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Wyo Population Grows Three Times National Rate; Economist Credits It To Covid Escape

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Although Wyoming’s population grew at three times the national rate between 2020 and 2021, the overall increase in numbers will have a minimal effect on the state, according to an economist.

Wyoming’s total resident population grew by 1,536 people, 0.3%, between July 2020 and July 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared to the national growth rate of 0.1%.

Wyoming’s population in July 2021 was 578,803, according to the Census Bureau.

Wyoming economist and state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday while he is glad to see an uptick in residents, he does not think it will make much of a difference to the state and local economies.

“I think this was a COVID-driven thing and people ran away from crowded areas,” Case said. “Will this trend continue? COVID isn’t really a thing anymore, but the trend toward remote work might help a little bit.”

Case said it was not really fair to call the increase a “trend,” since it only took place over a one-year period.

Case pointed out that while many people moving to Wyoming can work remotely, the state has not seen any large companies moving in that could offer new jobs.

“It’s not like you’re plucking up a factory out of L.A. and putting it here,” he said. “It’s individuals from that company who come here.”

While Case said he does not want to see the state decrease in population, the state’s current tax structure keeps Wyoming from fully capitalizing on its new residents.

Fifteen counties in Wyoming saw population increases during the 1-year period. Lincoln County saw the largest increase, with 2.4%, following by Sheridan at 2.1% and Crook and Johnson counties, both at 1.9%.

Laramie County, the largest in the state, grew by 0.2%, while Natrona County, the second-largest, saw a decline of 0.8%, or 674 residents.

However, Campbell and Sweetwater counties saw the biggest decreases, with populations falling by 1.5% and 1.3%, respectively.

Wenlin Liu, the state’s chief economist, said in his analysis of the Census figures that two factors contributed to the state’s population change: births and deaths and net migration, the difference between people moving into and out of an area.

During teh year, 1,368 more people moved into Wyoming than left the state, the report said, while the difference between births and deaths accounted for 171 more residents being counted. During the year, 6,213 people were born in Wyoming and 6,042 people died.

Liu said the migration of people into the state was caused in part by the economy.

“Employment opportunities have always been the driving factor for Wyoming’s migration trend, but the pandemic also played a significant role in the past a couple of years,” Liu said.  “Many people chose to relocate to less populated and lower cost areas during the pandemic, and the increased availability of remote work made this possible.”  

Liu also said that the dramatic decline in energy prices and the subsequent economic downturn in the mid-2010s forced many residents to leave the state. Therefore, the state experienced consecutive years of negative net migration with more people leaving the state than moving in between 2014 and 2019.  

However, the direction of net migration reversed in both 2020 and 2021.  

Over two-thirds of Wyoming counties showed positive net migration, led by Sheridan with 729 people, and followed by Park with 530 people and Lincoln with 447.  

On the other hand, large negative net migration occurred in Campbell, with a loss of 907 people, Natrona and Sweetwater, with a loss of 621, counties.  

“The COVID-19 virus hit energy producing and serving areas especially hard as demand plummeted, and the rebound of the industry has been painfully slow, particularly in Wyoming,” Liu said.   

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Cody Man Who Owns Business in Ukraine Says He’s Doing What He Can to Protect Employees

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The world’s eyes are on Ukraine as Russia seems poised to invade its neighbor. 

But for those who live there, daily life is being conducted as if nothing is amiss, according to a Wyoming man who conducts business in the country.

“I know it might seem a little weird for Americans watching it on CNN and stuff, but you know, Ukrainians are a little more relaxed about the situation,” said Nick Piazza, a Cody native whose investment banking business, SP Capital Management, is based in Ukraine. 

In a phone call with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday, Piazza said he recently returned after spending three weeks in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, as Russia aggressively stepped up its military activity on the Ukrainian border. 

“As I left, there was a short period where international flights were canceled because international insurance companies weren’t insuring those flights,” he said. “And they’re doing a navy exercise in the Black Sea that has all but blocked Ukrainian ports. So it’s been tough on Ukraine.”

Russia appears to be ready to maintain a long-term battle with Ukraine. 

“They’ve put up hospitals, fuel depots, you know, things you do when you’re preparing for a potential intensive, longer term conflict, so those are all very disturbing,” Piazza told Cowboy State Daily. 

But Piazza said that Ukranians are displaying a quiet resolve.

“This is something Ukrainians have been doing for a while,” he said. “Much like people from Wyoming, from the Bighorn Basin, they’re very big on the idea of being free from the Soviet Union. And I think we need to remember that they’ve already lost roughly 15,000 people to this kind of hot and cold conflict with Russia since 2014.”

Piazza grew up in Cody, but moved to Ukraine after graduating from college, when colleagues introduced him to the opportunities for investment banking in that country.

“There was a big demand for investment in Ukraine, and I got involved with some people that taught me the trade,” he said. “And since about 2012, I’ve been doing my own investments, a bit of asset management and direct investments in Ukraine.”

In spite of the threat of military action, Piazza said he and his 20-plus employees are conducting business as usual.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with Russia,” he said. “You know, they invaded Ukraine in 2014, and they never really left. They took Crimea and the area known as the Donbass in the east, so it’s something that’s been part of our daily lives for the better part of 10 years.”

Piazza moved to Ukraine for business in 2004, but said after the invasion in 2014, he moved his wife, who is a native of Ukraine, back to Cody.

“It was Russian snipers that came in 2014 and were shooting people on the main street, which basically led me to coming back to Cody,” he recalled. “I’d just had my first son and we thought that sniper fire was not the best atmosphere for toddlers.”

Courtesy, Nick Piazza

However, Piazza said he continues to spend about half of the year in Ukraine.

Piazza said the citizens of Ukraine are currently making low-level preparations for a potential invasion, including forming what he called “volunteer territorial defense battalions.”

“They’re getting, like, light arms training, basic military training in preparation to defend the country,” he said. “Additionally, from the Cold War era, Ukraine has a lot of underground bunkers and things like that in Kyiv, the capital city, that had over the years turned into strip clubs and casinos and things like that, that they’ve been kind of repurposing back to their original use to be ready.”

Piazza said his friends in the Ukrainian government have told him that they are preparing the western region of the country to shelter refugees, if necessary. 

“The western regions of Ukraine are less likely to be attacked,” he said. “So there’s camps and tents and all the things you need to have set up there. So it’s not an atmosphere of panic, but it’s definitely an atmosphere of having Plan B, getting ready for the potential worst.”

Piazza added that although much has been made of the numbers of Russian troops surrounding the country, very little has been mentioned about the 200,000 Ukrainian troops prepared to defend their homeland.

“The number of people turning out for these territorial defense forces is really heartening, people getting small arms training,” he said. “I know several businessmen, guys that are kind of office workers that are doing this training and getting ready. There’s also a program in Ukraine, where a lot of businesses are kind of basically saying, ‘If you go and join the army, or this Territorial Defense Force, not only will we hold your job for you, but we’ll continue paying your salary.’” 

As far as his business is concerned, Piazza said he is doing his best to protect his employees.

“We’ve put together different kinds of Plan Bs,” he said. “We’ve made it possible that the business will be able to operate in any kind of conflict situation, including moving servers, doing things like that. We’ve also put together kind of a small safe house for employees where they can get supplies, we bought satellite phones, things like that. So we’re dealing with it, but trying not to panic. And everybody’s hoping for the best.”

But he said none of his employees are considering leaving the country.

“All of them have told us that they want to stay,” he said. “Obviously, we have some contingency plans in place, but no one wants to leave their homeland. Home is home.” 

Piazza said his wife’s family is still in Ukraine, and are at this time unwilling to leave their home.

“Her mother, her grandmother, most of her relatives are there,” he said. “We have spoken to them at length, and we’ve invited them to come stay with us, but they feel like they want to stay there, come what may. They’re not gonna run from their homeland.”

Piazza added that the conflict has been a unifying force for Ukrainians.

“I think this is a very big nation building event for Ukraine,” he said. “And I think it’s shown how serious they are about their sovereignty, and how much they care about being an independent country.” 

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Wyoming’s GDP Shrank Significantly In 2020, Worst Year Since 1986

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Last year was the worst for Wyoming’s economic growth since 1986 due the COVID pandemic, aBureau of Economic Analysis said.

Wyoming’s gross domestic product, the market value of goods and services produced by the labor and property located in the state, shrank 8.3% in 2020, the bureau reported.

“The coronavirus pandemic ravaged businesses and households due to government restrictions and demand reduction,” said Dr. Wenlin Liu, Chief Economist with the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division. 

The national decline in the GDP of 2.2% was the steepest since World War II and occurred despite the fact that the COVID recession is measured at having lasted just two months (March and April), the shortest recession in U.S. history, according to the federal agency. 

The report covers the GDP for all counties in the United States, and the statistics include contributions to GDP by industries.  As a common indicator of an area’s economic activity, the data can be used for comparisons to a different area in size, trend, and structure of the economy.    

Across the country, measured in current dollars, the vast majority of states experienced GDP declines, ranging from 9.7% in Hawaii, the biggest decline, to 7% in North Dakota. Wyoming’s decline of 8.3% put it in third place for the third largest GDP decline in the country.

Only nine states and the District of Columbia saw their economies grow from 2019 to 2020, including Idaho (1.7%), Nebraska (1.6%), South Dakota (1.6%) and Utah (1.3%)

“States where the worst downfalls were reported tend to be those that rely heavily on industries that were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 virus: energy and leisure and hospitality,” Liu said.

In Wyoming, the mining industry (including oil and gas extraction) suffered the largest contraction, dropping by 25.7%, and it accounted for nearly half of all the GDP decline in the state during the year. 

Leisure and hospitality industry value income fell by 16.4%, manufacturing declined by 16.3% and transportation and warehousing dipped by 12.3%.

Agriculture, retail trade and government (including public education and hospitals) were the only sectors that showed slight growth.

The size of Wyoming’s economy, $36.3 billion in 2020, was ranked the country’s second lowest, surpassing only Vermont ($33.4 billion). 

Compared to the peak year of 2008 when the state’s economy boomed, thanks largely to natural gas exploration, the GDP in 2020 was 15.2% lower, having been devastated by the dramatic decrease in Wyoming’s pivotal industry: mining.  Wyoming mining value has decreased by 71.5% since 2008.

“As one of the least diversified economies in the nation, Wyoming’s economic structure has profoundly changed during the past dozen years,” Liu said. 

Nationally, the GDP grew 41.5% during the same period. 

Despite the decline in recent years, the mining industry still contributed 12.7% of Wyoming’s total GDP in 2020.  That proportion was still the highest in the country, but was much smaller than its contribution of 37.8% of GDP recorded in 2008. 

For the United States, the mining industry contributed only 0.9% of GDP in 2020.        

Eighteen of Wyoming’s 23 counties experienced decreases in GDP between 2019 and 2020. 

Sublette and Converse counties saw the largest declines, 27.5% and 23.0%, respectively. 

Six other counties saw double-digit declines in GDP: Carbon at 17.1%, Sweetwater at 12.9%, Weston at 11.5%, Platte at 10.7%, Natrona at 10.5% and Uinta at 10.4%.

Reduced mineral extraction activities and services were the main reason for these counties’ steep declines.

Only five counties saw gains in their GDPs, Crook at 3.4%, Sheridan at 2.1%, Albany at 1.4%, Big Horn at 1.1% and Lincoln at 0.5%. The counties are home to little mining activity.

Since 2008, nearly half of Wyoming’s counties experienced a decline in GDP. 

Sublette’s and Johnson’s dropped by 83.5% and 71% respectively. 

Campbell, Carbon, Sweetwater, Uinta, and Weston counties all declined more than 30%. 

Teton grew the fastest, 54.3%, followed by Converse, 36.1%, Albany, 30%, Niobrara, 28.4% and Natrona, 26.8%.

Campbell County had the largest economy in the state from 2001 to 2015. However, Natrona County took over the No. 1 status between 2016 and 2019 until Laramie County became the holder of the top spot in 2020. 

The top five counties, Laramie, Natrona, Campbell, Sweetwater, and Teton, combined for 60.8% of Wyoming’s total GDP in 2020. 

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Outdoor Recreation Bolstered Wyoming’s Economy In 2020, Despite Pandemic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Even though total income dropped, outdoor recreation still contributed 3.4% to Wyoming’s gross domestic product as park visitation numbers increased and more people took part in some outdoor activities, according to the latest numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

According to the bureau, the total value added by outdoor recreation to the state’s gross domestic product dropped from $1.69 billion in 2019 to $1.25 billion in 2020, with the total contribution dropping from 4.2% to 3.4% of the total. 

Employment in the sector saw a decrease from 21,344 to 14,187 but the percentage of total wages declined only 0.1%.

“Many outdoor activities saw significant growth, including snowmobiling and (off-road vehicle) riding, which saw an increase in permit sales of over 18% and 16% respectively from 2019 to 2020.”  said Chris Floyd, Manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.  “Although the overall outdoor recreation economic impact numbers declined, most of the losses in the sector were due to limits on a few activities, such as snow skiing and outdoor events, which experienced heavy impacts due to closures and other restrictions during the pandemic.”

There were also increases in the economic impact of boating and fishing by 79%, bicycling by 13%, climbing/hiking/tent camping by 6%, motorcycling and ATV riding by 5% and RV camping by 2.5%.

Wyoming state park visitation in 2020 increased by 41% over 2019 and other managers of other public lands reported similar increases in use. The growth helped increase economic activity statewide as other economic sectors saw declines during the pandemic, according to the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Wyoming was ranked fourth nationally in value added in both percentage of GDP and percentage of total wages in 2020, trailing only Hawaii, Vermont and Montana.

Many Wyoming businesses reported strong sales of outdoor recreation equipment and vehicles, which would have been even higher had supply chains been able to keep up with the demand, officials said.

The economic impact from snow activities, particularly at ski resorts, saw a decline of 37% or $40 million, which wiped out many gains in other recreational activities.  Equestrian activities and hunting and shooting sports also declined by 28% and 21% respectively.

“Our gross sales were up over 40% in 2020 compared to 2019 and it is continuing through (2021) where we have surpassed 2020 gross sales year to date,” said Mark Black, owner of Cycle City Wyoming, a powersports business in Evanston. “Our issue now is the supply chain, where the manufacturers are limiting not only quantities but models as well, and sometimes shipping incomplete units that are waiting on chips for instrument clusters. The demand has been pretty consistent and I don’t see it dramatically decreasing for the near future.” 

Wyoming State Parks expects next year’s BEA report to show that outdoor recreation activities played a strong role in the state’s economic rebound, particularly since most closures and travel restrictions were eased or lifted.  

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Wyoming’s Cost of Living Soars; Prices Won’t Stabilize For At Least a Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Prices for food and other consumer items probably will remain higher than average for at least a year, according to an economist with the University of Wyoming.

However, Anne Alexander told Cowboy State Daily that people should avoid “panic buying” because it will have a negative impact on the supply chain.

“Right now, we’re in this perfect storm of inflationary pressures,” The economist said Friday. “On the supply side, the supply chains are screwed up, partially because of labor shortages, but also because we’ve stopped producing as much of everything. On the demand side, we’re seeing almost panic buying.”

While Alexander does not believe the United States or Wyoming will see the level of inflation that affected the country from 1973 to 1982, she does not believe there will be any relief from current high prices until some time next year.

Wyoming’s cost of living has increased at a rate not seen in more than a decade, according to a recently released report from the state’s Economic Analysis Division.

The annual inflation rate of 7.7% recorded during the second quarter of the year — which ended June 30 — is the highest annual inflation rate seen since the second quarter of 2008, when the state’s inflation rate was 7.9%, according to the division’s inflation report.

Alexander explained that since Wyoming is a “microcosm of other places,” the state is seeing higher prices for basically every type of good and service now. She pointed to the state’s hospitality and tourism industry as being particular victims of the current inflation.

“We have a huge influx of people wanting to go outdoors to see Yellowstone or some of our other great treasures, but there aren’t enough workers in the hospitality sector,” she said. “So in addition to limiting hours of operations, some people are also having to jack up their prices to pay people to come work in their hotel, gift shop or restaurant.”

Prices as high as today’s have not been an issue since the early 1990s, so Alexander said that basically an entire generation has managed to grow up without seeing much inflation.

She noted that the pandemic was essentially the first domino to fall in the supply chain situation, as it interrupted a supply chain that was fragile to begin with.

While prices will stay high for likely another year, Alexander reminded Wyoming residents to never buy high, never sell low and do not panic buy.

“Your inclination might be to go buy a lot of stuff now before the prices go up, but that actually puts pressure on prices and makes things go up further,” she said.

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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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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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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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Report: Slow Rebound In Wyoming’s Economy Continued In Last Quarter Of 2020

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economy continued its rebound in the fourth quarter of 2020, with slight gains seen in employment, personal income and the housing market.

However, the gains in most of those areas remained below what was seen prior to 2020, according to the state Department of Administration and Information.

“Wyoming’s economy continued to rebound in the fourth quarter, similar to the U.S. average,” the department said in its regular economic summary for the fourth quarter of last year.

The report said while Wyoming’s unemployment rate improved in the last quarter of the year to 5.3%, the number of jobs dropped from the last quarter of 2019, with 17,730 jobs being lost, a decline in employment figures of 6.1%.

Similarly, personal income grew in the last quarter of 2020, but very slowly, the report said.

“Wyoming’s total personal income grew 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020 from the previous year, the slowest growth since the first quarter of 2017,” the report said.

At the same time, the personal income nationally increased by an average of 4%, the report said.

Home prices also increased during the year by 8.4%, the report said, compared to a national average of 10.8%.

More homes were also built in the last quarter of 2020 over 2019, with the number of permits issued increasing by 21.5% over last year.

However, the report predicted a cooling in the housing market in the near future because of rising prices and mortgage rates.

“Indeed, there are signs that show some softness in (the) housing market such as new home sales and mortgage applications,” it said.

Tourism also increased significantly in the last quarter of the year over 2019, the report said, with Yellowstone National Park reporting a 94.2% increase in visitation and Grand Teton National Park’s visitation growing by 67.1%.

While the added visits helped generate economic activity in some areas, they did not do a lot to bring the full state’s tourism industry out of the slump it saw in 2020, the report said.

“Lodging sales for the fourth quarter were 35.4% higher than a year ago in Teton County, but were down 3.2% for the state as a whole,” it said.

Taxable sales also declined statewide by about 9.3% from the last quarter of 2019, the report said, but most of the decline could be traced to a lack of purchases by the mining industry.

“The mining industry (including oil and gas extraction) contracted substantially, at -63.1%, due to declining sales of equipment, supplies and services from energy exploration and production activity,” the report said. “This was one of the largest year-over-year drops in Wyoming’s history.”

Sales by the state’s retail trade industry grew by 2.7% over last year and the wholesale trade industry saw growth of 17.6% during the year, the report said, largely because of increased activity in the state’s wind energy industry.

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Barrasso: COVID Relief Bill Is “Packed With Pork”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said the coronavirus relief bill headed to the U.S. Senate this week gets a grade of “F” from him because it is “packed with pork.”

He criticized the bill in two different venues on Tuesday, on the Senate floor and during an appearance on Fox Business with Maria Baritromo.

“This whole coronavirus so-called relief bill is packed with pork,” Barrasso said on Fox. “This is a piece of legislation that is the wish list of liberal Democrats for a long, long time. This whole bill, in my opinion, gets an F grade.”

Barrasso was referring to certain provisions of the bill, including one raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 (something both he and U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis have been vocal in opposing), another providing money for “failing pension funds” and a third funding what he called “bailouts for blue states.”

Congressional Budget Office report estimated the legislation, if passed, would increase the cumulative budget deficit by $54 billion in the next decade. Prices for goods and services would also increase as a result of paying workers more, the report said.

But the report also estimated the minimum wage increase would pull 900,000 workers out of poverty and pump $333 billion back into the economy.

Barrasso said on the Senate floor that he opposed the billions of dollars being spent on issues unrelated to the virus.

He also mentioned that the bill would subsidize health insurance, allowing people who make significant amounts of money to still get government aid for health care which they do not need.

“Government aid is supposed to be for those who need it — people who can’t make it on their own. But that’s not been the focus of the Democrats with this legislation,” Barrasso said on the floor. “This legislation is not about coronavirus, not about coronavirus testing and vaccination. This new proposal with these additional subsides is just going to get us this much closer to one-size-fits-all, socialized medicine.”

He added that Republicans wanted to lower health care costs, but Democrats wanted to raise what the government pays and that the party was pressuring states to expand Medicaid, something Wyoming has declined to do during numerous legislative sessions.

“I think only one dollar out of 11 of this $1.9 trillion bill actually goes to help get people back to work, kids back to school, focuses on the health care components of the coronavirus,” he said. “Republicans are offering the American people a stronger economy and opening schools. That’s what we ought to be focusing on.”

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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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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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Wyoming Applies Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds To Internet, Processing Plants

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Two programs set up to help Wyoming businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are almost out of money, but the distribution of federal relief funds to help the state is continuing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a briefing, said the state is working to use the federal coronavirus relief money for items such as broadband service improvement, medical facility upgrades and agriculture relief as the two business relief programs still in operation draw to a close.

“Our two business relief programs are still open, but funding is beginning to run low,” he said. “These funds are open for small businesses and we are trying to be as accommodating with small businesses as we possibly can. We want to be sure the people of Wyoming and businesses of Wyoming have every opportunity to relieve some of the burdens placed on them by COVID-19.”

Of the $1.25 billion sent to the state through congressional action, the state has distributed $829 million, Gordon said.

Much of the money has been distributed through three business relief programs approved by the Legislature during a special session earlier this year.

Of the two programs still in operation, one is designed to offset the impacts on Wyoming businesses with up to 50 employees of business restrictions imposed to help limit the spread of coronavirus and the other is designed to compensate companies for the direct costs of dealing with the coronavirus, such as the purchase of protective equipment.

The state is required to spend the full $1.25 billion by the end of the year and the Legislature gave Gordon the authority starting Sept. 15 to spend any of the funds not already spent.

Gordon said one program that will use money will launch next week, when meat processing plant owners will be able to apply for funds to expand their operations. Gordon said meat producers around the state have been able to have their meat processed because of shortages of processing facilities.

The state has also used some of the money to expand broadband Internet service to rural areas of Wyoming.

“I’m pleased to report that some of the most rural parts of Wyoming will now have connectivity when these projects are completed,” he said.

The state has already started work to get some of the federal money into the hands of local governments and medical facilities

Wyoming Economic Indicators Up from May, Still Down From 2019

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The indicators that point to Wyoming’s economic health improved slightly in June from May, but the state’s economic health remains worse than it was one year ago, according to a state report.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its regular report on “Wyoming Economic Indicators” said unemployment rates, tax income in the mineral and hospitality sectors and total employment were all below where they stood in June of 2019.

“The Wyoming Economic Health Index reported an index value of 97.3 in June 2020,” the report said. “This value was higher than the May 2020 value of 95.5, but significantly lower than the June 2019 value of 108.”

However, the report also said declines in the state’s unemployment rate in recent months are a good sign for the economy.

“These improved unemployment rates over the last couple of months are a bright sign that the recovery from the Covid-19 business shutdowns has begun,” it said.

Each of the four indicators fell during the year, the report said, with sales and use tax revenue from mining dropping by more than 66% to total $3.8 million in June, compared to about $11.8 million in June of 2019.

In addition to economic difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, the state has been hit with a collapse in coal prices that has led to declines in its coal industry.

Lodging tax income also fell from 2019, dropping by 46.2% to total $1.7 million in June. Although the income was higher than it was in May, it also marked the fourth consecutive month that lodging tax revenues dipped below the previous year’s levels by 35% or more, the report said, due largely to the coronavirus.

“These large decreases in collections from lodging tax are not surprising because of the stay-at-home orders and lack of travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

The state’s unemployment rate of 7.6% in June was a drop from the rate of 8.8% seen in May, but it remained considerably higher than the rate of 3.6% seen in June 2019.

In addition, the number of people with jobs in June totaled 266,300, an increase of 2,500 from May, the report said, but a decline of 24,100 from June 2019.

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Wyoming Cities Have Different Responses To Severe Tax Declines

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By Wendy Corr, Ellen Fike and Mari Heithoff — Cowboy State Daily

Like Wyoming’s counties and the state itself, Wyoming’s cities are having to reduce their spending in the face of declining tax revenues.

Officials in different communities are taking different steps to make their budgets balance, from spending cuts to hiring freezes.

The mayors of Lander, Cody and Cheyenne told the Cowboy State Daily that their coffers had already been squeezed by tax income declines even before the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in business closures.

Lander

Lander had already been forced to make budget cuts of $650,000 and may have to reduce spending by another $300,000 by the end of the year, said Mayor Monte Richardson and Treasurer Charri Lara.

The city has seen a significant drop in revenues with the collapse of coal and oil prices, the two said, along with the reduced sales tax revenue.

“The projected sales tax decline was around 20%,” Lara said. “We’ve dropped below that and we’re not sure how far it will go.”

The cuts will ultimately have an impact on Lander’s citizens in the form of reduced services, Richardson said.

“We’ve cut the police department, the Parks and Rec Department, the cemetery,” he said. “We’ve cut most of our part-time summer help. The differences we’ll see are like a pyramid. If the city has to make budget cuts, we just won’t be able to provide the same services we have before.” 

Complicating the issue is a possible reduction in the amount of money the Legislature makes available to Wyoming’s cities. With the state facing a $1.5 billion deficit, some believe the those payments to the cities may be reduced or eliminated.

“The Legislature dictates supplemental sums to the city, and we don’t know yet how big those cuts will be, but Wyoming has to cut $1.5 billion over the next two years,” he said. “That’s 750 million a year, which is a huge amount to cut.” 

Cody

Cody started economizing some time ago, said Mayor Matt Hall, by not filling jobs that came open through retirement and by consolidating positions to give more responsibilities to fewer employees.

“We have asked, and we continue to ask, employees to wear a couple of different hats now, to troubleshoot things that they wouldn’t normally have to do had we been able to hire another person,” he said. “So we’ve lowered the amount of people working for the city, but when you have less people, things start slipping through the cracks.”

He said the personnel reductions would make themselves felt in areas such as maintenance to city parks and possible skipped days on garbage pickup. 

“New technology and IT stuff we’ve had to put off,” he said. “We’re putting off maintenance things, that, if we keep putting them off, we’ll end up re-doing, which costs an order of magnitude higher than just by doing some basic maintenance.”

Cody has already tapped its reserves for emergencies for about the last 10 years, Hall said.

“Essentially we’re using reserves to balance the budget,” he said. “The auditors recommend that we have a certain amount in reserves, to cover big expenses for emergencies, but for the most part, we are slowly whittling away the reserves that we’ve set aside for emergencies.

Cheyenne

Heading into the new fiscal year knowing tax income would decline significantly, Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr asked her department heads to prepare a budget 20% below current levels.

The end result was a budget with percentage cuts ranging from the single digits in Public Safety to a cut of 19% in Orr’s office, she said.

“I’m feeling pretty optimistic,” she said. “We made cuts early in the budgeting process, so I don’t think we’ll have to do cuts, layoffs or furloughs in the future.”

Officials had initially believed sales tax income would decline by 25% in the coming year, but Orr said new information indicates the decline might be closer to 11%.

She added there has also been some good economic news for the city with increases in large consumer purchases such as cars and recreational vehicles.

However, Orr expressed concern about a reduction in the amount of money given the state’s cities by the Legislature, which she said has amounted to about $4 million on past years.

If the state does not provide those payments, the city may have to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase, she added.

“Because I don’t know where we’d find $4 million extra in our budget,” she said.

The city’s latest budget did take the cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days into account, Orr said.

“But it will be interesting to see overall how the spending patterns come,” she said. “Maybe we’ll see tourism in a different way in the city and county.”

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Wyoming’s Economic Health in April Worst in 15 Years

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economic health in April was at its lowest level seen in 15 years, according to a state agency.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its June report on the state’s economic indicators, reported that the state’s economic health in April was given a score of 95.2, the lowest score recorded since the measurement was first taken in January 2005.

A score of 100 indicates the state’s economic health is equal to conditions seen in January 2005. A higher score indicates improvement and a lower score indicates worsening conditions.

The EAD, a division of the state Department of Administration and Information, said the four economic indicators used to determine the state’s economic health all declined significantly in April from March, when the economic health index was set at 104.3. Unemployment was the biggest contributor to the decline, the report said.

“This large drop in the index from March 2020 was primarily due to a sharp increase in unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

The economic health index in April of 2019 was set at 105.9.

The index is determined by reviewing the state’s monthly unemployment rate, monthly total non-farm employment, sales and use tax collections from the mining sector and sales and use taxes from lodging.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate increased significantly in April from March, growing to 9.6% from 3.8%.

Non-farm employment dropped by 24,000 in April to total 262,400, sales and use tax collections from the mining industry fell by $2.7 million to total $6.4 million and lodging tax income totaled $640,000, a decline of 50% from numbers posted in April of 2019, the report said.

“This 50% year-over-year decline ties the largest decline for any month over the past 15 years,” the report said. 

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More Than 60% of Wyoming Workers See Wage and Hour Cuts

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than 60% of the Wyoming residents polled for a University of Wyoming survey have seen their work hours or pay cut because of the coronavirus.

The university, in a news release Thursday, said its Survey and Analysis Center found that of the 494 people surveyed, 61.1% either had their own hours or wages cut or had a member of their immediate families whose hours or wages were reduced.

The survey, the second conducted by the center on issues related to coronavirus, also found that 39.5% of those questioned had either been laid off or lost their jobs or had an immediate family member who had lost a job because of COVID-19.

The survey was conducted on April 13 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The number of people telling researchers they had been laid off or lost their jobs increased by 7.7% in the latest poll compared to the previous poll, conducted two weeks earlier.

Most of those questioned, 54.2%, said they have changed their daily routines quite a bit since the coronavirus surfaced in Wyoming, with 71.5% saying they are eating at restaurants less often. More than half, 51.8%, of those questioned said they are declining visits from friends and family and more than 77% said they are avoiding physical contact with others and spending more time at home.

Support remains high for steps taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Wyoming, with 84.4% backing the decision to close public schools and 82.2% supporting orders limiting public gatherings.

However, support for a “shelter-in-place” order for the state has declined, falling to 47.8% this week compared to 54.4% two weeks ago.

Concern over the impact of coronavirus on the nation’s economy grew slightly in the last two weeks to total 74.3%, an increase of 2.9 percentage points from two weeks ago.

A majority of those questioned, 61%, say they consider coronavirus a real threat, while 28.8% say it is being blown out of proportion, an increase of 4.6 percentage points from two weeks ago.

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Competitive pay, flexibility keys to hiring seasonal workers, say officials

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By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate is a good indicator of a healthy economy: people  are working and therefore able to buy homes, cars  — and Christmas and Hanukkah gifts. 

But according to state officials, the current unemployment rate of 3.8 percent means that employers looking to hire extra help during the holiday season may have a tough time of it. The low unemployment rate is a curse to employers, Denise Rodriguez, business representative in the Department of Workforce Services, told Cowboy State Daily.

“It’s a job-seeker’s market instead of an employer’s market right now,” she said,“(It) makes hiring overall very difficult for employers to find individuals seeking employment.”

According to Chris Brown, the executive director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming Retail Association, finding seasonal help is incredibly difficult for businesses. 

“If you were to go round on the horn and ask (members of the WLRA and WRA) what the biggest challenge is for them, nine out of ten — without a doubt — would say finding an adequate work force,” he said. 

And it’s not just a seasonal problem, he said. 

“The problem is that in Wyoming there are not enough employees available,” he said.  “It’s the least populated state in the country, so it has the least populated workforce in the country.”

Brown and DWS representatives have some advice for employers hoping to score some good workers to help with the holiday rush.

Offer competitive pay

“The more competitive pay the better,” suggested Jeff Schulz, a manager for the DWS Workforce Service Centers. “If a company is paying $12 an hour, for example, if you can pay $13 an hour, you can get them (to leave their current employer).”

According to Rodriguez, employers regularly resort to poaching staff from other employers.

“I had a 21-year-old tell me yesterday, ‘I’m thinking about looking for another job that pays more,’” Rodriguez said. “I said, ‘Don’t you think about burning bridges?’  He said, ‘I think I’ll look at getting more money.’

“(Job-seekers) can go back and forth,” she continued. “If they leave an employer and things don’t work out at the other job, they can go back and they’ll take them back.  Chances are the position still needs to be filled.”

Provide flexible hours

A lot of people looking for seasonal work already have full-time jobs, and they’re looking for a job where they can work evenings and weekends, said Ty Stockton, DWS communications manager.

Others are students who want to make some extra money over the holidays, Brown said. 

“In both the retail and hospitality industries, flexible schedules, being able to work with students and their school schedules, give them part-time hours — employers tout those things to supplement their work force,” he said.  “They need to offer (applicants) a great place to work, have fun and make money.”

Be innovative 

DWS Business Representative Terri Wells suggested that in addition to competitive salaries and flexible hours, employers be creative in their approach to attracting workers. 

“Think outside of the box,” she said. “What can you offer as an add-on?” 

“A lot of companies offer retention bonuses, so if you stay six months or so they give you a bonus,” Shulz said. “There are a variety of ways you can approach it, but the key is to make the employee as happy as they can be.”

Try a “surgical approach”

Shulz likened participating in a job fair to select the right candidate for the job to conducting precise surgery. 

“We do a mini-job fair every month,” he said.

The DWS job fairs are geared specifically for particular industries.  Employers who take part have an opportunity to grab the job-seekers most attracted and best suited for that industry. 

Check out the DWS website 

Workforce Services’ website, wyomingatwork.com, is designed to help not only job-seekers, but employers as well. They can search the system for resumes that match the kind of applicant they’re looking for and send a message to the job seeker. 

Consult a local Workforce Services Center

Employers who need more help finding seasonal workers can call or visit their local DWS center.  There are 22 centers throughout the state.

“If any employers are having difficulty filling or retaining positions and are looking for ideas, they can contact one of the local DWS centers,” Rodriguez said. 

Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

in Economic development/Column/Business/Bill Sniffin
Sound off Wyoming's local economies
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Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Of Wyoming’s 23 counties, why is Converse County leading the way economically?

The county boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, the fourth-lowest rate in the state behind Teton, Crook and Weston counties. It is in the midst of an energy boom bringing new workers to the area. Who better than the local newspaper publisher to explain what it happening in Douglas, Glenrock and Converse County?  

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

“Converse County is at the apex of a massive oil and gas exploration boom that appears to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“While we have huge amounts of exploration and development activity underway already, indications are the next few years will see an even bigger explosion of development as more wells are drilled – as many as 17,000 by some estimates based on those permitted. Those wells in the permit pipeline and the 5,000 wells being proposed are the subject of an environmental impact statement that is nearing its conclusion – and many more come into their own.”

Adelman says that all this oil and gas activity eclipses other energy-related activity.

“The Cedar Springs (phase 1) wind farm is beginning work this year, and phases II and III are already well into becoming realities concurrently and consecutively with phase I.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s multi-billion dollar Gateway West transmission line project is underway, with its starting point outside of Glenrock, and those and other wind farms will tie into that and other lines.”

Adelman notes that even though the coal industry has been hit with declines in demand and production, the industry — along with the railroads — is still responsible for most of the long-term energy employment in the area.

He sees development of other energy sources causing the Converse County economy to soar in a short time span.

“Of course, such a surge in growth – with employment spikes, drastically falling unemployment and the accompanying shortage of housing – is not without its struggles, but it is certainly a welcomed relief from the 2016-2018 crash in oil and gas prices and near-standstill in new exploration here,” Adelman concludes.

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

“Those of us that have lived through energy economic cycles remember how quickly the spigot can turn off when commodity prices fall out of bed and the workers spools their rags overnight and head back to Houston.

“When dealing with fossil fuel economies, 12-month budgets are considered long-range planning. Oil and gas economies are good until they’re not. The best cross on an Angus cow is a Lufkin pump.

“Our growth seems manageable at the present time, but the seams on our jeans are starting to get stretched tight. Any help in adding lanes to State Highway 59 would be welcomed. Those of us in energy counties understand the importance of mineral taxes paid in to the State’s coffers, as well as the strains our cities and towns undergo to meet the needs and costs of their development and production… we hope all our citizens of our wonderful State understand as well.”

The situation is different in Fremont County, where the unemployment rate in June was 4.7 percent, the highest in the state.

But in Fremont County’s seat of Lander, business owner Joe Quiroz said he sees opportunities ahead:

“I think we’re holding and have potential for growth. Last week in Jackson, three people asked me quietly and seriously about life in Lander. In fact, they’re all prosperous people who earn and spend, and are tired of the glitz and glam of a ski town.

“And the traffic. But they also need fast connectivity and transportation by a reliable air carrier. 

“I’m encouraged by the arrival in Lander of an interventional cardiologist and a vascular surgeon. These are people who will draw patients from around the state. Our future is not going to be based on employment of a large skilled workforce, but of small operators working in a knowledge based economy. 

“Lander has physical advantages that many places in Wyoming do not have. The sense of community is paramount. My wife Andrea runs a global enterprise from Lander, a place that will be our base camp as long as we are able to live here. We may have an apartment in London or Paris, but Lander is home.” 

Albany County is keeping steady with the University of Wyoming as a stabilizing anchor:

“The Laramie area economy is holding on, which is about all it ever does,” says John Waggener, an archivist for the American Heritage Center. “The tax base here is low due to the fact the largest employer, UW, is a public entity.”

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

“Hard to read the Laramie economy without reference to UW and, so far, I detect a ‘wait-and-see’ feeling about the interim and forthcoming new leadership. The mystery on departure of Laurie Nichols still spawns rumors. We’ll see in the next few weeks what the new semester holds.” 

Up on the eastern slope of the Big Horns, things are green and growing, according to retired community leader and former state Rep. Doug Osborn:

“I feel like the Sheridan-Buffalo area is doing well. The towns are clean and well kept, people seem generally happy and there seems to be building going on throughout.”

Retired Buffalo Bulletin Publisher Jim Hicks largely agrees, although he acknowledges the difficulty posed by the deterioration of coal-bed methane in the region:

“I believe Buffalo is holding its own economic issues.  The area has seen a sharp decline in Coalbed Methane activities and a lot of those jobs and supporting industries have gone away. Buffalo expects to see some negative spin-off from the decline of coal production, but that should be minor.  Tourism is up this year and cattle prices remain at a level to keep at least a small smile on the faces of ranchers.”

Pat Henderson, executive director for Whitney Benefits in Sheridan, describes his town:

“Our Sheridan area is doing very, very well.  Tax receipts are up.  Housing prices continue to increase. Lots of people moving here.  California, Texas and Colorado. We have diversified a lot with our economy. 

“One big dark cloud is Cloud Peak mine operating up north of here in Montana. Most of the employees live in Sheridan County. Very good wages but great uncertainty with them staying open. Going through bankruptcy currently and looking for a bidder.  If this mine closes, it will be a considerable loss.  Need to pray for them and their families.”

Gillette attorney Tom Lubnau II, a former Speaker of the Wyoming House, remarked on oil’s temporary ability to mask the struggles of the Powder River Basin’s coal economy:

“I live in Gillette.   The economy is average to below average.   Oil is covering for the slump in coal, for awhile.”

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

Powell real estate agent Dave Reetz says, “Our area is holding its own in my opinion.”

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

“I would say our economy here in Powell has been holding its own… but unfortunately we’re beginning to see a downturn due to closings of key retail stores like Shopko and others. Amazon and other e-commerce have really hit our Main Street hard. Closings of these retail stores locally have really put a damper on retail advertising in the Powell Tribune as well. We have more doctors, dentists, legal and insurance offices now than retail.”

Snuggled up against the Idaho border, Lincoln County’s Star Valley is benefitting from spill over of the robust tourism economy in Teton County plus agriculture and agribusiness operations.

“The Star Valley area is doing well economically, says Sarah Hale, editor of the Star Valley Independent in Afton.

Up in Newcastle, Newcastle News Letter Journal Editor Alexis Barker says:

“Economically I think we are holding fairly steady, we have had low unemployment rates, a recent increase in our valuation and increases in our taxable sales. I wouldn’t say that these increases necessarily make us above average but are definitely making Newcastle not have to struggle as much as we have in the past. We are also looking at an increase in new businesses in the area with a new grocery store being built, a new travel center (truck stop) and a new private practice (doctor’s office) opening locally.” 

John Davis, a retired Worland attorney and author, says:

“We are below average. Worland has not recovered from the oil slowdown of a few years back, when all activity in the oil field slowed.  Especially ruinous was the closing of the Worland Schlumberger office.”

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

“Economy is very good here in Cheyenne thanks the government, Walmart distribution plant, and the other warehouse giants on the east and west side of town. You can’t forget F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is huge boost to the economy and to the volunteer base for Frontier Days.”

Tom Satterfield, a retired member of the Wyoming Board of Equalization in Cheyenne, says:

“Cheyenne is doing above average thanks to the college, the air force base, good medical hospital and being the center of Wyoming government all contribute. The new renovation of the Herschler/Capitol complex was a big factor for the last four of five years.  Good little theater and a great symphony orchestra as well as a very active arts group and a fine Civic Center add to the enjoyment of every one. Also a very active economic organization LEADS are all factors making Cheyenne an enjoyable place to live.

But the former director of one of the state’s most visible business advocates is glum:

“I think the state is in serious trouble given future spending obligations and current revenue streams. Tourism is fine; coal–a transitional mainstay– is getting hammered,” says Bill Schilling. 

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

“I think our economy is OK. But, there are uncertainties and I think everyone is worried. There are numerous homes for sale.”

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