were posted as the state neared its deadline of Tuesday for businesses and nonprofits to apply for the money made available through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislature, during a special session in May, approved three programs to distribute $325 million to Wyoming businesses affected by the coronavirus and related business shutdowns.

The first program, the Coronavirus Interruption Stipend, ended on July 2 after paying out $98.7 million to almost 4,000 businesses. Each business could receive up to $50,000 as relief for losses suffered because of business interruptions caused by public health orders adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Another $39.3 million has been distributed through a program designed to help businesses forced to close by the public health orders that may have been unable to apply for relief through the first Coronavirus Interruption Stipend program or that had losses exceeding what they received through the interruption stipend program.

One of the other two programs still running, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, makes up to $300,000 available to cover coronavirus-related losses.

The Wyoming Business Council, in a news release, said as of Friday, 2,480 businesses had applied for $182.7 million from the relief fund.

The second program, the Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend, makes up to $500,000 available to compensate businesses for expenses directly related to coronavirus, such as the purchase of personal protection equipment and the costs of extra sanitization measures.

As of Friday, 629 applicants had requested $28.3 million from the mitigation stipend program, the WBC said.

“The demand for the relief fund is very close to exceeding available dollars, while the mitigation fund requests have slowed to a trickle, potentially leaving millions of unused dollars,” said Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s chief executive officer. “We have decided to close applications in order to reallocate leftover funds to best serve the ongoing needs of Wyoming businesses later in the year.”

The state received $1.25 billion as its share of the federal coronavirus relief program. Under terms of the program, the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Gov. Mark Gordon said last week the state has spent about $829 million and is looking at other programs to provide assistance using the money, including funding for Internet service improvement in Wyoming’s rural areas, sending some of the money to local governments and providing funding to help meat processing companies in Wyoming expand their operations.

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