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wyoming economy

Bill Schilling: Not Enough New Jobs in Wyoming To Keep Economy Strong

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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.”

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Wyoming Leisure, Hospitality Tax Income Nearly Doubles In July

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Income from the state’s leisure and hospitality industry almost doubled in July over what was seen the previous year, according to a state report.

The state Economic Analysis Division’s monthly publication “Wyoming Insights” said sales tax income from the leisure and hospitality sector grew by $5 million in July, an 86.6% increase from July 2020.

The publication said the increase points to a continuing strong post-pandemic growth.

Total sales tax collections in July in the state grew by 13.7%, $8.5 million, in July compared to July 2020, the report said.

Increases in retail trade of $3.8 million and in financial activities of $1.1 million contributed to the total increase.

However, gains in those areas were offset by a reduction of almost $1.9 million in the transportation and utilities sector and $946,000 in the wholesale trade sector.

Strength in the state’s leisure and hospitality sector was also reflected in employment, with the industry providing 5,800 more jobs in June — the latest month for which numbers are available — than in June 2020, a 20.4% increase.

Professional and business services added 1,200 jobs in June compared to 2020 and state and local government added 1,100.

Mining employment was the same in June as in 2021, while the construction industry lost 1,400 jobs.

The report said most of the state’s counties saw gains in their sales tax collections in July from one year ago, led by Teton County, where tax income increased by almost 94%, $4.5 million, over 2020 figures.

Six counties posted declines in sales tax income, led by Natrona County, which saw its income go down by almost $1.5 million compared to 2020.

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Wyoming State Revenue Picture Good, But Future Is Uncertain

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Recent gains in revenue for the state’s main bank account are good news for the state, but the trends that led to the increase are not guaranteed to continue, a state budget official said Tuesday.

“There’s no guarantee we’re out of the woods yet,” Kevin Hibbard, director of the state’s Budget Department, told Cowboy State Daily. “But we are happy we have a little bit of a revenue bump.”

The latest update on the state’s revenues prepared by members of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group — a group of financial experts who predict what the state can expect to receive in the future — showed that as of the end of June, income for the state’s “General Fund” exceeded predictions made in January.

The report showed that thanks largely to higher sales tax and mineral tax income, the general fund, which finances most state operations, received $168 million more than predicted. The number grows to more than $200 million once capital gains from investments are counted.

The extra money is particularly good news given the fact the Legislature, in an effort to reduce state spending in the face of more dire revenue predictions made in January, used a one-time source of funding to pay for major maintenance of state property, Hibbard said.

“We have to remember we have to recover from that,” he said. “I think there’s an expectation that we will have to put the major maintenance (costs) back into a (regularly occurring budget) line item rather than pay for it with a one-time source of funds.”

Much of the increase in income was attributed to unexpected gains in sales taxes which resulted from increased retail sales generated by COVID stimulus payments and Hibbard said the state cannot anticipate such increases again.

“We attribute that (increase) to the stimulus payments, which is not going to be around forever,” he said.

The gain in oil and gas tax income, meanwhile, was was due largely to oil and gas prices that were higher than what had been expected in January, he said.

“We do like the fact the price of oil and gas is better than we estimated,” he said. “We like the fact that we have a modestly higher than anticipated price for oil and gas and we hope that continues.”

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Wyoming Employment Officials Don’t Understand Why Or How Workers Aren’t Working

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The signs are everywhere in restaurants and hotels — “Help Wanted.”

Despite the fact people are not turning out to fill these empty hospitality industry spots, people seem busy and are still spending money.

The shift away from the industry is a bit of a mystery for many labor force experts around the state.

“This is not an inexpensive place to live, in my opinion — so how are they paying their bills?” asked Donna Lester with the Wyoming Workforce Services office in Cody. “And buying groceries and buying gas and feeding their animals and all that?”

Lester and her colleagues across the state are puzzled by the lack of active searches for employment.

“If someone does come in, and says ‘I’m looking for a job,’ we tell them, you can go to Wendy’s and make $15 bucks an hour right now; you can go to Walmart and make $18.50,” she said. “We have a list of places that are desperate for help.”

But the workers aren’t showing up to fill the spots.

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data which illustrates how the workforce has already started to shift. Nationally, the number of workers quitting their jobs reached an all-time high of 2.7%, while layoffs and “discharges” reached an all-time low of 1%. 

But the gap between the number of job openings and the number of unemployed workers is narrowing, according to the report. Currently, there are only 562,000 more unemployed workers than open jobs.

Ty Stockton, with the Workforce Service Office in Cheyenne, said there isn’t really a way to find out why people are not going back to work, since his office only sees people who are actively looking for employment.

“We have had folks say they want to get back to work, but they’re having trouble with childcare or they’re taking care of somebody who has pre-existing conditions, so there’s a little more danger with what’s going around,” Stockton said. 

He added, however, that there are some clues that the mindset of people who have traditionally worked in the hospitality industry have shifted.

“We have had quite a few people enroll in CDL training,” he said. “Truck drivers are in huge demand right now. We’ve seen the signs around that some of those places are offering really good salaries for folks just straight out of truck driving school.”

Stockton also pointed out there has been an increase in the number of people enrolling in classes to become certified nursing assistants or for other jobs in the medical field.

“There are a lot of short term certificates that somebody can finish in just a few months, then they can get right to work,” he said. “Other people are opting to go for degrees, which might take a little longer, but they’ll have more options when they get out.”

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Income For Wyoming’s Main Bank Account $450M Ahead Of Projections

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Income for the state’s two main bank accounts continues to run ahead of projections made earlier this year, according to the latest report on Wyoming’s revenues.

Due largely to unexpected gains in sales tax income and mineral revenues, the income for the state’s General Fund and Budget Reserve Account through the end of June is running more than $450 million ahead of projections made in January, according to the latest update from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group.

“The January 2021 CREG revenue forecast, in retrospect, was generally somewhat conservative (thought not intentionally), particularly in the near-term because of limited information availability on additional fiscal stimulus, tremendous uncertainty of the (coronavirus) duration and the pace of deployment and efficacy of the vaccine,” the update said.

CREG is a group of state fiscal experts from various state agencies that makes regular projections on how much income the state can expect to support its two-year budget. It issues official reports twice a year — in January and October — and then updates those figures quarterly.

In May of last year, the group’s  announcement that the state could face shortfalls of up to $1.8 billion prompted budget cuts by Gov. Mark Gordon and legislators.

However, subsequent reports have shown that the state’s income has exceeded those expectations.

According to the latest report, during fiscal 2021, which ran from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, the state collected almost $439.2 million in sales and use taxes, almost $34.6 million more than was predicted in January.

The report attributed the gain to increases in retail spending boosted by federal COVID stimulus payments and sales taxes generated by wind farm construction in the state.

Additionally, severance tax income from mineral production has exceeded projections by almost $18.8 million, the report said, due to oil and natural gas prices that have been higher than earlier projections.

“Both Wyoming oil production and prices are on pace to exceed forecast levels,” the report said. “In particular, oil prices have rebounded at a much faster pace since late 2020 than CREG expected, thanks to the winding-down of the pandemic and the government’s stimulus payments which, in particular, boosted consumers’ demand on travel and recreation.”

However, the report was not optimistic that the trend for mineral income would continue.

“Caution is still warranted regarding the recovery momentum on multiple fronts,” it said.

The state received another almost $294 million through capital gains, the report said. It noted the CREG does not usually include estimates for income from capital gains in its two main reports of the year, so the income appears as an unanticipated increase in revenues.

As for the budget reserve account, the account used to pay for government agencies if the general fund runs short, income in fiscal 2021 exceeded projections by almost $86.8 million for a total income of almost $178.9 million, the report said.

Funding for the state’s schools is running $40 million ahead of projections when capital gains are taken into account, the report said, totaling $375.6 million during the fiscal year.

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Report: Wyoming Lost 16K Jobs Over One-Year Period

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming lost more than 16,000 jobs in 2020, according to a new state Department of Workforce Services report, due largely to the coronavirus pandemic.

The department’s quarterly report on the state’s economic indicators showed that from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020, Wyoming lost 16,273 jobs, a 5.9% loss, and total payroll fell by $58.4 million, a 1.6% loss.

The largest job losses occurred in mining, including oil and gas, which saw a decrease of 5,923 jobs, the leisure and and hospitality industry, which lost 3,159 jobs, and construction, which had a loss of 2,786 jobs.

Other losses were seen in local government employment, including public schools, colleges and hospitals, which saw a loss of 1,257 jobs, wholesale trade, where 1,036 jobs were lost, professional and business services, which saw a loss of 501 jobs, and manufacturing, which had a loss of 489 jobs.

However, the state’s retail trade employment rose by 627 jobs in the same period.

Job losses were seen in 17 of Wyoming’s 23 counties.

Natrona County lost 3,382 jobs (an 8.5% decrease) and its total payroll fell by $53.5 million, a 9.7% decrease, with the largest declines coming in mining, wholesale trade, construction, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and other services.

Campbell County’s employment fell by 2,533 jobs, a 10% decrease, and its total payroll decreased by $54.6 million, a 13.5% decrease. Mining in the county lost more than 1,300 jobs and smaller job losses were seen in wholesale trade, local government, construction, professional and business services, transportation and warehousing and leisure and hospitality.

Converse County lost 2,015 jobs, a 26.1% decrease, and its total payroll fell by $39.4 million, a 32% decrease. The county’s construction sector accounted for approximately half of the job losses. County employment also fell in mining, professional and business services and transportation and warehousing.

Employment in Sweetwater County fell by 2,006 jobs, a 9.1% decline, and its total payroll decreased by $34.6 million or 10.2%. Sizeable job losses occurred in mining, construction, transportation & warehousing, local government, leisure & hospitality, and wholesale trade.

Laramie County lost 1,455 jobs, a 3.1% decrease, but its total payroll grew by $21.6 million, a 3.6% increase. Large job losses were seen in leisure & hospitality, mining (including oil & gas), local government, manufacturing, information, and construction.

Teton County’s employment fell by 1,034 jobs, a 5.2% decrease, but its total payroll increased by $79.7 million, or 27.7%. Its leisure & hospitality industry lost more than 900 jobs and retail trade lost more than 150 jobs. However, gains were seen in construction, financial activities and professional and business services.

Lincoln County added 103 jobs, a 1.6% increase, and its total payroll increased by $9.8 million, or 12%.

Job losses continued into the first quarter of 2021, according to preliminary data, as employment fell from the first quarter of 2020 by approximately 14,500 jobs, a 5.4% decrease, and total payroll fell by $197.6 million, a 5.9% decrease.

Large job losses were seen in mining, approximately 5,500 jobs, leisure and hospitality (approximately 2,800 jobs), construction (approximately 2,500 jobs), local government (including public schools, colleges, & hospitals; approximately 1,300 jobs), and wholesale trade (approximately 1,000 jobs).

However, continuing its trend from 2020, retail trade added more than 700 jobs.

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Seasonal Jobs Help Reduce Wyoming Unemployment

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell slightly in May as seasonal employment continued to boost job numbers, according to the state Department of Workforce Services.

Unemployment in May was set at 5.4%, a slight drop from the 5.7% seen in April, the department said, thanks largely to the gains seen in seasonal jobs.

“From April to May, unemployment rates followed their normal seasonal pattern and decreased in most counties,” the department said in its monthly unemployment report. “Unemployment rates often decline in May as warmer weather brings seasonal jobs in leisure and hospitality, construction, professional and business services and government.”

The state’s unemployment rate for May was slightly below the national average of 5.5%.

Crook County had the lowest unemployment rate for May at 3.9%, while Natrona County had the highest at 6.9%

Reflecting the influence of tourism, Teton County had the largest decline in the unemployment rate, falling from 7.1% in April to 5.9% in May.

May’s unemployment figure was far below the rate of 8.7% set in May of 2020 at the height of business closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“From May 2020 to May 2021, unemployment rates fell in every county,” the department said. “Jobless rates were especially high in May 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the decreases in 2021 reflect a return toward more normal levels.”

The state’s “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate — a rate derived by accounting for the impacts of normally recurring events such as storms, warmer weather and major holidays — stood at 5.4% in May, the same as in April.

Again, the seasonally adjusted rate was well below the rate of 8.5% seen in May 2020 and slightly below the national average of 5.8%.

The number of jobs in the state also grew slightly in May from the previous year, the report said, with a gain of about 10,000. The department said the increase was due to low job numbers caused by COVID-19 last year. 

“Nonfarm employment was unusually low in May 2020 because of widespread economic disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

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Wyo Rental Cars in Short Supply, Expensive; More Than $5,000 Per Week in Jackson

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Travelers often take for granted that once they fly somewhere, they can just rent a car and cruise around their destination.

Not this year.

“People are flying (to Jackson) and driving down to Salt Lake City to get rental cars, changing their plans,” said Justin Walters at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “Some people are canceling altogether.”

It’s a “carpocalypse”, according to some in the industry. Car rental companies had to sell their inventory to cut costs during the pandemic. Additionally, a shortage of critical components has hampered the manufacture of new vehicles. So now that Americans are traveling again, the demand far outpaces the supply.

In addition to the shortage of inventory, the price of a rental car has gone through the roof. 

Michelle Walters from Cheapcarrental.net says that rental car rates across the U.S. are, on average, about 30% higher than average rental car rates from the same time two years ago. 

Closer to home, though, that percentage increase is actually quite conservative. The current rate for a rental car in Jackson is 10 times higher than the national average.

Ten times.

Say, for example, you wanted to rent a Toyota Corrolla for a week, beginning Friday, June 17. To pick that vehicle up from the Jackson Airport, the cost would be $5,201 (according to the website KAYAK).

Of course, Jackson is known for its high-end visitors and high-dollar real estate. Cody, on the other side of Yellowstone National Park, has lodging rates and food prices that are more reasonable.

So to rent a car in Cody should be much more affordable than in Jackson, right? Of course it is! That same Toyota Corrolla would rent in Cody, at the same time, for just… $1,678.

It seems the closer you get to a major tourist destination like Yellowstone National Park, the higher the car rental rates are. 

To rent a similar vehicle in Cheyenne for the same time period, a person would pay just $660 – a fraction of the cost in either Cody OR Jackson. And Rock Springs is even less expensive – a Kia Rio rented for that same week in June would cost just $218.

Options for travelers in high-demand destinations in the state are limited. There are some taxi services – a quick Google search shows over a dozen such operations in the Jackson area – but Uber and Lyft aren’t as prevalent in Wyoming as they are in more urban areas. 

And perhaps some budding entrepreneurs might start renting out their cars, like many rent out their homes. 

An AirBnB-type business called Turo allows people to offer their personal vehicles for rent – but that option hasn’t yet caught on in rural areas like Wyoming.

So until a solution presents itself, travelers will have to prepare for some hefty sticker shock if they are hoping to rent a vehicle while traveling this summer.

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Wyoming Innovation Center Breaks Ground in Gillette

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By Mark Christensen, County 17
This story republished with permission

On a shale covered site north of Gillette, Energy Capital Economic Development (ECED) broke ground yesterday on what it hopes will be the global center of research for coal-based products.

The Wyoming Innovation Center is a $3.48 million facility focused on the development of high-value, non-fuel, coal-based processes and products, according to materials from ECED. Its ECED, Campbell County, and the City of Gillette’s first major capital investment as part of the “Carbon Valley” ecosystem that many hope will develop new uses for Campbell County’s Powder River Basin (PRB) coal.

Thanks to federal funding from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Wyoming Business Council (WBC), the local funds for the project are minimal (County 17, Jan. 21). The project secured a $1.5 million grant from the WBC (County 17, June 15, 2017) and $1.46 million from the EDA (County 17, Aug. 28, 2019). The balance is being provided by the City of Gillette, Campbell County, and private businesses.

Speaking to the importance of facilities like WyIC, ECED CEO Phil Christopherson took the opportunity to praise former WBC Regional Representative Dave Spencer, who had the initial idea for what would become WyIC. At the time of its conception five years ago, Spencer and Christopherson were meeting with companies who were looking to place pilot plants and prove up their technology.

One of those companies, TerraPower, has received a lot of attention recently as they announced the Natrium Reactor to be built in Wyoming (County 17, June 3). At the time, TerraPower, like many of the companies, indicated that if there was a place that they could setup and build a pilot plant, they would be there.

“That was the genesis for the idea behind the Wyoming Innovation Center. Let’s build a place where that technology can be taken out of the lab and put to practical use, so we can extend the life of our coal mines, find alternate uses for coal, and use that as a raw material for manufacturing plants,” Christopherson said.

Mike Easley, CEO of Powder River Energy Corporation (PRECorp), and a member of the Wyoming Business Council, recognized how unique Campbell County and Wyoming are.

“It would have been so easy many years ago to assume the role of victim, find a persecutor, look for a rescuer and go in that kind of mode, but instead, because of leadership we have had, […] we have assumed the role of a creator and we are making things happen here,” Easley said.

Easley noted the support of power cooperatives like PRECorp, Basin Electric Power Cooperative (who supplies power to PRECorp), and Tri-State in innovation and their contributions towards projects like the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC) (County 17, May 17, 2018).

Through the concept of the Carbon Valley, Easley believes Campbell County and the state can push back against the forces fighting coal.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon was pleased to see the project come to fruition and reminisced about past conversations looking to develop partnerships for new technology and new products based upon Wyoming’s abundant coal resources. Gordon noted it had been nearly a decade since those initial conversations.

At the time, Gordon saw an opportunity “Where we could develop the kind of carbon fiber technology that could eventually mean we would be manufacturing componentry for Boeing planes. Instead of fighting with Washington, maybe we would be working together to really move our country forward.”

After those conversations, Gordon sat down with sovereign wealth funds and asked, “How are we going to invest in our future? How are we going to make sure that not only our country goes forward, but that our world goes forward and understands there are opportunities for technology?” Gordon’s questions were in the context of coal and fossil fuels.

More Atlas Carbons

The goal of WyIC is more Atlas Carbons. Atlas Carbon takes PRB coal and converts it to activated carbon, a significantly higher value product with a growing market.

With requests for state money, Gordon said, “Normally people show up and say, ‘You need to give us all this money and we’ll promise you a great project.’ But instead, Atlas, and Jim Ford, said ‘Here’s what we’ve done. We cowboyed some engineering together. We bought some used equipment. We made it work. That’s what us ranchers know how to do. And it’s working and its coming to fruition and its growing.”

Atlas Carbon, who’s site is just north of WyIC, is now producing a valuable product using PRB coal, and though they did receive state funding to scale up their operations, they made it work first and proved up their technology. The work at WyIC is all about proving-up technology.

“It’s time. It’s time that America starts selling energy and technology and the future to our friends instead of trying to buy it from our enemies,” Gordon said, while noting that most rare earth elements come from China and uranium is often sourced from Russia.

Though yesterday’s announcement was about developing new uses for PRB coal, Gordon drew attention to the importance of coal and base-load power as the nation focuses on decarbonizing, noting that renewables aren’t the only answer for energy in a carbon-neutral world. Citing rolling blackouts in California, the recent generation issues in Texas, and the need for power from coal during national emergencies like Hurricane Katrina, Gordon said there is still a place for coal.

“[Coal] is our most abundant and readily available energy source, but we can use it for so much more – and that’s what the innovation center is about and the research we are doing here, […] that the City of Gillette will benefit from, and the international recognition that you are getting here is just extraordinary,” Gordon said.

“Gillette is the center of where innovation is going to come from that will lead this nation forward. Make us energy independent and truly drive us into a great new world,” the governor added.

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Cody Businesses Offer Double Minimum Wage, Free Housing To Get Workers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

“Now Hiring” signs are everywhere in Cody. And while businesses in tourist towns seem to go through the same struggle every year to find workers, this year is especially difficult, according to employers.

Tracey Locke, the manager of Cody’s Boot Barn, said working with insufficient staff is a regular problem right now.

“We’re open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, so we have a lot of business coming in and out,” she said. “Yesterday was busier than we expected, and we were short staffed for the day.”

Locke said it has been difficult just to get people to turn in applications, let alone accept a job offer.

“I mean, if we can get them in the door and talk about the commissions and stuff, we might get them,” she said. “But I’ve had people schedule interviews, and then not even show up for interviews.”

Brenda O’Shea and her husband own and operate A Western Rose Motel, just a block from downtown Cody. She said the extra unemployment benefits that are currently being offered by the federal government are a big hinderance to getting local workers to apply.

“I’ve had two girls apply (who have asked), ‘Are you going to pay me under the table?’ ‘Why would I do that?’ ‘Because it’s going to affect my benefits if I make too much money.’”

The labor shortage is putting a strain on many local businesses, which in turn is affecting consumers.

“Dairy Queen has closed their lobby, Wendy’s is closing their lobby,” O’Shea said.

In an effort to entice workers, employers are offering unique benefits.

Some are advertising starting wages at $15 per hour or more. Some are offering signing bonuses. For small businesses like A Western Rose Motel, though, that kind of compensation isn’t realistic – so they offer other benefits.

“I provide free housing,” O’Shea said. “I have a two-bedroom home, no rent, (and I pay) $500 a week each.”

For Boot Barn, it’s the employee discount that can give help lure workers, according to Locke.

“We can’t compete with the $15 an hour, but our employee discount program that we have in here is top notch,” she said. “Like, we get 40% to 50% of our products off the retail cost. So that seems to be a huge benefit if you wear western clothing.”

But it’s not just the lack of local workers that’s affecting local businesses — it’s also the inability to hire workers from other countries.

O’Shea said their hotel has relied on foreign exchange students from China in years past, but not this year.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Cody, Wyoming, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Jersey Shore – it doesn’t matter,” she said. “Very few people are getting foreign exchange students.”

With those potential workers unable to travel to the U.S. this year because of coronavirus restrictions, O’Shea and two other employees are doing the work that eight or nine people have done in the past.

“I no longer live in my house, I live in a motel room,” she said, “because obviously my co-workers need days off, and when you own your own business you get to work all the time, and everyone’s experiencing that right now.”

Locke is in the same situation at the retail store. She said she is working extra hours just to keep the doors open.

“This week alone I hit 40 hours yesterday morning,” she said. “So, I worked a 12-hour day yesterday, and then I’m going to work a 12-hour day today.”

Locke is optimistic, though, that as the summer continues and employment benefits return to pre-pandemic rules, more people will be going back to work.

“I think we’re all crossing our fingers and hoping, like, mid-June, last part of June, when that unemployment changes, that we’ll see an uptick in applications, hopefully.”

“I mean, we’re just at the beginning of the tunnel, it hasn’t even really begun yet,” O’Shea said. “And we know that we have a short amount of time to make a year’s worth of income, so we’re trying our best. We’ll get through it.”

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