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Buying A Car In Wyoming Is “Ridiculously More Expensive Now” After The Pandemic

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21655

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By Coy Knobel, Cowboy State Daily

If you travel Wyoming’s “miles and miles of miles and miles” you need an automobile, but if your current one isn’t quite cutting it, don’t expect the car buying experience to be anything like it was way back in 2020.

Vehicle shortages and supply chain disruptions have completely changed the landscape of the automobile business in the last two years, experts told Cowboy State Daily.

“Everything changed in February or March of 2020,” said Scott Cargill, general manager for White’s Frontier Motors in Gillette and past president of the Wyoming Automobile Dealers Association. 

That’s when COVID-19 shut down auto production for months and Cargill said auto makers still haven’t caught up.

“On my lot as far as new vehicles at the end 2019, I had 110. On my lot now for new vehicles, as of today I have nine,” he said. “For three months we got nothing.  Then when we started back up there were shortages of all kinds of different parts.”

“Ridiculously More Expensive”

Jessica Caldwell, works for Edmunds, a company that exists to advise people on car buying.  She said the challenges facing Wyoming car buyers are many.

“It’s pretty daunting out there for consumers,” Caldwell, executive director of insights for Edmunds, told Cowboy State Daily.  “Everything is ridiculously more expensive.”

She said the global shortage of semiconductor microchips, the components needed to make the electronics work in everything from new vehicles to video game consoles, is only the most common problem. 

It’s a global supply chain issue, she said.

One dealer may not be able to get wheels. Another can get wheels, but not something else. China, a primary provider of automobile components, continues to see disruptions in its ability to provide goods with each new resurgence of COVID-19.

When Will It End?

The car market for consumers is unlikely to improve anytime soon, according to Cargill and Caldwell.  

“When we get vehicles from the factory, our allocations, they have continued to be smaller for the last two years than they were pre-COVID,” Cargill said.

He received word from a car maker the day he spoke with Cowboy State Daily that the car maker was shutting down a truck factory for a week because of the chip shortage.

“The factory has been telling us it’s going to get better as 2022 goes on, but I don’t see that,” Cargill said.  “I haven’t seen any signs that it is getting better.”

“At end of 2021, forecasting felt like there was more optimism, that things were going to get better.  We were on the way to recovery, but now as we start the second half of this year, it doesn’t appear to be that way,” Caldwell said.  “It doesn’t feel like anyone has a good handle on when we recover from the chip shortage. It’s hard to get a grip on.” 

Changing Expectations

Because of the severe shortage in supply, the car market experts said factors like high gas prices and high interest rates for car loans are not yet affecting the market like they once would have.

“If we could ever get stock to go up, then it could affect that,” Cargill said. “It just doesn’t matter now when there are no cars to sell.”

“The last couple months, interest rates have gone up.  The gas price spikes continue,” Caldwell said.  There is probably some softening of consumer demand, people who maybe don’t need one right now.  They may wait until they absolutely need one… but dealers are selling whatever they have.” 

She said in the past when faced with high gas prices, consumers might have opted for more fuel-efficient vehicles.  They may have a preference for a certain type of car.  They might always go to the same dealer. 

These things are changing. Car buyers are purchasing what is available wherever they can get it.

The key to car buying today is changing expectations, Cargill and Caldwell said.

“We are still doing business. People are still buying cars,” Cargill said, but being “patient and flexible are what people need to be.”

In Wyoming if you see a truck or a large SUV on a car lot there is a good chance that it is already sold, he said.

“We are selling vehicles to people all over the country,” Cargill said. 

Supply And Demand

“Be flexible.  The more flexible you are, the more likely you find something to suit your needs,” he said.  “If you are coming on my lot now looking for vehicle, I have nine choices.”

Post-2020, a lot of Cargill’s customers have come in to order vehicles. Being patient and flexible helps in this process too.

“Before when you ordered a vehicle, you would tell me what you want. I would put in the sold order and 6 to 8 weeks later the vehicle would show up,” Cargill said.

Now when a customer gives him an order they have to wait until he “earns” inventory from the factory before the customer’s order gets put on the build list.  

Dealers earn inventory or allocation spots based on a national daily supply average.  If they have less than the daily supply average, they earn spots.  If they are at the average or more they don’t earn spots.

“There’s only so much to earn in the pot.  It’s a national pot,” Cargill said.  “It could take up to six months to get a vehicle.  Once the order gets placed the timeline is quicker, but they could wait to get the order placed.”

Caldwell said Wyoming car buyers are not at a buying disadvantage compared to people in higher population areas or who live near ports.  The supply shortage is everywhere.  There are no hidden pools of vehicles waiting for customers to find.

“There isn’t any excess,” she said.  People are searching for cars nationwide, or at least much further away than they would have pre-COVID.  ‘Ho-hum’ makes and model cars are being snapped up just about as fast as popular or “hot” models.

“Supply is low.  It has been, not just for a few months, but for more than a year and it’s significantly lower,” she continued.  “If you see something you like and in the realm of what you can pay, act fast.”

Caldwell heard stories of salespeople at dealerships selling cars while customers of another salesperson were on the way to pick up that same car.

Used Car Market ‘Insane’

In the past buying a used car was an option for people who could not afford a new car.  These days, the used car market is “something we’ve never seen before,” according to Kort Kinney in Riverton. 

He’s seen a lot.  Kinney worked in the car business for decades, starting as a salesman then business manager and eventually general manager for a dealership in Fremont County.  After a brief stint at retirement he opened his own business where he sells used cars and cars on consignment. 

“Since COVID we have seen the market increase exponentially,” Kinney said of the used car market. “I have been in the business 40 years.  I’ve seen prices inflate, but nothing to this magnitude, not even close.” 

He said with the lack of new cars, dealers are buying up used car inventory and that demand has driven used car prices “through the roof”. 

“Two- to three-year-old vehicles are selling for more than their sticker price was brand new,” he said.

That is what the dealer is paying and he said some “sleazy” dealers mark those prices up much higher than they reasonably should.

“Certain vehicles are going for $20,000 to $30,000 above MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price).  It’s total insanity,” Kinney said.  

But he predicts it won’t stay that way.

“When you have lived a long time, I’ve lived for 64 years, you see a lot of things happen and it seems to repeat itself,” Kinney said. “People who are younger say it will never end, but it always does.”

Hold Off

In the meantime, Kinney is advising people who don’t absolutely have to buy a car now not to.

“Eventually things are going to come back to roost,” he said. “The shortage will eventually be over.  Inflation will be over.  When that happens, people who have bought a car paying an inflated price will be upside down.”

Caldwell said used car buyers especially should “look at the full finance picture instead of just the asking price.”  

Used car buyers often finance and are generally charged a higher interest rate than for new cars.

“Look at what you are paying for finance,” she said.  “If a used vehicle costs less, but has a higher annual percentage interest rate over the course of years,” it may not be as good a deal as it appears.

Caldwell encouraged people trading in or selling their cars to research how much their car might be worth before they sell it because of the stark changes in the market in the last couple of years.

“The days of not getting very much for a trade-in are over,” she said.  “If it is a relatively new vehicle, you are getting near what you paid, with some exceptions.”

Kinney hoped for changes soon that would make car buying less daunting than it is right now.

“I feel for the people.  I really do,” Kinney said.

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Wyoming Truckers Warn High Fuel Costs Raise Price Of Everything Else

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21090

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
clair@cowboystatedaily.com

High fuel prices are forcing an increase in the cost of all other goods in the West, which could lead to a decline in consumer demands for products, Wyoming truckers warned this week.  

The national average diesel price on Monday hit nearly $5.72 per gallon – an increase of more than two dollars from last June, when the national average was $3.29.  

The increase has a ripple effect with nearly every other tangible product, said Kim Barr, part-owner of Rolling Hills Trucking in Worland, adding that despite 30 years of working in transport, he’s never seen fuel costs climb by this magnitude.  

“It’s kind of getting ridiculous,” he said.  

Trucking companies’ survivalist responses to the fuel hike are nearly universal, said Barr: they’re adding or increasing fuel surcharges. 

But many of the companies also have increased their per-mile rate to cover the cost of truck parts, some of which have doubled since fuel prices skyrocketed in recent months.  

A semi-truck tire that once cost $200 sells for $400 now. 

Before last year, mileage rates were increased annually.  

“Lately, they go up weekly,” said Barr.  

So far, the surcharges haven’t diminished Barr’s consumer base, he said, adding that he knows consumers are feeling the pinch nevertheless.  

“People still use us, because they’re going to pay anyway – it sounds like the majority of trucks out there are doing the same thing. And if not, they’re not going to be around very long,” said Barr. “No one’s getting rich… But everyone’s kind of breaking even, if they’re doing it right.”  

Running 11 trucks, Rolling Hills hauls mostly Sheetrock plus lumber and other building products.  

There are some pockets in Wyoming where distribution centers have shut down intermittently, said Barr, due to complications stemming from rising freight costs.  

In more essential markets like the grocery store, “whatever costs you there has gone up because it’s costing them in fuel to get it there,” said Barr.  

Budgets Tighten 

Kelly Eckhardt of Kelly Eckhardt Transport in Lander, hauls everything from hay to livestock and magnesium chloride for dust control on dirt roads and work sites.  

Running eight trucks through several Western states, Eckhardt’s fuel costs have an impact on governmental road maintenance budgets, the agricultural community, the energy sector and the grocery industry.  

Although his consumer base diminished slightly this year as some ranchers have changed the way they transport livestock to counter rising prices, Eckhardt said he’s still “extremely busy.”  

That could change next year, as county and other governments may adjust their budgets to use less magnesium chloride in light of the freight costs.  

“Right now we can kind of sustain (the prices) but if it goes much higher, I just don’t know how people can still afford to pay us to do this,” said Eckhardt. “It’s increased the cost of everything.” 

To fill a truck recently at $5.44 a gallon in Utah cost Eckhardt nearly $1400, he said.  

Where Are The Workers? 

As they struggle with the continuing increases in fuel costs, Eckhardt and Barr are also facing a second industry challenge that they couldn’t explain fully: the worker shortage.  

Barr hasn’t pulled any trucks off the road due to fuel costs but has parked two of them due to a driver shortage, the cause of which he called “the million dollar question.”  

“People either don’t want to drive truck or don’t want to work, or a lot of them don’t like the new regulations with (electric logging devices),” he said. 

The federal government had mandated that by 2019, commercial trucks must install the ELD devices, which rigorously track movement and location data, replacing paper logs now kept by drivers.

ELD data is accessible by law enforcement and department of transportation officials.  

“I can’t find drivers like I used to,” said Eckhardt, who suspected a cultural decline in work ethic.  

“‘Nobody wants to work anymore,’ is kind of our saying now. They’ve lost the enthusiasm to work and try to get ahead,” said Eckhardt, who has parked three trucks due to the driver shortage.  

He noted that he’s increased wage offerings to combat the problem.  

“We try to keep (wages) as high as we can, but I don’t think it’s going to be sustainable,” he said, citing the difficulty of maintaining profit margins with the high fuel costs.  

People will always need material goods, said Eckhardt. But amid prolonged high fuel prices, he added, the country could see a collapse in demand with resulting negative impacts on the economy.

“If the recession hits I think a lot of this (product delivery) is going to come to a screeching halt.”  

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The New Pioneers, Part Two: Keeping History Alive In Chugwater

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Tri-County Mercantile in Chugwater, Wyoming.
21101

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*This is the second part of a three-part series

By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Arden and Jesse Miller grew up in Chugwater. Arden was born there, and Jesse moved from Oregon to Wyoming in the third grade. The pair started dating when they were 17 and today, two decades later, they are married with three boys ranging in age from 4 to 9 and live on Jesse’s family’s ranch outside of town.

After finishing high school, Jesse became a mechanic and worked at Cheyenne’s Frontier Refinery until he got laid off. Now, along with co-owning the recently reopened Tri-County Mercantile, he works full time as a rancher and truck driver while Arden drives a school bus part-time. The family lives in the home where Jesse grew up.

They remember First Street when it was still a gravel road and can rattle the former names of the handful of restaurants and businesses. Arden has pretty much worked at all the restaurants in town at one time or another.



Arden lives about a mile from where her great-grandparents homesteaded.

They likely were part of the group of original homesteaders who answered a 1914 advertisement offering 400 lots of land in the “gateway to Platte County’s great dry farming district.”

Arden’s dad used to work at the grain elevator until it shut down a couple decades ago. Now, Arden and her husband Jesse and business partner Josh Hopkins own it, along with the former Conoco station, the Mercantile and other outbuildings.

Arden joked about running into an older couple the other day at a branding who told her they remembered her and her brother as little kids playing in mud puddles in the parking lot. She cheekily told them that now that she owns it, maybe she’ll play in those mud puddles again.

The couple had not even thought about buying the grain elevator or old mercantile until Hopkins put the bug in their ear.



They’d met Hopkins in downtown Cheyenne when Hopkins stopped to admire Jesse’s 1952 Mercury. The couple were on their way to a car show and had stopped briefly at Jesse’s mom’s furniture store. Arden saw a “tall skinny guy” with a camera walking down the street who asked if he could take some photos of the car. They said sure and that was pretty much the end of the conversation.

A couple months later, a friend brought Hopkins, then a new Chugwater resident, by to introduce him to the Millers. Arden recognized him immediately as “camera Josh.” Immediately, they became friends.

“We pretty much adopted him,” Arden said.

Hopkins had an idea about opening the former Mercantile and reached out to property owner John Voight, who had no interest in leasing to them but instead wanted to sell them the entire place – the store, elevator, grain bins, former Conoco station and other buildings.

Voight liked the fact that the Millers had grown up in Chugwater and appreciated the fact that the three wanted to reopen the store and do something to help revive the small town.

“He told us he’d make us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Arden said.

He was right. He sold them the whole property for $150,000.

Voight wanted to see the town continue to rebuild and prosper, she said.

The Next Generation

The Millers and Hopkins are among a group of new or returning residents to Chugwater committed to investing in the community to help it grow while preserving its history.

The Hopkins and the Millers have spent the past several months readying the Tri-County Mercantile for its grand opening, which coincides with this weekend’s 36th annual Chugwater Chili Fest.

They had a ‘soft’ opening last weekend with a bare-bones inventory on the shelves. Along with livestock antibiotics, needles, syringes, tags and other ranching supplies, they have some basic staples such as milk, eggs, butter, half-and-half, ketchup and other sundries that would otherwise be available only to those willing to drive more than 20 miles to a store.


Tri-County Mercantile in Chugwater, Wyoming.

They’ll continue working to stock the store with more ag supplies and other products. They are also working on posting store hours but right now it will largely be open only on weekends with Arden and Hopkins taking turns staffing the store.

The Miller children will also have a hand in the business helping their mom, just like she used to do. She used to come to work with her dad at the grain elevator while Jesse helped his family on the cattle ranch.

Unlike Jesse and Arden, however, the boys are struggling to develop their work ethic.

“I hear every day how it’s break time,” Jesse said.

When the boys complain, their parents like to remind them that they are lucky to have paved streets to ride on.

“When we were little, we only had gravel roads,” Arden said.

Living History

Down the street from the mercantile is the Chugwater Museum and Stampede Saloon, a former train depot, which is owned by Chugwater native Lilly Nilson and her husband Lance. The restaurant had been closed for just over six years before the couple purchased it in 2016.

Since then, they have turned it into a popular venue for both country style dining and live country and bluegrass music.


The Buffalo Lodge in Chugwater, Wyoming.

Lilly’s friend and former classmate, LaCynda Fortik, co-owns and manages the Buffalo Lodge, the town’s one hotel.

Like the Millers, they, too, have returned home to live in he community they love while helping it thrive.

Chugwater Mayor Carol Ash would like to add more overnight lodging to cater to tourists so area ranches could offer day trips, much like a working dude ranch, for those wanting to get a taste of the local culture. She’d also like to see the old wagon train trail ride return.

Ash said she would also like to see restoration o the old hotel in downtown Chugwater, which has been closed for as long as anyone can remember. Although Arden’s dad recalled a family “of hippies” living in it during the 1970s, they kept to themselves and didn’t do much with the community.



Ash said she’s been in talks with the owner of the dilapidated building to see what options there might be for either restoring or rebuilding it.

The influx of new businesses is a good sign, Ash noted, and show that small towns like Chugwater have a lot to offer both visitors and locals.

Over the years, businesses and restaurants have come and gone, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the population, hovering around 200 to 300 people, contrary to the latest Census numbers.

The 2020 Census counted 175 residents, which Ash disputed, claiming the population was undercounted as a result of restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The town is regrouping, Ash said, and taking steps such as making sure that some of the long-standing buildings like the library and others are brought up to code without changing their integrity.

“We want to bring back history without changing the history,” she said.

She’s excited to see the new transplants and locals returning home to open their businesses and raise families.

“In our hectic world of so much chaos and anger in the news, this is one place where people can come to find a community that loves and takes care of each other,” she said. “It’s a step back in time where we can remember that it wasn’t always this rough.”

The New Pioneers, Part I: New Arrivals Thrive in Chugwater

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Wyo Sports Commission Regulates First-Ever Hockey Fighting Competition (With No Hockey)

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20157

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Many believe fighting is an essential part of the game in hockey.

Some fans abhor it, but others get pumped when the gloves are thrown down and the ballet of two grown men on skates pummeling each other begins.

But violence in hockey is down. Twenty years ago, 42% of NHL hockey games had at least one fight in them. Today, it’s less than 15%.

To some, that’s a tragedy. After all, part of the beauty of hockey is the barbarity of it all.

So for those who enjoy that part of the game, why not eliminate the hockey part and just have the fighting?

That’s the brainchild of a former hockey player turned general manager of a minor-league hockey team in the early 2000s.

A.J. Galante’s team was known as the Trashers and they quickly became known for fighting on the ice. His story was featured on a Netflix series called “Untold: Crime and Penalties.”

Ice Wars International

Although the Trashers are gone, Galante’s influence remains.

Galante created something called Ice Wars International and the idea is to just feature fighting in hockey. No more hockey. Just the fighting.

Eliminate the middle man.

The first contest was held this past Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta. According to a combat sports site, the event featured an 8-man tournament and two “grudge match” bouts, all using MMA gloves and full hockey gear (minus sticks)—with each tournament fight consisting of two 1-minute rounds.

And it was all regulated by the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission.

Fans loved it. Outkick’s Joe Kinsey said the game is brilliant because it gives the consumer what they want.

“Professional hockey has pretty much legislated goons right out of the sport, so in steps Galante to give fans what they used to see at a hockey rink — minus the actual game,” Kinsey said.

“It’s absolutely genius and makes me think there are other possibilities out there like running backs vs. linebackers. We live in a TikTok society that wants 20-second content bursts to satisfy their brains,” he said.

Enter Wyoming

In order to give this new league some credibility though, it needed a commission to oversee it. That way it would have a semblance of order, some rules, and structure.

Enter Cheyenne’s Bryan Pedersen, an investment advisor, former legislator and MMA fighter.

Pedersen created the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission.  His commission sanctioned the first legal American bareknuckle fighting event since the 1800s. The live event held in 2019 at the Ice and Events Center in Cheyenne was viewed by more than 100 million people across the world.

In November, Pedersen hosted the world Lethwei title fight at the Ice and Events Center. Lethwei, the national sport of Myanmar, is a combat sport that allows the use of fists, knees, elbows, feet, clinches, and headbutts.

The match drew over 3.1 million streams.

Economic Development

Ice Wars International reached out to Pedersen because of the success he’s had in the combat sports world.

“They contacted us and we have a rule that says if we can do it safely and there is some precedent for regulating the sport, we can do it, so we worked with them for the promulgation of rules,” he said.

The larger picture is the financial opportunity, Pedersen said. Pay-per-view streams mean money and economic development for Wyoming.

“When you hear ‘Live from Wyoming,’ we don’t have enough money in the state tourism board to be in front of 3.1 million people in a two-hour time period,” Pedersen said.

“People are going to think about going to see Cheyenne Frontier Days, Thermopolis, Yellowstone, Cody or whatever,” he said. “It’s a great way to get our name out.”

Wyoming Home

Now, he wants Ice Wars International to call Wyoming home.

The group is interested, he said, because of what his commission was able to do two years ago.

During the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, Cheyenne was epicenter of combat sports.

While most other venues across the country were shut down, Pedersen held 13 combat sports events in Cheyenne. They all followed the state’s health rules and no COVID cases were recorded.

“We’ve proven that we’re a venue that can attracts crowds and they can make a lot of money from Pay-Per-View,” he said. 

“We’re saying, ‘Yeah, you can make your money off of pay-per-view, but let’s produce it out of Wyoming,’” he said.

Mobile Arena

And not just in Cheyenne, he said. Because Ice Wars has a mobile arena — an ice platform that can be transported from city to city, Pedersen believes it can travel throughout the state.

“Indoor, outdoor, whatever,” he said. “We can move it all over Wyoming.”

The advantage, he said, to moving the company here is the regulatory framework in the Cowboy State.

“We’re regulation-friendly,” he said. “We’re open to industry coming to us. We’ve proven we can do it.”

In the immediate future, Pedersen foresees five or six weight classes with 20 to 30 regular fighters. Ice Wars International will eventually expand, he said, and work on branding some household names.

He said he hopes to find a Wyoming hockey player to sign-up to give up some hometown support.

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Passion And Mayhem — Scooters On Their Second Year In Wyoming Cities

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Photo by Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
19953

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Loved by some and hated by others, electric scooters are entering their second year in some Wyoming cities.  

Cheyenne, Casper, and Laramie last summer all changed their ordinances to allow for shared electric scooters on downtown streets. The solar-powered machines zip along roadways at about 15 miles per hour. They charge users’ credit cards per minute via a phone application that activates the scooter upon scanning a QR code on its body.  

The rental ends when the rider, who must be 18 or older, uses the app to take a photograph of the scooter where it was left.  

The scooters’ manufacturer, California-based Bird, touts the machines as an emissions-free and readily available transport system for urban areas.  

When it welcomed the company’s services last August, the City of Laramie likewise promoted the scooters as a way to help reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion, as well as a way to encourage social distancing.

Cheyenne had already changed its ordinance to allow for scooters on downtown streets just in time for last year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days in July. Casper signed on by the end of August.  

And how the complaints have started rolling in.  

No Sad Faces 

Though he was instrumental in bringing shared bicycles to Cheyenne in 2016, Cheyenne City Councilman Richard Johnson was a “No” vote on the scooters last July. 

Johnson told Cowboy State Daily that primarily, he disagreed with the way the vote on the scooter ordinance was rushed to get the scooters on the streets ahead of Cheyenne Frontier Days.  

People riding them look happy though, said Johnson.  

“I see tons of people riding them, especially young people,” he said. “And I don’t see sad faces when I see people riding them all over town.” But as a city councilman, all Johnson hears are complaints, mostly that riders tend to abandon the scooters on sidewalks.  

Johnson estimated there are now hundreds of scooters in Cheyenne. The Cheyenne City Attorney’s office did not have an exact figure on Thursday afternoon.  

Bird did not return an email requesting comment.  

Kyle Gamroth, Casper City Councilman, also has been hearing some complaints, but as a scooter proponent, he believes the city can work around them.  

“We got the same anecdotes (as elsewhere),” said Gamroth. 

He cited issues such as riders not obeying traffic laws, not parking the scooters in the right places, not yielding space for wheelchairs and so on.  

Gamroth said he’s been visiting with business owners from Casper’s downtown area about potential solutions, such as creating mandatory docking areas for the scooters.  

That solution is not without its issues, though, said Gamroth.  

“The primary selling point is that it’s a flexible motor transportation to get from point A to point B, and if you have very specific areas around town (in which you must leave them), I guess it reduces that flexibility to get around.”  

The Casper City Clerk’s office estimated there are about 80 Bird scooters in the city.  

Gamroth said that, unlike Johnson, he has heard from many people who “really enjoy” the scooters.  

“I have a Facebook friend that just asked their buddies for this weekend to do a pub crawl” with the scooters, said Gamroth.  

Harsh, Icy, Windy 

Laramie Mayor Paul Weaver had not returned a voicemail requesting comment by Thursday afternoon. 

In the city’s announcement of its new scooter-friendly ordinance last August, Weaver said the city was “happy” to welcome the scooters.  

Jackson does not have e-scooters, but Councilman Arne Jorgensen told Cowboy State Daily that some community members have embraced a seasonal bike-sharing system, which seems to generate fewer parking problems than those reported with scooters.  

“I think there’s a different mindset with these scooters,” said Jorgensen. “They don’t feel as substantive, so people don’t think about them as much, maybe.”  

Jorgensen noted that he’s traveled to several U.S. cities and seen the scooters in action – and dormant.  

“I’m not sure if the benefit of that additional transportation system is outweighing the negative of having these items kind of scattered about the public realm,” he said. 

Gillette doesn’t have e-scooters either.  

Angela Williams, assistant communications director for the city, said the idea has been floated, but hasn’t taken off in the past, probably due to Gillette’s “harsh, icy, windy winters.”  

Johnson had noted that in Cheyenne, the scooters stayed out until about October or November of last year, then, he recalled, Bird subcontracted with a local person or entity to store them. 

But Williams noted that Gillette’s foul-weather phase can last as long as eight months. 

Sheridan, Riverton, and Cody likewise do not have shared e-scooters.  

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Wyoming Mothers Struggle With Baby Formula Shortage

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Riverton Walmart, May 16, 2022.
19832

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By Ellen Fike and Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Lillian Rodriguez got lucky. 

When the Casper mother of 3-month-old twins heard about the recall of Similac Sensitive baby powder formulas in mid-February, she had 10 small cans of the formula that she hadn’t yet opened.

Rodriguez is grateful that she had not fed any of the potentially tainted formula to her infants and was able to return it through the recall.

Grocery stores across the country are reporting shortages of baby formula with the decision of Abbott Nutrition, the Michigan-based manufacturer of Similac, Alimentum and Elecare, to voluntarily recall the products on Feb. 17 because of concerns over possible bacterial contamination.

Since the recall, Rodriguez hasn’t been able to find Similac Sensitive on shelves, but has since switched formula to Enfamil Gentlease. 

This, too, has been hard to find on occasion, she said, but since the recall, she’s made a point to stock up on the replacement formula and currently has about a six-week supply.

“Right now, the supply is pretty good,” she said. “I knew we were going to have a shortage, so I breastfed them for two months and have about six big cans and a couple small ones and continue to buy whatever I can.”

Usually, she can’t find it at larger box stores like Walmart but occasionally has luck at smaller grocery stories like Ridley’s or Target, she said.

Abbott’s recall came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that five infants had become sick from illnesses related to cronobacter sakazakii, a bacteria that causes serious infections in some infants. 

 The FDA closed Abbott’s manufaturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, while it and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated the facility.

On May 12, the CDC announced that its investigation was over after no additional cases were identified, though the FDA continues its investigation as the production facility remains closed, according to a recent update from the FDA. Abbott announced last week the plant could be back up and running by the end of the month.

The shutdown exacerbated a formula shortage blamed on supply chain problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. As of May 10, out-of-stock shortages nationwide had risen to 43%, according to Datasembly, a data collection company that provides real-time product pricing, promotions, and assortment data for retailers.

Some of the larger retailers are limiting in-store purchases to three cans to help prevent stockpiling as supply shortages continue.

In Wyoming, the empty spaces on the shelves are noticeable in stores throughout the state.

Like Rodriguez, other mothers are scrambling to stock up on infant formula for fear of running out and in preparation for more possible shortages in the future.

Katharine Wilkinson, a Cheyenne attorney and mother of four, said supplies are limited so when she sees formula in a store, she grabs it.

“I buy it every chance I get because formula is my only option,’ Wilkinson said, whose youngest turned 4 months old on Sunday. “I don’t want to run out. Sam’s and Target limit how much you can get, and they are usually out of stock.”

Even mothers like Kayla Strid of Cody whose babies are not affected by the formula shortage worry that it’s only a matter of time before desperate parents begin turning to other products to feed their children.

Strid’s switched her 9-month-old to soy formula back in January because he wasn’t tolerating anything else, and she’s had no problem finding it on the shelves so far. She said she feels lucky he wasn’t on Gentlease or any of the hard-to-find formulas.

“I’m really scared that people who can’t find their brand will turn to soy milk,” she said.

If the soy disappears, Strid will have to try goat’s milk, she said, and she’s a bit worried about that. She also receives subsidies from state’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that allows her seven small cans of soy formula a month, which doesn’t cover her son’s needs for the month.

Supply Challenges

The Wyoming WIC program allows clients to buy infant formula from local stores using their benefit cards. For clients who need to purchase specialty formulas for their infants for medical reasons, the program orders and provides the formulas directly, according to Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

The program serves more than 1,100 infants.

“Regarding the current situation, the program has had challenges since the announcement of the Abbott recall,” Deti said. “WIC staff has been communicating and working with program clients about infant formula supplies since the recall was announced. Steps taken have included expanding options approved for formula purchased (brands and sizes) using WIC benefits.”

Unfortunately, Deti noted, the program is also seeing shortages in locations across the state for almost all formula options, with staff continually trying to order and provide formula directly through WIC clinics to client families unable to find the formulas in their local stores.

“The biggest issue is with specialty formulas certain children need for medical reasons,” she said. “Staff continues trying to order all types of formula from various online sources or directly through manufacturers, but with very limited success. What they can find, they are purchasing for distribution through clinics.”

Assistance

The shortage has prompted some to provide help by selling breastmilk online.

Cheyenne resident Mackenzee Shultz has offered to start pumping and selling her breastmilk through a Facebook group, Cheyenne Community Connections. 

She told Cowboy State Daily she wanted to help because she saw friends from all over the country struggling to find the proper formula for their babies. 

“I’m a stay-at-home mom who could possibly dedicate a lot more time to breast pumping,” she said. “I did my research on how you can make your body start pumping again.”

Shultz has three children, the youngest of which is 1. Although she has had issues with pumping and nursing in the past, she wanted to do her part to help parents in need. 

“If people need the milk, and I can make it, then I want to do what I can,” she said. “We should all think about doing it right now, more than ever.”

Since she is putting in both time and effort to generate breastmilk, she would like to be compensated for it, she said.

She did not say if anyone had taken her up on her offer, but her Facebook post generated a significant amount of interest, both from exhausted mothers in need and supportive community members who cheered on Shultz for her generosity.

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Baker told Cowboy State Daily on Monday there has not been an increase in breastmilk donations to the hospital’s Human Milk Donation and Outreach Center. 

The Human Milk 4 Human Babies’ Wyoming chapter, which partners milk donors with babies in need, did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

Biden Administration Getting Involved

President Joe Biden announced on May 12 that his administration is working with retailers and manufacturers to explore ways to get more infant formula to families, according to a statement from his office.

The 20 specialty formulas in short supply are used by about 5,000 infants nationwide, the statement said, as well as some older children and by adults with rare metabolic disorders.

Some of the steps taken by his administration include cutting red tape to get infant formula to store shelves more quickly by simplifying product offerings and speeding up production, as well as working with state agencies to make it easier for families in need to purchase formulas with their WIC benefits.

The administration is also calling on state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on price gouging and other unscrupulous online retailers jacking up their prices.

Other measures include increasing imports from trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands. Typically, the U.S. produces about 98% of the infant formulas consumed in the country, but the FDA is urging these other countries to step up their imports of these products.

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Governor Salutes Cody Firearms Manufacturer As They Expand To A 43,000 Square Foot Facility

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

If there’s one thing that unites most Wyomingites, it’s belief in the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

In Cody, one manufacturing company embodies that belief.

“Ground zero for firearms manufacturing,” is how Governor Mark Gordon described Gunwerks, a Cody company that is making its mark in the international gun trade.

The governor was in Cody Monday to celebrate the grand opening of the manufacturing company’s new 43,396-square-foot facility.

The building was completed in 2021, but the celebration of its opening had to be put on hold during the pandemic.

“We finally said, ‘Well, we better polish everything up and invite the whole world in,’” said Garrett Wall, director of customer experience for Gunwerks.

The open house is a days-long event, according to Wall, beginning Monday with remarks from the governor, Cody Mayor Matt Hall and the company’s president and founder, Aaron Davidson.

“Tuesday, we’ll have some of our customers and outfitters who we work with,” Wall told Cowboy State Daily. “They’ll be here doing some seminars. We’ll have dealers on Wednesday, and the media and writers from our industry will come in on Thursday.”

Gunwerks is a rising star in the highly competitive firearms manufacturing industry, specializing in weapons used for long-range shooting. 

“Entrepreneurial Spirit”

In his remarks, Gordon praised the company for its commitment to innovation, to the entrepreneurial spirit and to Wyoming.

“You not only said, ‘OK, I think we can make a rifle, but we can make the very best rifle that can shoot the straightest and longest anywhere in the world,’” he said. “You built an entire industry out of that – you had a TV show (“Long Range Pursuit”) to get people talking about this all over the world. And then you started making these guns here in Cody. 

“Not only has he made a better rifle,” Gordon continued, “but now he’s got fantastic optics to go with that rifle. And now he’s got another vision, and another vision, and that’s what Wyoming is all about.” 

Davidson, who started his company in a series of buildings in Burlington in rural Big Horn County, explained that in 2016, he and his team chose Cody as the home to their expanded operation.

“A couple of years ago we looked really, really hard at Wyoming as the place to be, and tried to gauge, can Gunwerks be successful and grow in scale here in this community,” he said. “We have some ties to Utah, we looked really hard at Bozeman (Montana) … and it wasn’t even close to Cody and the ties that we have to Cody. 

And our people that we have here anchored us here, and we’re committed to being here and growing our business here and making awesome jobs for the people that come into our business,” he added.

“Wyoming Made A Good Bet”

In 2018, the company was approved for a $3 million loan and $3 million grant package from the Wyoming Business Council to create a state-of-the-art facility that would allow Gunwerks to manufacture rifles, optics and ammunition geared to the long-range firearms market. 

“I am proud to say that Wyoming, I think, made a couple of really good bets here,” said Gordon. “You know, we were able to help with doing some of the things that small businesses need just to get that next notch higher.”

For their part of the loan agreement, Gunwerks promised to bring 75 full-time jobs to Cody’s economy – a goal that has been met, according to Davidson.

“We have 75 employees,” he said. “And we have a good portion of those employees working in the manufacturing facility. Nineteen of those people we have relocated to Cody from other places across the state, and other states across the country. So we do build a very diverse team, and we have built this community, with some new faces and some new people.”

“Nobody quite understands how much we’re doing back there,” Wall said. “You know, the operations they’re doing, you know, the machining that we’re doing. We are trying to bring every operation we can in-house… We get to engineer a system the way we want from the ground up, all the way through that end experience the customer gets in the field.”

The road has not been completely smooth, however. The company sued the construction company and design firm for its new building along with the economic development organization Forward Cody. The lawsuit alleged the companies and the organization failed to follow the building specifications outlined by Gunwerks. 

That litigation is ongoing, although the firearms company’s attorney, Michael Labazzo, said that Gunwerks has no plans to move operations out of the completed building.

Continued Growth

In anticipation of continued growth, Gunwerks recently purchased a 74,754 square-foot facility that had been vacated in 2019 by Cody Labs, a pharmaceutical company that ended operations and laid off all its employees after being in business for over 15 years. 

Labazzo noted that the layout of the Cody Labs building would fit Gunwerks’ needs in a couple of areas.

“Our ammunition manufacturing division is limited in space here,” he said. “That (the Cody Labs building) would be an easy move, because of the way that building lays out. They have explosion-proof rooms, and so for fire safety, it would work over there. 

“The other one is our optics division,” Labazzo continued, “because if you notice in the back of (this) building on the northwest side, we have clean space in there – we have special flooring, with a different air system, and that is limited in size also. And as our optics division grows, we’re running out of space. And because (Cody Labs) was a pharmaceutical manufacturing business, they have lots of clean space over there. They have hospital-grade air, they have their own water filtration system, so it’s not even city water.”  

Local and state leaders who were in attendance at the open house Monday expressed confidence in the future of Gunwerks as a leader in the fireworks and optics industries.

“The beautiful building that they’ve built here, it’s really kind of built out this side of the town,” said Cody Mayor Matt Hall. “We’re just really grateful that they’re here, that they’ve set up shop here, that they’re local guys. And the entrepreneurial spirit that they’ve had to get to this point has been great, and so we’re hoping that they’re a good long term success for our community.”

“This is a really, really exciting time for not only this family, that has fulfilled the American dream, but they’ve done it in their own community, which is very rare,” said state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody. “They’ve built a product, but they’ve also expanded a business like no other, and so as a legislator, I am super proud that they chose our county to do this and didn’t take their business anywhere else.”

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Fed Interest Rate Hike Will Be Felt In Wyoming In Three to Six Months

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Wyoming financial advisor Bryan Pedersen
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By Jennifer Kocher and Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A 0.5% interest rate increase approved by the Federal Reserve probably won’t be felt by Wyoming’s consumers for three to six months, according to a financial advisor.

Bryan Pedersen, senior vice president and financial advisor for RBC Wealth Management in Cheyenne, said while the rate hike designed to slow inflation is probably a good idea, it will have an impact on consumers.

Pedersen cited as an example a person trying to buy a house. The interest rate increase will translate to either a higher monthly mortgage payment or down payment.

This in turn may affect that trip to Disneyland that the family was planning to take, which has a ripple effect on the profitability of the company and consumer spending.  

“Either way, you have less money to spend,” he said.  

The interest rate increase was adopted as a way to slow inflation, which is at its highest rate since 1981. It is the biggest rate hike adopted since 2000.

The boost will raise interest rates to 0.75% to 1%, still relatively low compared to 1.5% immediately before the pandemic and around 5% in the 1990s.

Inflation has also had an impact on the housing supply nationally, with record low numbers of homes reported available.

While the interest rate increase will not help ease shortages in the national housing supply, it may help slow increases in housing prices seen over the past few years, said Scott Richard, a Cody real estate agent.

“It’s estimated that $8.1 trillion in home equity have been gained across the country during the past two years,” Richard said.

Richard said the current housing market has not been a boon for real estate agents because homeowners are uneasy about selling their homes given the difficulties in buying new property. 

“People are afraid to sell their homes because they don’t think they will be able to buy or find another house, which is adding to the problem,” Richard said.

The rental market is no different, he said, with the housing shortage pushing more people into that market. He said the current scenario was created by a “perfect storm” of the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding supply chain shortages.

Like homeowners trying to make their mortgage payments, corporations will also feel the pinch. The higher rates will impact how much money businesses can borrow to grow their assets and will likely slow down growth as money becomes tighter, Pedersen said.  

 “When you take money out of the system, it slows purchasing power for both families and businesses,” he said.  

All in all, raising the interest rate was a good idea, said Pedersen, because it should help the country avoid the “stagflation” of the 1970s, when inflation continued for five years. 

“In the short run it is painful for portfolios and the stock market,” he said. “In the long term, addressing inflation is better for the overall long-term health of the economy.” 

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Inflation: Wyoming Cost Of Living Highest In 40 Years

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Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Led by a 22% increase in the cost of transportation, Wyoming’s cost of living in the fourth quarter of 2021 grew at the fastest annual rate seen in 40 years.

The state’s semi-annual cost of living report produced by its Economic Analysis Division showed the state’s annual rate of inflation in the last quarter of 2021 was 9.3%, the highest level seen since the third quarter of 1981, when inflation was 11.8%.

Not only was the inflation rate the highest seen since 1981, it was also higher than the national average of 7%, the report said.

The report is prepared by comparing the price for a standard “basket of goods” from year to year. The “basket” includes food, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation and personal care.

In the last quarter of 2021, which runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, transportation costs increased by 22.1% over the previous year, more than double the inflation rate for any other category.

Food costs followed in second place with an 8.3% increase and housing costs grew by 7.4%.

The highest rate of inflation was found in northeast Wyoming, which includes Sheridan, Johnson, Campbell, Crook and Weston counties, at 10.4%. The rate in southeast Wyoming — Laramie, Albany, Carbon, Platte, Goshen and Niobrara counties — was 10.2%.

Central Wyoming, made up of Converse, Natrona and Fremont counties, saw the lowest rate of inflation at 7.4%, still ahead of the national average of 7%.

Teton County had the highest cost of living in the state in the last quarter of 2021, with the costs for all of the items in its “basket of goods” running 68% ahead of the state average.

Northern Lincoln County followed in second place with an average cost of living 8% higher than the state average.

Goshen County, with costs 85% of the state average, had the lowest cost of living in the state in the last quarter of the year.

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Skyrocketing Inflation Hurting Wyoming Beef Producers And Consumers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

With the price of beef skyrocketing, Wyoming’s cattle producers are facing increasing production costs and a customer base that is reluctant to shell out more dollars for their product.

“As this spring comes closer and closer, we’re looking at from 30% to 70% increases in operating costs,” said Justin Lucht, who owns Valley Raised Beef in Lovell. 

The price of uncooked beef roasts and uncooked beef steaks for retail consumers have risen over 24% in the last one and one-half years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The cost of ground beef, meanwhile, has increased by almost 21% in the past year.

Reasons for the increase include rising fuel costs, a drought that affected hay production and supply chain issues that hampered availability of machine parts and equipment.

But prices are also rising for the producers, who are facing the same pressures in raising their stock as the beef processors are in getting it to the end market.

“Fertilizer is up, like, three to four times what it was last year,” Lucht said. “And our feed costs – hay in 2020 was $150 a ton, and this year, it’s $300 to $350 a ton, depending on where you’re looking, some places can’t even get hay. Plus equipment costs and maintenance, all the parts and pieces that go into keeping things running have increased.”

Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, adds to that list of obstacles the COVID-related staff issues at meat production plants, as well as the lack of USDA meat packing facilities here in Wyoming.

“Most of our beef is processed in half a dozen major processing facilities, and they experienced some significant outbreaks of COVID in those facilities with their very large workforces that were working very much close together,” Magagna said. “So that shut down some of the processing for a while, and that certainly led to an increase in prices for beef.”

Additionally, Magagna pointed out that fewer cattle went to market in the last year, so the supply and demand balance was thrown off.

For small operators like Valley Raised Beef, which each year produces between 40 and 70 grass-raised, grain-finished beef cattle on 120 acres, the rising cost of beef hits businesses like theirs particularly hard.

“These big packers in the commodity beef market, they out compete us, I mean, tenfold,” Lucht said. “Their cost to process an animal maybe is 36 to 40 cents (per pound), maybe a little bit more than – but even if it’s 50 cents, it costs me 94 cents to $1 to process an animal.”

And while consumers may feel the pain in the pocketbook when they purchase beef these days, Lucht urged them to consider the farmers when making their buying decisions.

“Unfortunately, the last person to get paid on the farm is usually the farmer,” said Lucht. “He’s got his expenses covered, I mean, he’s able to buy shoes for his kids and stuff, but they’re not notorious for going on vacations and you know, having a savings account. Most farmers, when they retire, they sell the farm because that’s been their savings account their whole lives.”

Lucht said the business model for Valley Raised Beef was set up differently, so his company can charge a little more for its product product in order to keep the business afloat. 

That means its customer base is slightly different from the folks who pick up beef roasts in the grocery store aisles.

“A lower income household, maybe can’t afford our product,” Lucht said. “And so what we have to do is, unfortunately, find somebody who can. We still give away tons of beef and we find low income or struggling families and we give as much as we can to them, because that’s important to us, but our base customer is maybe different this year than it was two years ago.”

And buying locally produced beef has more benefits than just supporting local farmers, Lucht pointed out.

“You see JBS or these other companies that every year have recalls on spoiled meat or unfit product, and I’ve been selling beef for seven years and never had a recall,” Lucht said. “We are small enough that we can take care of everything so much better than what they can. We can watch everything so much closer.”

“Consumers have become much more conscious of where their food comes from, and have much more of a desire to buy locally when they can,” Magagna said. 

He added things are looking up for smaller growers in the state.

“Our biggest challenge in Wyoming has been a lack of processing facilities, and partly as a result of COVID and a result of some Federal Cares Act funds that are available, we have seen a significant increase in small processing facilities,” said Magagna. “I believe we’ve had six new ones come on board in the past two years. So I think our industry is making an adjustment that, over time, is going to make that opportunity far more available to our consumers.”

But for now, growers like Lucht will continue their small operations, despite the rising costs. Because, as Lucht pointed out, being a farmer is about more than just a business – it’s a way of life.

“I’ve got to go,” Lucht told Cowboy State Daily at the end of the interview, as he strapped his one-year-old daughter into a carrier on his back. “I’ve got a cow that I’ve been watching for an hour and a half, and it looks like she needs help, so I’ve got to go pull a calf.”

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Soaring Gas Prices Hitting Wyoming Residents In The Pocket

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

As the price of gas soars in Wyoming, some residents are harder hit than others, depending on where they live.

On Friday, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded in Wyoming was $4, an increase of almost 35 cents from one week ago.

The cheapest gasoline price in the state was $3.50 a gallon in Buffalo, followed by $3.56 per gallon in Lingle, according to GasBuddy.com, a company that tracks gasoline prices nationally.

The lowest cost for a gallon of diesel in the state was in Gillette at $3.79 per gallon, followed by $3.99 per gallon in Cheyenne and Newcastle.

According to AAA, the highest gas prices in the state are Uinta County $4.25 gallon, followed by Platte County at $4.23 and Lincoln County at $4.15.

The rising prices are beginning to hit Wyoming residents in their wallets, especially when combined with other inflationary pressures.

In Gillette, the prices have seemed to cause both sticker shock and some grumbling.

Mike Summers, a veteran, college student, substitute teacher and single father of twin teenage girls, said the increases have hit his wallet hard.

“It definitely sucks,” he said. 

It used to cost him $30 to fill up his tank if he was close to empty and now it costs nearly double that at just under $58.

“It’s not breaking my bank account, but it is pretty inconvenient,” he said. “And I see it going up more and more every day.”

The burden is greater for those living in smaller, more remote communities who are forced to drive to larger cities for work or necessary appointments.

Wright resident Crystal O’Bryan said higher fuel costs have already taken a toll on her family. 

Wright is 40 miles from Gillette and 75 miles from Douglas. The O’Bryans have long commutes both to work and to medical appointments for their 12-year-old autistic son.

The rising cost of gas is forcing the family to make hard choices, O’Bryan said.

Because of the higher gas prices, her husband is now carpooling to the mine where he works to save costs.

Meanwhile, son Scot takes part in occupational therapy in Gillette every week and sees specialists in Douglas.

“It’s really hit us hard,” O’Bryan said. “Our medical expenses have skyrocketed just from the price of gas alone. I was going to Casper every other month to go to Sam’s club, but not sure if the savings are worth it anymore.”

Stephanie Hutt of Story, between Buffalo and Sheridan, also must drive long distances for her daughter’s medical care. She and her family are weathering the increased gas expense, but she worries about the impact the soaring fuel costs will have on the health of people who might not be able to afford to travel.

“I think for people who are struggling financially it is a huge impact,” she said. “People will quit traveling for appointments and follow-up appointments, causing risk to their health due to the high prices.”

Soaring Gas Prices Hit Gig Workers

Delivery drivers like Randy Mortensen, a full-time Door Dash driver in Gillette, has had to cut back on the number of days he works each week and turn down deliveries if they’re too far away.

While he typically takes only one or maybe two days off a week, this week he’s taking three days off because gas prices are just getting too steep to make the deliveries profitable, he said. 

He’s hoping that the corporation will take steps to increase rates for drivers, but so far, no adjustments for inflation or higher gas prices have been made, he said.

Typically, Mortensen makes anywhere from $150 to $200 a day while working between nine and 10 hours. For now, he’s cutting back and will try to make up the extra money by maximizing deliveries on the days he’s working.

“It (gasoline) just keeps going up, and I’ve decided that it’s probably better to just cut back a little bit and not have to drive so much,” he said.

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Reagan Economist Warns Wyoming Against Adopting Income Tax & To Change Spending Habits

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming does not need to diversify its economy, but instead should change its spending habits to more closely match spending to available income, according to a noted economist.

Art Laffer, speaking in Cheyenne on Thursday, said he sees no need for the state to use its resources to move away from its dependence on the mineral industry.

“Specialization is a wonderful thing to do,” he said. “You just need to learn how to balance your spending out with your revenue swings.”

Laffer, who served as a member of former President Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Board, is the creator of the “Laffer Curve,” an illustration of the idea that excessive taxes actually reduce the amount of money they generate.

Speaking during a legislative reception hosted by “Freedom Path 307,” Laffer was asked whether the state needs to work harder to separate its economy from oil, gas, coal and other minerals because of the associated swings in the economy that occur with variations in prices paid for the commodities.

The state has a good source of income from its minerals, it just needs to allocate its resources better to adjust its spending to its income, said Laffer, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Donald Trump.

“You have this huge volatile income,” he said. “But you know, a lot of states don’t have any income from their severance taxes. What you just need to do is learn how to use it and stretch it out and not go for the gold every time the the dollar comes in. And that’s something that requires wisdom and good leadership and good governments.”

While a diversified economy is not a bad thing to have, it is not worth using state resources to achieve, Laffer said.

“It’s not something you would subsidize or spend resources trying to get,” he said.

The state should also avoid the temptation of providing incentives in an attempt to lure new companies, Laffer said.

“You don’t want to bring in industries here just to be diverse,” he said. “With zero taxes here, corporate and personal, you’re going to get industries coming in here. You shouldn’t … pay people to move in. They get a great deal to move here to Wyoming, they don’t need any tax breaks in addition to that.”

Laffer also warned state officials against adopting an income tax, noting his studies have shown 11 states that have adopted income taxes since 1961 have actually seen declines in tax revenues and the quality of public services.

“You have some advantages here in the state that are incredible,” he said. “No income tax, no corporate (tax). Don’t do it.”

“There is no upside to introducing these kinds of anti-growth policies,” he added.

Laffer also said that while he is not impressed with the economic policies of the administration of President Joe Biden, he is optimistic for the future because generally, presidents who support higher taxes are followed by presidents who do not.

“We have a period that is very depressing,” he said. “Don’t believe that it’s over. We’re just in a transformation, a metamorphosis.”

Laffer also commented on Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine this week, saying it was the result of “very weak and indecisive” national leadership.

However, the situation may lead the country’s citizens to recognize the threats facing the United States, he said.

“I think for the first time … in a long time, the U.S. is waking up to what the problem is,” he said. 

According to its website, Freedom Path 307 is a group advocating for conservative fiscal solutions to the state’s economic challenges and conservative fiscal policies. Its board members include several former legislators and business leaders such as Wayne Hughes Jr., the owner of Cowboy State Daily.

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Study: People Moving to Wyoming in 2021 Wanted To Be Closer to Family

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A desire to be closer to family was the main reason people moved to Wyoming in 2021 — the same reason a high number of people questioned by United Van Lines gave for moving out of the state.

United, in its annual “National Movers Study,” said of the people it questioned who used its equipment to move in or out of Wyoming, 30.7% said they were moving to the state to be closer to family, mirroring a national trend.

“This year’s survey results indicated 31.8% of Americans who moved did so in order to be closer to family — a new trend coming out of the pandemic as priorities and lifestyle choices shift,” the report said.

As for those leaving the state, almost 26.1% said they were doing so to be closer to family. That left family tied with “lifestyle” as the second-most popular choice for leaving Wyoming. 

The most popular reason given for leaving Wyoming was retirement at 30.4%. In contrast, 28.2% of those moving into the state gave “retirement” as the reason.

The company’s report said almost the same number of people left Wyoming via United as became new residents.

United said it handled 626 shipments in Wyoming in 2021 — 314 for people moving into the state and 312 for people leaving the state.

“Several states saw nearly the same number of residents moving inbound as outbound,” the report said. “Kentucky and Wyoming are among these ‘balanced states.’”

The highest percentage of those moving into Wyoming, 40%, were age 65 or older, the study said. That same age group made up the biggest percentage of people leaving the state — 58.8%.

The people moving into Wyoming generally make more money than those moving out, the study showed.

Of those moving in, more than half, 56.3%, reported an annual income of $150,000 or more, while only 16.7% of those moving out had a similar income.

Most of those leaving the state, 41.7%, had an income of $100,000 to $149,000.

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Lumber, Construction Materials in Wyoming Still Hampered by Delays, High Prices

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

High prices and material delays blamed on the coronavirus pandemic continue to plague the construction industry even as the illness loosens its grip on the nation.

Just this week, lumber companies in Montana reported further delays due to flooding in the Pacific Northwest, which has pushed back shipments of wood to retailers and contractors. 

But the same conditions that caused concerns for the construction industry at the height of the pandemic are still in play — primarily labor shortages and transportation delays.

“Trucking is slowing things down,” said Rod Schutzman with Builders First Source in Cody. “You know, supply and demand, things are so busy. Winter hasn’t hit, and housing starts across the U.S. are still at a good record pace, it’s just taking more time because of trucking.”

Schutzman said prices had dropped off recently, but they are beginning to tick up again.

“I got another report today and it’s on the rise again,” he said. “So I don’t know after the New Year what’s going to happen. It could be a lot like what we’ve seen this summer, June, July and August.”

Ken Gould at Knecht Home Center in Sheridan said it’s not just lumber deliveries that have been delayed.

“Fiberglass, rebar — we’re gonna have that come in maybe Monday or Tuesday of next week, and that’s been on order for over two months,” he said. “There are no subfloor adhesives available, everything’s out. Spray foam insulation in a can is pretty much non-existent at this moment. They keep pushing everything back into January and into February.”

Gould said that transportation issues and labor shortages in the factories that produce construction materials have played major factors in the shortages, in addition situations like the natural disasters that have affected the lumber market in the northwest.

“I heard about the flooding, and that could be an explanation as well,” said Gould. “The prices are going up – everything’s going up.”

Schutzman pointed out that despite delays, the materials are still available.

“It just takes longer to get it, but there’s still wood out there.”

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Wyoming Showing Slow Signs Of Recovery From Pandemic

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By Kimberly James, The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

A declining unemployment rate is one of several indicators offering hope that Wyoming’s economy is on the road to pre-pandemic strength.

The recent Wyoming Economic Indicator report, released by the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, showed that 38% of the 26,000 jobs lost during the worst of the pandemic have been recovered as of September 2021.

Even though the jobless rate is falling, the state is still facing a labor shortage, as is much of the country. The shortage is leaving employers scrambling for ways to attract new workers, including increasing wages.

“With a 4.1% unemployment rate in Wyoming, upward pressure on wages for those employers still attempting to fill available jobs is present,” Tony Gagliardi, Wyoming state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, told The Center Square. 

“This upward trend on wages will not only continue but become exacerbated as we get further into the holiday season.”

Gagliardi reported that unemployment rates dropped the most in Sweetwater (5.8% to 4.7%), Niobrara (4% to 2.9%), Converse (4.9% to 3.9%) and Hot Springs (4% to 2.9%) counties, according to Workforce Services.

“The jobless rate continues to fall in Wyoming, this could likely be caused by those who have dropped out of the labor market,” Gagliardi said. 

“Economists call the phenomenon slowing the job-market recovery ‘mismatch,’ a disconnect between the jobs open and the people looking for work. Again, likely caused by those leaving the labor force.”

The future looks uncertain as the gap grows between the unemployed seeking work and the unfilled jobs, and Gagliardi said it is difficult to predict what will happen. 

“Some national economists state the current situation is harming lower-wage workers the most,” Gagliardi said.

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Cody Gunmaker Fights To List Its Products On State Website

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Firearms manufacturers are not able to sell their guns and ammo on the state’s Shop Wyoming website — and a Cody lawmaker wants the attorney general to take action against what she sees as illegal discrimination.

Last month, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, asked Attorney General Bridget Hill to use a new law to sue the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, which operates the online marketplace.

Williams made the request after complaints from Big Horn Armory of Cody, which has been unsuccessfully fighting for the better part of a year to list its guns on ShopWyoming.com.

The issue stems from the two large payment processors used by the site, Stripe and PayPal, as neither processor will handle sales of firearms and ammunition. But Big Horn Armory President Greg Buchel and Williams charge that the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network itself — run by the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council and the U.S. Small Business Administration — is also discriminating against the firearm industry.

“The group that controls the Shop Wyoming website has free choice over what platform is used, they are culpable for that choice,” Williams wrote to the attorney general on Oct. 29, echoing an earlier email from Buchel. “The payment processor for Shop Wyoming and by association, the Wyoming Small Business Development Center and its directors employed by the University of Wyoming are in clear violation of W.S. 13-10-302(a).”

The law in question — which generally prevents financial institutions from discriminating against firearms-related businesses — was passed by the Wyoming Legislature and enthusiastically signed by Gov. Mark Gordon in early April.

Earlier this month, AG Hill said her office will look into the issue. However, it’s unclear whether Hill could bring suit against the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network, as the new law appears to only apply to financial institutions and not their customers or clients. That’s a point that’s been raised by the director of the Wyoming SBDC Network, Jill Kline.

Emails provided by Buchel indicate there’s also been some uncertainty as to whether out-of-state payment processors like PayPal and Stripe are subject to the law. The legislation also says that financial institutions can choose not to provide services to gun companies “for a business or financial reason.”

While the attorney general’s office has only agreed to look into the issue, Buchel called it “the most positive action I’ve seen so far.”

In an interview, Director Kline said the SBDC has nothing against guns, and only realized the underlying ecommerce platform prohibited firearm sales after subscribing to the service.

“… we thought we had made a great selection,” Kline said in an interview. “As many of the ‘what if’ questions we asked, we obviously didn’t get them all in.”

She said the intent was never to exclude anyone.

“We’re trying to just do a program that’s going to help businesses here in Wyoming in this difficult time,” Kline said.

Publicly launched

The Wyoming SBDC Network, which is based at the University of Wyoming, publicly launched the Shop Wyoming marketplace in February. The site was developed in partnership with an Iowa-based company that powers similar marketplaces across the country, with all of the funding provided by the federal CARES Act.

Businesses can freely sign up to offer their products on the site, which the SBDC has pitched as a place for customers to find products from numerous Wyoming-grown businesses in a single location.

Kline said it gives businesses a place or another place to sell their goods online, particularly as foot traffic may be lagging amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, as a result of the program, “we’ve helped so many businesses actually even get a website up and running,” she said.

Around 107 vendors were using the Shop Wyoming platform as of earlier this month, she said, with the site drawing nearly 65,000 pageviews through October. That’s translated to 63 orders and just less than $5,000 in sales. It’s an average of only about $50 per vendor, but Kline says the platform is still growing and SBDC is hoping for a boost this holiday season.

Buchel applied to be a seller back on Feb. 1, looking to offer Big Horn Armory’s “unique big bore lever guns and semi-auto rifles.” However, the request was soon rejected.

“Unfortunately, the payment [processor] for our site does not allow for sales of firearms or ammunition so we are unable to let you list those,” explained Shop Wyoming Project Manager Audrey Jansen. “However, if you would like to sell firearm accessories such as holsters, slings, or cuffs you may do that.”

Other retailers sell such accessories on the Shop Wyoming platform — including leatherwork made for holding bullets — and businesses can include a link back to their full site. However, Buchel said he’s not interested.

“We want to sell the guns themselves,” he said in an interview. “All of the accessories are ancillary to the whole operation — we sell guns, we build guns. That’s the deal.”

Buchel quickly brought the issue to the attention of state lawmakers.

Days after Big Horn Armory’s denial in February, state Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, asked Director Kline if the SBDC could find a different payment processor — one that would allow the state’s firearm manufacturers to sell their products through Shop Wyoming.

“Wyoming has worked hard to recruit these manufacturers,” Walters wrote, “so it only makes sense for Wyoming to offer them the same opportunities as [it] offers other [businesses] in the state.”

However, Kline said the “Shop Where I Live” ecommerce platform, created by Member Marketplace Inc. of Iowa, came with only PayPal and Stripe as payment options and that building an alternative would be cost-prohibitive.

Cody Regional Health

Kline again noted that Big Horn Armory could list its non-firearm products and link back to its full site, saying that alternative was offered “to all the businesses that have run into this challenge.”

“We want to see all of our retailers statewide be successful and we are happy to assist this individual,” Kline wrote in late February, referring to Buchel. “Unfortunately, this project will not work perfectly for every business.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers took up House Bill 236.

HB 236

The legislation generally prohibits financial institutions — defined as payments processors, financial institutions defined in state law and national banking associations — from discriminating against entities who are “engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition products.”

If a business faces such discrimination, the law says they can file a lawsuit and seek actual, treble and punitive or exemplary damages from the institution, along with recouping their costs.

It also empowers the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office to file a suit against institutions who violate the law. Under the bill, the AG can ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order or permanent injunction against a financial institution that discriminates against firearm entities. The attorney general can also seek a civil penalty of up to $20,000 per violation for repeated discrimination — and the state could sever its business relationship with any offenders.

The final version of HB 236 passed the House on a 44-13 vote, while clearing the Senate 23-6. Gordon signed it into law April 8.

“I will relentlessly defend our Second Amendment and the Wyoming businesses involved in the firearms industry,” the governor said at the time.

In August — a month after the new law took effect — Buchel reapplied to join the Shop Wyoming platform. When he was turned down again, he charged that the Shop Wyoming processors, the Wyoming SBDC Network and its directors at the University of Wyoming were violating the law.

Kline responded by noting that UW is not a payment processor and not a financial institution.

“We simply subscribe to the ecommerce platform that hosts the site, and as a subscriber, we must comply with the terms and conditions provided by the platform,” she wrote in the email conversation, which included a few lawmakers.

Buchel, however, said it seemed that the organizations were “culpable” for their choice of platform.

“We again ask you to reconsider your decision regarding this matter before further action is necessary,” he wrote.

Rep. Williams’ took up the cause in the late October email to Attorney General Hill, asking for action under the new law, and she denounced the Wyoming SBDC Network’s actions in a news release earlier this month.

“I am appalled that they are not abiding by the new law,” Williams said, praising Wyoming’s firearms industry and Big Horn Armory, which is in the process of expanding its operation.

Working through the law

Hill did not respond to a message seeking comment, but the attorney general’s office is apparently now working to determine whether the law is being followed. As it sorts through the complaint, the office will likely have to consider a number of issues. For instance, while the law prohibits discrimination against firearm companies, financial institutions can choose not to provide service if they have “a business or financial reason.”

Stripe prohibits “weapons and munitions; gunpowder and other explosives” as part of a category of banned items it describes as “regulated or illegal products or services.” Additional items in the category include products containing tobacco, marijuana or CBD, prescription-only drugs, fireworks and toxic, flammable and radioactive materials. 

(Gambling services, adult content, bankruptcy lawyers, psychic services and door-to-door sales are also banned, among other things.) PayPal prohibits its services from being used on a smaller, but similar list of transactions.

On their websites, neither PayPal nor Stripe specifically explain why they ban firearm and ammo-related sales. A general Stripe FAQ on its restricted businesses offers that, “for now, due to various reasons, including requirements that apply to Stripe as a payment processor, requirements from our financial partners, and the potential risk exposure to Stripe, we’re currently not able to work with certain industries.”

In Buchel’s discussions with state officials, some questions have been raised about whether Stripe and PayPal are subject to the law. An attorney in the Legislative Service Office indicated to Rep. Walters that they likely are, though he called the question “a tricky one” within “a considerably complicated field of law.”

For his part, Buchel thinks the situation with the Shop Wyoming platform is clear.

“They’re discriminating,” he said in an interview, adding, “They’re taking a hard line and, you know, they’re wrong.” 

If the attorney general ultimately declines to file a suit, Buchel continues to have the option to hire a private attorney and take legal action himself.

Buford, Wyoming: Smallest Town in the U.S., Cheapest Gas in Wyoming

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Last week the tiny town of Buford, Wyoming, was a buzzing topic on a Cheyenne Facebook news group.

Cheap gas was what the members of the page were talking about and many claimed that the four-pump gas station in the middle of a windswept prairie on Interstate 80 had the cheapest gas in Wyoming.

This was a change. Almost a decade ago, when the gas station and the town of Buford made international news for being purchased for $900,000 by a Vietnamese businessman, the gas sold there was among the most expensive — if not the most expensive — in the state.

Now, according to GasBuddy, an internet site that tracks gas prices in the country, Buford stands alone as the cheapest place in the Cowboy State to buy gas — at least it was on Monday.

At $2.84 a gallon for regular, it was more than $1 less than some stations in Cheyenne. The story was the same for premium gasoline.

Why, when an owner could get away with charging through the nose because of its remote location, is gas so inexpensive in Buford?

It’s the business strategy of Mintu Pandher, the owner of Akal Energy who also owns a truck stop 20 miles west of Laramie in Queally Dome, the Tumbleweed gas station in Laramie and a few other gas stations in Colorado and New Mexico.

Pandher, who will not sell cigarettes, alcohol, or lottery tickets in any of his locations, said it’s an ethical decision for him to keep the prices low because people need to buy gasoline.

“It’s not like a Louis Vuitton purse where they have a choice. People have no choice, they have to buy fuel,” Pandher told Cowboy State Daily.

He compared fuel to utilities such as electricity or natural gas.

“There’s a cap on how much they can sell it. But for fuel, there is no cap,” he said. “Anyone can charge anything.”

Pandher, who lives in Laramie, said he is against government overreach but felt like there should be some limit on gas prices because it is a necessity.

He said he feels for the consumer who purchases gasoline for $3.89 a gallon in one location and then fives miles down the road sees a place where they could have bought it for $2.79.

“That’s $9 that you could have used for lunch or your kids’ lunch,” he said. “And someone took that away.”

Gas station owners are still making money even at the lower price, he said

“You’re not taking his cake away,” he said. “But you did take $9 away from someone’s pocket and that’s what bothers me.”

Pandher, who has been in the fuel transport business since 1999, isn’t waiting around for government to step in. He’s using what he calls the greed of others, to build his own competitive advantage. 

He can sell gas cheaper because he buys it cheaper. In fact, he “chases it.”

Pandher watches where fuel is being sold at the cheapest amount and sends his fleet of trucks to that location to fill up.

He said he has 19 fuel trucks in his fleet and they were dispatched two weeks ago to El Paso where he could buy cheap fuel and bring it up to his gas stations.

Does it pay off?  Absolutely, he said. High volume is the key.

“Look at the Tumbleweed in Laramie. It’s a little dinky gas station but it stays busy day and night,” he said.

Back to the Facebook page, many people from Cheyenne make the 40-mile round trip trek to Buford, they say, to save money.

“I buy my gas there. Best price in Wyoming and way less than Cheyenne,” said Rodger McDaniel, a former Wyoming legislator who now serves as a pastor in Cheyenne.

“I stop there several times a week,” Claude Womble wrote. “I work in Laramie but live in Cheyenne. This is my fuel stop, I try and give them all the business I can.

“Sorry Cheyenne unless you can compete with their fuel prices my business goes to them!!” Womble added.

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Microsoft Opens Two New Data Centers In Cheyenne

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By Dan Swinhoe, Data Center Dynamics

Microsoft has launched two new data centers in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The company announced the new facilities – one in the Cheyenne Business Parkway and another in Bison Business Park — to support its West Central US Azure region.

“Expanding Microsoft’s digital capabilities in Wyoming will allow us to meet the demand for new and existing customers in the region, and we’re excited to continue supporting the growth of diverse businesses in the state and look forward to working with state and local leaders on initiatives that can foster job creation and economic opportunity,” said Sergio Loureiro, Microsoft’s VP of core operations for data centers.

The company said sustainability was important and it was making “significant efforts” in water conservation and preserving Cheyenne’s water resources through adiabatic cooling and donations to local organizations working on preserving the region’s watershed.

“In addition to building data centers, Microsoft is investing in new water, sewer, and road infrastructure to create easier access to Bison Business Park, which will also support the growth of new businesses in Wyoming,” added Loureiro.

Microsoft has had a data center presence in Wyoming since 2012 and expanded its footprint there in 2014. The West Central Azure region opened in 2016; the site currently only has one Availability Zone so the new facilities should see that upped to the standard three.

Cheyenne is also the site of Microsoft’s ‘Data Plant’ concept to create an off-grid data center powered by methane that opened in 2014.

“The growth of the data center industry in Wyoming has been led by Microsoft and it is coming to represent a significant sign of the continued diversification of our economy. I appreciate Microsoft’s commitment to Wyoming and thank them for the benefits they have brought to multiple sectors of our economy,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon.

“Governor Mead was the inspiration for bringing the first Microsoft Data Center to the state in 2012. The incentives that set this train in motion are working. This is a sector of our growing economy that continues to pick up steam,” he said.

“Additional data centers are a great win for Cheyenne and all of Laramie County,” added Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins. “With it comes more high tech opportunities, a skilled workforce, and expands upon Microsoft’s existing economic impact to our community.”

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Lummis Criticizes Biden’s Use of Strategic Petroleum Reserve As a “Hail Mary”

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

President Joe Biden’s decision to release 50 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to lower gas prices is a “short-sighted Hail Mary,” according to U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis.

The White House on Tuesday announced the U.S. — along with five other countries, including China — will all dip into their national reserves in an effort to assuage the soaring prices.

Lummis said the increase in gas prices — up over $1 per gallon from a year ago — is of Biden’s own doing.

“One of President Biden’s first executive orders stopped new energy leases on federal land,” Lummis said. 

“He has continued to push policies that harm Wyoming energy workers and families & raised prices on anyone who relies on fossil fuels to heat their homes or power their vehicles — basically everyone,” she said.

“Turning to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a short-sighted Hail Mary to try and fix the problem he’s actively exacerbating without actually taking responsibility for it,” she added.

It’s particularly hard here in the Cowboy State because of the number of miles Wyomingites drive, per capita — averaging more than 18,000 per year, the highest mileage in the nation.

No other state comes close to that. Alabama is a distant second with drivers averaging 14,500 miles per year.

Gas prices in the U.S. are the highest since President Obama was in office with the national average for a gallon of gas at $3.40 on Monday — up from $2.11 a year ago.

Many analysts believe Tuesday’s action won’t make a difference to consumers.

“For drivers wondering if gasoline prices will get lower…the reality is that this may not happen at all, or only with a significant lag time,” Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil-market research at consulting firm Rystad Energy, told the Wall Street Journal.

Lummis sent a letter to the president on Monday explaining that domestic energy producers have increased prices because of “depressed investment in our production due to regulatory uncertainty.”

“Business leaders are reluctant to make complex, long-term investments in expensive new wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure critical to increasing production and keeping American energy prices low if these projects will be delayed or overly burdened by new, expansive regulations or taxes,” she wrote.

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Supply Chain Breakdown Affects Wyoming Retailers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Transportation issues, labor shortages and global politics are having the same impact on locally owned retail stores as they are on their larger colleagues.

Retailers in Wyoming are reporting they are having troubles meeting the demands of their hometown customers due to the same supply chain “breakdown” seen across the country.

Sarah Growney, owner of The Thistle gift shop in Cody, said many of the items she would normally carry around this time of year just haven’t arrived yet.

“I ordered everything for Christmas in January,” she said. “It was the absolute earliest I was able to order. But a lot of the Christmas decor items, things like that – they’re still sitting in freight containers on the ocean. I haven’t received a single Christmas tree, including for my own shop, so we’re like the shop without a Christmas tree. It’s a little sad.”

Such delays are costly for a store like The Thistle, especially at this time of year.

“It’s not going to do me much good if I get it Dec. 15,” Growney said. “In fact, that’ll hose me. So that’s the other game we’re playing. It’s checking in with our vendors constantly because you don’t want to get a big Christmas decor display Dec. 5.” 

Growney said even the production of locally made products if being delayed because of shortages of supplies made in other parts of the country.

“This is an American made candle, it’s out of Sheridan, Wyoming,” she said. “But even though it’s American made, they’re still delayed because they can’t get their glass. So even if the product is made in the U.S., they might rely on something coming from overseas, and that’s causing them delay.”

The supply issues are having negative effects on all businesses, from retail stores to the auto industry. 

Bert Miller, general manager the Denny Menolt auto dealership in Cody, said the dealership’s ability to sell vehicles has been hampered by circumstances halfway around the world.

“We’ve got a lot of cars that are built, but they’re waiting for their microprocessors, which has slowed things up dramatically,” Miller said. “When we have countries like Malaysia that went down with COVID, and shut down the microchip processor plants, that’s why you see our lot is short about 100 new vehicles.”

And although they are selling some vehicles, Miller noted that delivery for many customers is being delayed significantly.

“You know, normal sold orders will take maybe 60 days,” he said. “And now we’re looking at about four months with the shipping and everything impacting it, and the micro-processors are a tremendous problem.”

But auto sales operations like Denny Menholt don’t just sell cars – the company services them as well. And parts have been hard to come by.

“We’re just doing the best for our customers,” Miller said. “We might have to loan them a vehicle. Sometimes we can get things done within a week, if those parts are really on backorder, but we rely on the GM chain and we do everything we can to get their vehicle fixed.”

Both Miller and Growney cite transportation issues as a weak link in the supply chain.

“The trains really hamper us because the rail cars have to go where the vehicles are ready,” Miller said. “So they’ll move the rail cars around, and then about the time the plant’s got some vehicles going out, they have to get the rail cars back in. And of course, they can’t roll things without them being full. So when they do reach the trucking facility, then we’re waiting to get full loads to roll those trucks. So there’s a tremendous delay.”

“It’s real, what you’re watching on the news,” said Growney. “They’re like, ‘Well, we have five containers on the ocean, we might get one in tomorrow.’ I’ve never had to deal with this.”

Growney added there are businesses between the suppliers and the store owners that are also affected.

“My concern is for the vendors,” she said. “Like, if I don’t get my product, they’re not getting paid.” 

But businesses are trying to stay positive, despite the obstacles.

“Fortunately, we carry a little bit of something for everyone, so the shop is plentiful,” Growney said. “But I know what we’re missing. We’re going to have a great Christmas, but it’s frustrating.”

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Powell Brewery Takes First Step In Distribution

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

There was a flurry of activity on an otherwise typically tranquil early Sunday morning on Bent Street. Massive machine parts were squeezed through the double doors at WYOld West Brewing Company and carefully reassembled into what little room was available between the business’s numerous towering conical tanks.

It barely fit, but somehow they made it work and by 9 a.m the company was making history: filling their first cans of craft beer for distribution. It’s the company’s first toe dipped in the marketing pool outside their popular brewery and restaurant. 

WYOld West’s first move was to produce 400 cases of beer. Soon it will be hitting shelves across Wyoming, including local stores and a limited supply at the Powell restaurants. 

Before the first green can of Kilted Cowboy Scottish Ale made its way down the production line, the project was already a success, said head brewer Steve Samuelson: Almost the entire run of 1,200 gallons of beer have already sold.

It took months, if not years of planning, he said. Still, there were exposed nerves as the production line was tweaked and the crew slowly began assembling pallets of two brews, which also included Bronc Buster Blonde Ale. 

The process has taxed the brew crew. They had to make enough beer to both fill the cans and ensure they wouldn’t run out in their locations in Powell and Cody. The recipe also had to be altered. Originally the beers were unfiltered, but that had to change to accommodate the canning process.

If the test run is successful, WYOld will start the process over and do a second round of canning in about six weeks. “We’ve had the goal of canning our beer for years now,” said head chef and investor Ryan Gutierrez. “This is an exciting opportunity for a company.”

Getting beer out to fans across the state is the first step in a much more ambitious plan.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said co-owner Jessica Laughlin.

If all goes well, the company will build a new location to accommodate a permanent canning facility, coupled with a larger brewing set-up, she said. They also hope to add more of their 13 flavors to the distribution list. But first they had to fill orders by Teton Distributing and Quality Brands of Cheyenne.

Laughlin credited Samuelson for improving the brews and speeding up the distribution plan. Samuelson has been in the business for decades, moving to Powell from Seattle for his current position.

“They brought me in to improve recipes and make beer to can,” he said. “I love it here. The pace is better — really good for me and my wife.”

Tyler Evans, sous chef for the restaurant, patiently fielded jokes coming from his co-workers as the cans rolled off the production line in six-packs. 

Evans is the new face of Kilted Cowboy, the brewery’s best selling beer. When he modeled for the label he was told nobody would recognize him. Yet he couldn’t be more recognizable in the picture. But it’s not his face, or even his “ZZ Top” whiskers that were the butt of jokes; it’s his attire. Evans is pictured in a kilt, cowboy boots and hat tipping back a beer. He sported a big grin when he first saw the cans.

Cody Regional Health

“I bet your wife will never want to see you in those boots again,” one of the crew members quipped. 

The jokes rolled off of him like water on a duck.

“It’s pretty cool. I’m pretty excited about it,” Evans said. “It turned out really good and I ended up on a beer that I really enjoy.”

The photograph of Evans and the designs were created by Kelly Laughlin — owner of Design | Print | Market with Kelly, a brewery employee and Jessica’s mom. For the Bronc Buster Blonde Ale label, Mariah Joy was photographed by Northwest College professor Morgan Tyree at the Trapper rodeo arena.

Like everything in the process, WYOld West tries to make sure every move it makes, from the grains used to produce the beer to business decisions, is done locally. Every can carries their motto: “Grown here, brewed here.”

The production line was brought in by Montana Canning. They travel around the region subcontracting for breweries, using a Wild Goose filling station with a proprietary six-pack assembler to save the time of piecing together the packs by hand.

“We stay pretty busy,” said Naomi Gerheim, one half of the canning crew along with husband Tim. “We’re going to be in Livingston [Montana] for a couple days right after this.”

While bottles continue to dominate beer packaging, that dominance is slipping to cans, according to the Brewers Association, a national organization for small and independent craft brewers.

“Bottles still clearly outsell cans, but the can percentage continues to rise,” economist Bart Watson said in a recent article. “Note that the percentage rise isn’t because of a decline in bottle sales (which have continued to climb), but simply because the increase in can sales has been faster than the increase in bottle sales.”

Naomi Gerheim said cans are more convenient.

“You can you can take it anywhere. If you want to go hunting or if you want to go on the river or hiking, it’s a lot easier to carry,” she said, comparing them to bottles or growlers. They are also easier to recycle, she said. 

Social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a double whammy on the craft beer industry. Not only was business driven out of pubs and restaurants, but shipping and production of canning materials was adversely affected while many micro breweries attempted to begin canning their brews to get beer into customers’ hands.

At least until WYOld West can build a new facility, Montana Canning will be making trips to Wyoming, getting Powell brews ready to ship.

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Report: Wyoming Ranks 3rd For Fiscal Health, Gets ‘A’ Grade

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By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Wyoming earned an “A” grade for its fiscal health, according to a new report by fiscal watchdog group Truth in Accounting (TIA).

The state has a tax surplus of more than $19,500 per resident, TIA found, which ranks as the third-highest surplus in the country behind Alaska and North Dakota, respectively. Only 11 states have enough money to pay all their fiscal obligations, according to the report.

“The majority of states were financially unprepared for any crisis,” TIA CEO Sheila Weinberg said in a statement. “When states can’t pay their bills, taxpayers are on the hook.”

Wyoming, however, “had more than enough resources available,” according to the report, which noted the state’s $3.8 billion surplus is due in part to revenue it collects from the energy industry.

The average tax burden across the country was more than $9,300 last year, representing a more than 20% climb from 2019, according to the report.

TIA calculated state tax burdens by dividing the funds each state needs to pay its bills by the estimated number of state taxpayers. Similarly, tax surpluses were calculated by dividing the total amount of money left over after all a state’s bills were paid by the number of taxpayers.

The report said a majority of state debt comes from retirement plans such as pensions and retiree health care benefits. States set aside an average of $0.64 to fund pension promises and $0.08 to fund retiree health care last year, according to TIA.

Once the pandemic hit, funding for these obligations was shattered, leaving most states with far less money to pay out its growing obligations.

Wyoming’s retirement system netted a more than 27% return with more than $9.6 billion in assets and just $375 million in private debt, according to Wyoming’s retirement system financial outlook report.

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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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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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Wyoming Wood Prices Soar Due to COVID, Labor Problems

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There are some things we definitely take for granted in our society – for example, construction projects. Many of us just assume we can go to the lumber yard, get the supplies we need, and build whatever we have in mind.

But what happens when those supplies just aren’t available?

Right now, lumber is hard to come by. And when it can be found, it isn’t cheap.

“Our (plywood) with all of our sheet goods have gone exponentially higher – like eight times higher, and our dimensional lumber has over doubled in price,” said Matt Scott, a contractor in Cody. “But it’s also availability of goods.”

Ken Gould, a sales associate at Knecht Home Center in Sheridan, said the price for standard plywood — also known as oriented strand board or OSB (standard plywood) — is over five times what it cost just six months ago.

“Your cost of OSB right now is, $66.78 for 7/16 OSB sheeting,” Gould said. “Six months ago it was around $13 or $14.”

And the reason behind the price hike? Simple supply and demand, he said.

“The supply is not there,” Gould said. 

Right now, the OSB is coming from places like Michigan, or other suppliers back east, Gould said. But that’s not where the lumber came from before the coronavirus hit.

“Most of your OSB would come out of Canada, but Canada is closed,” he said. 

But it’s not just about border issues. Labor plays a big part, according to Gould.

“I was told this morning that there’s lots of lumber out there to be grabbed and brought in, but they can’t get trucks,” he said. 

For Scott, the shortage affects his bottom line as well – and his schedule.

“With the price being so high, no lumberyard wants to stock a whole lot of lumber right now, because they’re not wanting to put a whole lot of money into inventory,” he said. “So that slows our turnover down, and there’s a lot more time lagging with the supply chain. We’ve run into a lot of issues with our windows and door manufacturers just because they went to half staff during this whole deal.”

Scott put most of the blame for the shortages in lumber and other construction goods on the pandemic and other natural disasters in recent months.

“Our drywall has doubled in price because they’re shipping a lot of it down to Texas to repair all the damage that was done this spring,” he said, referring to the cold snap that caused pipes to freeze and burst. “And our PVC pipe is in short demand.”

The supply issues have caused Scott to change the way he schedules upcoming jobs.

“I’m at a point where I’m so tired of trying to play this catch up game,” he said. “We just had to kind of tell people we can’t take any more work at this time, partially because it’s right now it’s too hard to schedule that far out.”

Gould said from his perspective, a large part of the issue is political. He said he feels that the labor shortage is tied to higher unemployment benefits, which discourage potential employees from going back to work.

“I ordered one man an earth auger, to drill holes in the ground,” he said. “And (the seller) told me it was backordered until October. She told me that they don’t have enough workers in the factory to produce what people are purchasing. And why would they want to work? When they can make $1,600 on unemployment?”

‘It’s frustrating,” Scott said. “It adds a whole other level of stress that isn’t normally there. But we’ve got to figure out how to work through this and deal with it.”

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Wyoming Lost More Than 16,000 Jobs In 2020

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming lost more than 16,000 jobs in 2020, according to state figures.

A report from the state Department of Workforce Services showed that between the fourth quarter of 2019 and 2020, the number of people employed in the state fell by 6%, from 276,508 to 259,937.

The figures are included in a preliminary employment report prepared by the DWS Research and Planning Division.

Employment in the last quarter of 2020 was an improvement over the second quarter of the year, when the number of people with jobs stood at 252,329.

By comparison, as of March, the DWS estimated state employment at 277,417.

The combined impact of coal mine closures and business closures related to the coronavirus pandemic was felt significantly in employment.

The report said most of the jobs lost, 5,900, were seen in the mining sector, while the leisure and hospitality industry lost 3,300 jobs over the one-year period. Construction jobs also fell by 2,750 from the last quarter of 2019.

However, the retail trade sector added 700 jobs from the final quarter of 2019.

The report also said that during the final quarter of the year, the state’s total payroll dropped by 1.7% from the fourth quarter of 2019 to total almost $3.6 billion. However, the payroll seen in the last quarter of the year was higher than what was seen in the second quarter, when the total fell to $3.1 billion.

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Wyoming’s Open Spaces And Schools Are Attracting Travelers, Job Seekers

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By Bob Pepalis, The Center Square

Unlike many other states during the pandemic, Wyoming attracted visitors seeking the great outdoors with its national parks, and was also successful in attracting job seekers and business interests.

“Overall, the U.S. travel economy declined nearly 45%, whereas Wyoming’s travel economy only declined 25%. In the year ahead, we anticipate a rise in popularity for destinations such as Wyoming that offer wide-open spaces and an abundance of outdoor adventure opportunities,” Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, told The Center Square.

Travel spending in Wyoming declined from $3.96 billion in 2019 to $2.96 billion in 2020, “The Economic Impact of Travel” report prepared for the Wyoming Office of Tourism said. Total direct job loss was estimated at 6,030 jobs, with accommodation and food services accounting for 3,600 of those.

Remote workers were the focus of a two-month targeted national marketing campaign last fall by the Business Council, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and Wyoming Office of Tourism, Ron Gullberg, Strategic Partnerships director for the Wyoming Business Council, told The Center Square.

“From the Business Council’s perspective, we are seeing heightened interest from remote workers looking to relocate, job seekers and business recruitment and expansion inquiries. Wyoming’s open spaces, opportunity for an adventurous lifestyle, business-friendly environment, open schools and less restrictive health orders are among the driving factors we’re hearing,” Gullberg said.

“The intake form housed on the tourism website generated 3,200 inquiries and not just remote workers. They included job seekers and business recruitment and expansion inquiries. Even after the two-month campaign ended, we’ve received more than 200 additional inquiries,” Gullberg said.

The three agencies are dividing the inquiries and addressing them, Gallberg said.

Wyoming state parks saw the revival of the “Great American road trip,” the Wyoming Office of Tourism reported, and strong indicators show an intent to travel this year.

“Wyoming’s State Parks saw a record-breaking year with 4,878,765 visitors, more than a million more than last year’s record season of 3,876,039, an increase of 34%,” Shober said.

Curt Gowdy State Park was one park with visitor increases more than 200% above the five-year average. For 2020, it was 231% above that average, but the increase was more dramatic in March, which had a 581% increase in visitors and April with a 474% increase in visitation.

The state is made up of almost 50% public land, including the 12 state parks with more than 100,000 square acres, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.

The state does not have reservation or booking data available that would help in projecting travel spending in 2021.

“However, Visit Wyoming’s Official Travel Guide orders are up 46%, while travelwyoming.com traffic is also up 36% – all strong indicators of intent to travel,” Shober said.

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Wyoming’s Economic Health Improving; Projections Grow By $82 Million

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s top financial experts had some good news for Wyoming legislators as they headed into their one-day legislative opening session Tuesday, with forecasts for income for the state’s next two years improving slightly.

Income estimates for the state for fiscal 2021 through 2022 — which began on July 1 and will end on June 30, 2022 — grew by $82 million over projections made in October by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group.

The CREG is a group of top financial experts from across state government who regularly assess what the state’s revenues will look like going forward. The group’s latest report was issued Tuesday as legislators gathered virtually for a one-day session that would be followed up later in the year by more extensive meetings to tackle legislation.

CREG estimated in May that the state could face shortfalls of $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion in funding for both general government operations and education, prompting Gov. Mark Gordon to cut state spending by $250 million and propose another $500 million in cuts in his supplemental budget now being studied by lawmakers.

The bulk of the shortfall was blamed on reduced coal production in the state and losses in sales taxes blamed on the coronavirus.

However, in the report issued Tuesday, the CREG said it has adjusted its sales tax income upward by about $32.2 million over projections made in October.

The report said although sales taxes income remains substantially lower than what was seen in fiscal 2020, the drop is not as severe as what had earlier been forecast.

The improved outlook is the result of federal coronavirus assistance funds still flowing into local economies, the second round of federal stimulus payments being sent to taxpayers, slight improvements in sales taxes generated by oil and natural gas drilling and sales taxes from the construction of wind power projects, the report said.

At the same time, the CREG increased its forecast for mineral severance taxes over the biennium by $18.7 million, due largely to a slight boost in estimated oil production over the next two years.

The group’s forecast for federal mineral royalties also increased by $11.6 million, while investment income was forecast to grow by $19.7 million over earlier projections.

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Wyoming Sales Down In Second Quarter, But Up In Retail

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tom Lubnau: Wyoming’s Savings Are Nearly Gone; Get Prepared For Serious Changes

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By Tom Lubnau, guest columnist

I fought fire for the Campbell County Fire Department for 21 years.   While there, we developed a saying: “When perception meets reality, reality always wins.”  

Wyoming finds itself at those crossroads. 

For a generation, we have been the most conservative socialist state in the nation.  We have lived off of the tax dollars paid by other people.  We have developed Cadillac tastes while paying for a bicycle. 

According to the Wyoming Division of Economic analysis, on average, a family of 3 pays $3,180 in taxes while receiving $27,050 in government services. 

The rest of the government expenditures were paid by utility consumers from other states using Wyoming minerals. 

The market has shifted away from Wyoming minerals to other energy sources.  Whether those choices are wise or not does not matter.   Fewer folks are buying our minerals.  

As a result, we in Wyoming have a choice:  pay for the services we receive, or cut those services.   The potential amount of those cuts is staggering:  $1.5 billion dollars per biennium – or about $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the state. 

The governor has started to make cuts required by our Wyoming Constitution, because our income is far below our budget. 

Given our voters’ distaste for new taxes, be prepared for new cuts.  At this stage, dollars cut equal people cut.  

We should be prepared for unemployed contractors due to no new construction, cuts to education meaning educator layoffs, cuts to city and county budgets meaning cuts to law enforcement and emergency services, and cuts to maintenance budgets meaning less snow removal and more potholes.   

It also means less help for our elderly and our children. For six years, we have been balancing our budget with savings.   Our savings is nearly gone.  

We need to be prepared to change our Cadillac tastes to bicycle tastes, to tax ourselves some more or look to a combination of both.  

The reality is we are spending way beyond what we are now collecting in taxes.  No amount of magical thinking changes that reality.  

We need to be prepared to face the consequences of our choices.   Wherever our Legislature chooses to guide us, our lives will be vastly different.  

The Governor’s recent cuts are a minor scratch on the surface.  Be prepared for some serious changes.  The corollary to “when perception meets reality, reality always wins” is that when perception meets reality, it usually hurts.

Tom Lubnau II is a recovering politician and former Speaker of the House who practices law in Gillette, Wyoming.

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Gordon: State Does Not Have The Rainy Day Funds To Fix Revenue Crisis

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In a somber press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon sought to clear up the misperception that the state has enough money saved up to fix the state’s revenue crisis.

The governor said the notion that the state has large sums of money “stuffed away in coffee cans” isn’t true and the use of emergency funds won’t solve the problem.

“Sure we can spend the entire rainy day account down over the next two years but then what?,” Gordon said.

“Many people may be thinking we’ve got all this money in permanent funds and other accounts,” he said. “We’ve got to get [the budget picture] down to a very simple approach so people understand there just isn’t that much money.”

To that end, he said the state needs to plan five years out instead of the biennial process so “we know in five years we still have a state we can run.”

“We are approaching this cliff and we don’t have a way to affect a slowdown or a pause,” he said of Wyoming’s education funding mechanism.

Gordon said he hoped new legislators — many of whom ran on anti-tax pledges during the recent primary campaign — take time to learn about the budget and that government then clearly communicate to the public.

 “The people of Wyoming need to be assured that what they see in the budget documents is exactly what the state has,” he said.

Gordon said he hoped the public understands the severity of the problem before the state runs completely out of money.

“I know there are several people in the Legislature who feel this (running out of money) has to happen before anyone looks at this,” he said. “But the state has been through this a time or two before.”

He said he spoke to both former Gov. Mike Sullivan and Gov. Jim Geringer about the budget crisis acknowledging that each of them faced similar challenges.

An issue is trust, he said. 

“I do think people in Wyoming have got to be satisfied that we are out of money,” he said.

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Brace For Impact

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By Mandy Fabel, Guest Column

All the movies I’ve seen with a plane crash scene share a storyline: The plane starts moving in an unpredictable pattern, the faces of passengers go from calm to terrified and eventually the pilot comes over the intercom and says, in a confident (yet terrified) voice, “Brace for impact.”

Using the metaphor of a plane for Wyoming state government, our governor has called out the essence of that phrase weekly. Soon it will be a common phrase of Wyoming legislators as well.

Now, imagine the plane careening toward the ground suddenly deploys a parachute or grows webbed feet for a water landing. These solutions won’t look pretty, but they will certainly help soften the landing.

At this point, the best we can hope for is the pilot to come on the intercom and say in a confident (yet less terrified) voice, “Brace for change.”

I can hear the push back from Wyoming citizens already:

• “We’re not a parachute kind of plane,”

Translation: We don’t want that industry (or tax) here.

• “Webbed feet? Are you kidding me? Planes can’t swim.”

Translation: We tried that and it didn’t work.

• And of course, there is that one person in first class still trying to order drinks while pummeling toward the earth. “At least I’ll die happy.”

Translation: Let the next generation figure it out.

If “brace for change” is the best option we have available, how can we pull it off?

First, we have to pay attention to who we elect. The next round of pilots we put in the “cockpit” of the Wyoming Legislature and local government will make some of the most difficult and important decisions in the history of our state.

In his book “The Culture Code,” author Daniel Coyle describes when United Airlines Flight 232 lost its rear engine. The pilot’s reaction upon realizing the engine had failed spoke to his thoughtful leadership style. He asked his well-trained team, “Does anyone have any ideas?” Using this open and creative approach, the crew managed to save the lives of over half the passengers during an emergency landing that should have killed everyone.

Do you want a pilot (i.e. legislator, city councilor, mayor, etc.) who is going to defend his or her opinions and make ultimatums about the other 1,259,600 successful flights they have managed without engine failure? Or, do you want a pilot who is willing to admit the engine is failing and is open to the innovative suggestions and expertise of everyone on the crew?

Sidebar: if you’re shaking your head yes, but believe those ideas need to fall squarely in the camp of “raise revenue” OR “cut spending,” keep reading. The engine failure this time is worse than you think.

Second, we need to understand that the changes made will affect us. Not the royal “us,” but each community, household and every single Wyoming citizen. Yes, even you.

We may have to choose between technology, music, and athletics in education; between quality, cost, and access within the healthcare system; between paying additional property tax, sales tax, or introducing an income tax.

If you’re offended by something in the last paragraph, know that you are in the company of every single person reading this article. That’s the point. There is nothing left to cut or introduce that doesn’t impact each of us.

Before you throw your hands in the air and exclaim, “It’s politics, we’ll never agree on a solution!” let me remind you of two impressive examples of Wyoming leaders making the right decision at the right time.

For decades legislators and governors patiently grew the “rainy day funds” by saving billions of dollars. This meant lean government and resisting the urge to grow when there was in fact extra money available. Their diligence has granted us an estimated 397 days of reserve funds to find the next engine for Wyoming (according to the Pew Research Center at the end of fiscal year 2019).

This is pretty fantastic given the average time horizon of all other states is 27 days, and some states are in the single digits. If a 90-member family with different ideas and values could squirrel away billions, at a minimum we owe it to them to be thoughtful about our strategy moving forward.

In a slightly less optimistic counterpoint, Wyoming also has one of the greatest declines in state revenues unrelated to COVID-19. That means even an improvement to public health and full opening of the economy will not dig us out of the budget deficit trends we are facing (see news on “US Coal Demand” and “Russia-Saudi Arabia Oil Price War” for more on this unfortunate reality).

But let’s return to another encouraging example. Perhaps you recall the passing of an increase to the Wyoming Gas Tax in 2013, which was supported by the Wyoming Trucking Association. The truckers supported a near doubling of a tax they paid because the outcomes of safe and well-maintained roads were of greater benefit than the cost of the tax. Let me say that again. People in Wyoming advocated for a tax they would have to pay because it was worth it.

We’ve all enjoyed the amazing views and beverage/snack service on our Wyoming plane for quite some time. Before you vote in the Aug. 18 primary, consider who you want in the cockpit at this time of crisis. And after you vote, start thinking about what you are willing to sacrifice and/or contribute to help keep our plane in the air.

A given is that our future will not look like our past. Whether we end up with a parachute, webbed feet, or a rocket launcher that takes us to the moon, it will take all of us to get there.

Brace for change Wyoming, it’s far better than the alternative.

This column originally appeared in the Sheridan Press.

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Gordon Announces Applications for $225 Million In Business Relief Funding Open On August 4

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. –  Governor Mark Gordon announced that applications for the next two waves of funding under the COVID-19 Business Relief Program will open to Wyoming businesses and nonprofits at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4. 

The Relief Fund and Mitigation Fund make an additional $225 million available to Wyoming businesses and nonprofits that have experienced hardship related to the COVID-19 crisis. Visit wyobizrelief.org Tuesday after 10 a.m. to apply. 

“This much-needed funding is a lifeline to businesses and nonprofits hurt by COVID-19, and vital to our efforts to support Wyoming’s economy and our communities,” Governor Gordon said. The Governor signed the emergency rules for both programs on July 27.

“It’s tough to gauge the demand and frequency of applications prior to the launch of these two programs, so now is a good time for businesses and nonprofits to familiarize themselves with all of the helpful tools and information at wyobizrelief.org if they haven’t already done so,” Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell said.

“There are FAQs, live and recorded informational webinar opportunities, and a grant calculator graphic you can work on with your lender or accountant in order to submit a solid application as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Dorrell said.

The Relief Fund has $50 million set aside for businesses and nonprofits required to close by public health orders and an additional $125 million available to cover COVID-19 related expenses and direct or indirect losses due to public health orders.

Grants of up to $300,000 are available and businesses must employ 100 or fewer people. Eligible nonprofits include 501(c)(3), 501(c)(6), 501(c)(12) and 501(c)(19) with at least one paid full-time employee and no more than 50 percent of time spent on lobbying. 

The Mitigation Fund reimburses all Wyoming businesses and nonprofits that have incurred employee and customer health and safety expenses that were a direct impact of COVID-19. The Mitigation Fund has $50 million available with grants of up to $500,000.

Currently, half of these funds are available for businesses and nonprofits that have already incurred COVID-19 related losses or expenses. The remaining funds will be dispersed at a later date to ensure funding is available to assist entities that anticipate losses and expenses later in the year.

ABOUT THE COVID-19 BUSINESS RELIEF PROGRAM

In May 2020, the Wyoming Legislature created three programs to distribute $325 million in federal CARES Act funding to Wyoming businesses and nonprofits that have experienced hardship related to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Wyoming Business Council is distributing these dollars through the COVID-19 Business Relief Program, which has been broken down into three funds – the Interruption Fund, the Relief Fund, and the Mitigation Fund. Go to wyobizrelief.org to stay informed about program details and to register to receive Business Council news releases.

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Wyoming’s Budget Picture Improves Slightly, But Still Horrible

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming ended its last fiscal year in a little better condition than predicted earlier, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state’s leading financial officers.

But Gov. Mark Gordon urged Wyoming residents not to forget that the state still faces major shortfalls moving forward.

“Even if this report suggests moderate improvements … our state’s fiscal situation remains dire,” he said. “We must still exercise budget discipline to balance our budget.”

The report issued by Consensus Revenue Estimating Group was an update to one issued in May, when the panel of fiscal officers for various state agencies predicted a shortfall for the 2021-22 biennium of up to $1.5 billion.

The report also predicted the state would end the 2020 fiscal year on June 30 with $70 million less in its general fund, its main bank account, than originally believed because of declines in mineral tax income and sales and use tax income expected to accompany the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Wednesday’s update said income for the state ran slightly ahead of the May projections.

“The current pace of actual revenues … suggest that the May 2020 revenue forecasts are almost certain to be exceeded,” the report said.

For the state’s general fund, its main bank account, deposits were expected to total about $1.06 billion for the year ending June 30, about $50 million ahead of May’s projections.

The biggest part of that income is from sales and use taxes, which were expected to total $440.6 million in 2020, compared to forecasts of $418 million in May.

“Even during the darkest economic period of pandemic to date – the second quarter of 2020 – certain retail trade businesses such as building materials and garden supplies, grocery stores, sporting goods stores, warehouse club and super centers still demonstrated year-over-year growth in sales, offsetting some of the substantial declines in leisure and hospitality services,” the report said.

The state’s income from mineral taxes also exceeded estimates by about $33 million, the report said.

“Severance tax collections are above the May 2020 … projections, mainly attributed to the less drastic declines in both oil and natural gas production and quicker rebound of oil prices compared to levels projected by CREG,” it said.

However, Gordon, in a news release, said residents must remember that income for the state’s main bank accounts in 2020 still were 17.6% below the previous year’s totals.

“We are still well below what we budgeted for in January,” he said. “We will continue to face significant challenges going forward and will need to continue to make tough decisions about how we meet this budget shortfall.”

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Wyoming Budget Shortfall Improves to Negative $1.4 Billion

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An update of a report projecting revenues for the state will show a slight improvement over earlier predictions, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

However, Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the numbers to be presented in the latest report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group will still paint a gloomy picture for the operation of state agencies.

“While it’s improved and while we’re very happy about the improvement, we also face significant challenges going forward,” he said. “Virtually every part of Wyoming is still going to have to look at what they’re going to have to do to meet this budget shortfall.

In May, the CREG, a group of state financial officers, estimated the state’s revenue for the coming two years would fall up to $1.5 billion short of what is needed to pay for the state’s biennium budget approved by the Legislature in March.

Gordon said the latest report, to be released in the next few days, will show that shortfall dropping by about $100 million.

“It’s not back to what we were hoping for, but it’s an improvement,” he said.

However, Gordon noted the shortfall is still large enough to equal or exceed the budget of entire state departments.

“If we eliminated all of (the Wyoming Department of Transportation), if there was no snowplowing, no road construction, no highway patrol, we wouldn’t have dented that,” he said. “If we cut our education general fund in half, we would barely touch that deficit that we’re having to deal with.”

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More Than $80 Million Distributed From State COVID Aid Program

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than 900 Wyoming businesses received more than $25 million in one day from the state’s Business Interruption Stipend program, according to state figures.

Figures on the Wyoming transparency page showed that on Wednesday, 915 companies received $25.3 million, bringing the total distributed under the program since it launched in June to almost $80.5 million.

The total number of Wyoming businesses to receive assistance under the program so far is 3,191, with applications still under review from about another 1,000 businesses. The deadline for submitting applications was July 2.

The Business Interruption Stipend program was one of three approved by the Legislature this year to help Wyoming businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting business slowdown. Funding for the programs comes from $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus assistance funds sent to the state.

The Business Interruption Stipend program is designed specifically for businesses employing 50 or fewer people.

The maximum grant available under the program is $50,000 and as of Wednesday, 831 businesses had received the maximum, many of them restaurants, bars and hotels.

The state’s other two relief programs are scheduled to start later this month.

One program, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, will provide up to $300,000 for companies that employ fewer than 100 people that were forced to shut down or curtail operations because of state health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The other, The Coronavirus Mitigation Fund, is designed to compensate businesses for expenses they faced directly related to the coronavirus, such as the purchase of cleaning products, personal protective equipment and the cost of hiring new employees to comply with public health orders.

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Construction, Infrastructure Projects Could Boost Wyoming’s Faltering Economy

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Facing the potential economic crisis of the century, Wyoming legislators could spend some federal relief funding on economic development projects to boost post-pandemic employment.  

During the Legislature’s special session on May 15 and 16, legislators laid out four priorities for spending $1.25 billion in federal aid provided by the CARES Act before its “use it or lose it” deadline on Dec. 30, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said.

While the legislators’ first two priorities — COVID-19 emergency response and relief aid — deal specifically with the pandemic’s impacts on Wyoming businesses, residents and governments, the third priority — economic development projects — was created as a catchall that could help the economy get back on its feet, Case explained.

The fourth priority — replacement of lost revenue for public entities — might not capitalize on CARES Act funding, which cannot be used as revenue for the state’s general fund. But by setting the task as a priority, the Legislature has laid the groundwork for using CARES funding “to the extent allowable” and future stimulus funds for the stated purpose.

Economic development might seem like an odd choice for spending the federal money, but University of Wyoming Economist Rob Godby said the category is a historical staple for rebooting struggling economies.

“Construction is a tried and true way of recovering an economy that’s been impacted by a deep recession,” Godby explained. “It’s a well recognized initiative all the way back the Great Depression and the New Deal.”

New businesses could open to accommodate the influx of temporary workers drawn to new construction projects, providing jobs across several sectors in a community.

While the construction jobs are typically temporary, they can be a Band-Aid for the growing unemployment rate while giving recovering businesses enough time to rebuild the demand for a permanent labor force.

“Putting people to work on construction or expanding infrastructure is good for the present, because it creates jobs,” Godby said. “And it’s good for the future, because once that infrastructure is in place, it creates additional benefits and increased productivity.”

Broadband infrastructure stood out as one of the legislators’ suggested economic development projects, and Case said good broadband is needed now more than ever.

“If anything has become common in the last few months, it’s the use of things like Zoom for meetings and telemedicine to bridge the social distancing gap,” he explained. “A lot of people are thinking broadband is going to get a lot of these funds.”

In 2018, former Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative identified broadband infrastructure as a key component to improving Wyoming’s economy. In 2019, the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Council determined the state’s focus should be on broadband infrastructure expansion, rather than improving the infrastructure already in place.

In addition to creating jobs, Case said economic development projects could help the state spend the federal aid before the deadline.

“The legislator left a lot money on the table for the governor in case they don’t come back and give him more direction,” he said.

During the special session, legislators did not set a spending limit for economic development in Senate Enrolled Act No. 001, which designates the emergency funding priorities. However, the bill does leave room for Legislature to give Gov. Mark Gordon future guidance about how the money should be spent.

Given economic development’s low ranking on the priority list, Case said new projects are only an option at this point.  

“It’s possible that by the time we get through all the applications for the different types of relief,” Case said, “there’s no money left on the table for economic development projects.”

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Legislator on Wyoming’s Economy: “Even Optimistic Outlook Has Terrible Impacts”

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s savings and federal relief funding combined might not be enough to save the state from economic damage left in the wake of COVID-19, state legislators said.

fiscal analysis sent to legislators on April 10 by the Legislative Service Office (LSO), the agency tasked with providing administrative services for the Legislature, predicted the novel coronavirus would take a heavy toll on state revenue.

“It is showing really huge impacts,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. “Even the optimistic outlook has terrible impacts.”

The analysis offered three scenarios — optimistic, intermediate and pessimistic — in which the state’s revenue could fall from current projections by $555.8 million to almost $2.8 billion by the end of fiscal 2022.

Case, an economist and Senate Revenue Committee chairman, said the decline is driven by the pandemic, but an “oil war” between Russia and Saudi Arabia also caused significant damage to revenue projections.

“When we had forecasts late last fall, the saving grace in those predictions was oil offsetting the loss of revenue,” Case said. “This new analysis is saying this could be worse than our worst year since 1980.”

In the case of the analysis’ pessimistic outlook, Wyoming’s rainy day fund, the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, of $1.6 billion wouldn’t keep the state afloat for more than six months, Case said.

“At the very basic level, we don’t have enough revenues to run state government,” he added. “We don’t even have enough revenues to run state government even if we cut it by a lot, and I mean a lot.”

While the analysis admits the projections are “informed guesses,” Case and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said they felt it was accurate.


“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our LSO staff,” Bebout said. “I think the three scenarios (the LSO) laid out are fairly realistic.”

The optimistic viewpoint indicates Wyoming might only lose about $555.8 million in revenue if businesses reopen immediately and sales return to normal, but Bebout said the intermediate outlook — a loss of about $1.76 billion over the next three years — was far more likely

“I don’t think we’ll ever have business as usual quite like it was before this happened,” he explained. “I think we’ll see some long-term effects, but we’re going to figure it out.”
Part of the solution could be $1.25 billion in federal aid as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which Bebout said Wyoming started receiving Friday.

But, the relief cannot be spent as a direct replacement of state revenue.
“There’s all sorts of strings tied to that money,” Bebout said. “We don’t know what they are for sure yet.”

A special session could be needed to determine how the money could be used and would be the first step of Bebout’s three-pronged approach to the pandemic’s economic impacts. 

His second step would be to look at the budget Wyoming Legislature approved a few weeks ago to determine if the state’s proposed spending is still feasible in a post-pandemic economy.

“Lastly, we need to try get business back to normal as best we can, continuing our conservative fiscal responsibility and try not to get in debt,” Bebout said. “We can’t cut our way into this issue, but we sure as heck can’t spend our way into it, either.”

Following a Wyoming Management Council meeting Thursday, Case said legislative special sessions could be on the horizon in the next couple months.

“(The council) approved the interim topics that still need to be addressed and were important to Wyoming even before COVID-19 hit,” he said. “And they also agreed to work on some preliminary bills for introduction in a special session, regarding COVID-19.”

Bebout said the council meeting reinforced the need to not only address the pandemic challenges, but also the issues at hand prior to COVID-19.

“We’re going to continue with our normal work load — that’s really important.,” he explained. 

“Second of all is a willingness by the Management Council to work with the governor to deal with these issues that are top of the list and do it together.”

Coronavirus Impact: Wyoming Revenues to Drop Between $550 Million – $2.8 Billion

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Revenues needed to run the state will decline dramatically in the next several years from projections made before the coronavirus was detected in Wyoming, according to an analysis by a state agency.

The analysis by the Legislative Service Office, the agency tasked with providing administrative services for the Legislature, found that the state’s revenue could fall from current projections by $555.8 million to almost $2.8 billion by the end of fiscal 2022.

The Legislature, during its recent budget session, based its budget for the fiscal 2021-22 biennium on projections made by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, a group of fiscal analysts from different state agencies who meet several times a year to provide their estimate on how much money the state will have to work with.

However, the last such projection was provided in January, before the coronavirus shut down much of the economy.

As a result, the LSO, in response to requests for information, prepared its own analysis showing three possible scenarios for the state’s revenues from April of this year through the end of the coming fiscal biennium in June of 2022.

“In light of the last month’s unprecedented economic developments, the January 2020 Consensus Revenue Estimating Group … forecast is no longer a reasonable projection of state revenues in the near-term,” the analysis said. “Wyoming’s economic outlook has changed significantly.”

The analysis provides three scenarios based on different assumptions: “optimistic,” projecting a shorter economic downturn and quicker recovery; “intermediate,” based on actual mineral futures prices, economic disruption through the summer and a modest recovery over the next year, and “pessimistic,” based on a drawn-out crisis with an extended recovery.

The LSO admitted the scenarios are “informed guesses.”

However, it also noted that in addition to the coronavirus, Wyoming has already been hit hard by an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that has left oil prices depressed.

Under the optimistic scenario, income through the end of fiscal 2022 will decline by $555.8 million from January projections. The intermediate scenario predicts a drop of $1.7 billion and the pessimistic predicts a decline of almost $2.8 billion.

The impact to the state’s main checking account, its “General Fund,” could range from $254.6 million to $1.4 billion, the analysis said.

Funding for the School Foundation Program Account and School Capital Construction Account might fall by $136 million to $526 million, the analysis said.

The state’s oil tax income will be the revenue source hardest hit compared to earlier projections, the analysis said, dropping by $494 million to just over $1 billion between now and the end of fiscal 2022.

Coal tax income will also decline by $203 million to $437 million, the analysis said.

Sales and use taxes will drop by $147 million to $869 million.

The analysis should be seen only as a starting point for discussions as officials try to determine how to react to the coronavirus pandemic, said Don Richards, the LSO’s budget and fiscal administrator.

“It really is just a platform for discussion,” he said.

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Wyoming Unemployment Remains Steady At 3.7 Percent

in News/Economy
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Wyoming’s unemployment rate remained steady in January at 3.7 percent, the same rate seen in December, according to the state Department of Workforce Services.

The department’s Research and Planning Section, in its regular report on unemployment, reported that the rate was slightly higher than the January 2019 rate of 3.5 percent, but almost equal to the national average of 3.6 percent.

The state’s highest January unemployment rate of 5.9 percent was found in Sublette County, followed by Fremont County at 5.6 percent and Big Horn and Sweetwater counties at 5.4 percent. Teton County’s unemployment rate fell from 2.9 percent to 2.7 percent.

The biggest increases in unemployment from December to January were seen in Big Horn County, which grew from 3.7 percent to 5.4 percent, Washakie County, from 3.6 percent to 4.6 percent, and Sheridan County, which grew from 3.4 percent to 4.3 percent.

“Colder weather and the end of the holiday shopping season often bring seasonal job losses in January in many sectors, including construction, retail trade, government and professional and business services,” the report said.

In December, Wyoming’s unemployment rate was higher than in most of the surrounding states, said David Bullard, the section’s senior economist. He added Wyoming has had a higher unemployment rate than surrounding states since about 2018.

“Some neighboring states have been growing more quickly than we have,” he said.

Nanobots, Fossil Fuel Issues, and the End of Work as We Know It

in Technology/Column/Bill Sniffin
Crowd of robots. 3D illustration
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By Bill Sniffin

With your arms around the future; And your back against the past  — the Moody Blues

One of the high points of our annual New Year’s trip to see Dallas relatives is my yearly visit with the smartest person I know.

Of the 301,000 employees at Hewlett Packard a few years ago, one special employee stood out, their lone futurist, Jeff Wacker.

He is retired now and working on a book.

He also used to live in the same neighborhood as our daughter in Allen, TX.

A Nebraska native, Jeff would fit comfortably in Wyoming. His values and those of the Cowboy State pretty much line up. If his wife Nancy did not have some health issues, he might be living right now on the family homestead in western Nebraska, which he calls “eastern Wyoming.”

He has the same typical bad news for fossil fuels we Wyomingites all are hearing.  But he blames it on an amazing future of batteries and even exotic fuel sources like anti-matter.

He feels strongly that the hysteria about global warming is over-stated. He is an expert on just about everything. He challenges folks who believe Al Gore to dig into where that “90 percent of scientists believe  . . .” story came from. He says we are in a 1,000-year cycle and the heating of the earth occurs 600 years after CO2 increases.   

As a futurist, he thinks on a global scale and in big pictures.  He worries about eternal life.  “We are very close to providing a path where people don’t have to die, that one of the biggest future problems will be should we die and how should we die. Suicide?”

He also says the future of work could be the biggest issue of the 21st century. Automation, unique robots including microscopic nanobots, and Artificial Intelligence will continue to erode the job market.  “I have a friend who says we will always need people to keep the robots running – really? We already have robots that repair other robots.”

He divides all the various technologies into five areas:

• Nanotech is the creation of super tiny robots that can float around inside your bloodstream and keep you healthy. He sees billions of nanobots taking care of the trillions of cells in the body.

• Biotech will see cures and inventions occurring at fantastic rates in the near future and far future. Again, he really believes a huge problem for the youngest people living on the planet today is how do they want to die? He believes young people in the near future have the potential to live as long as they want to.  

• Robotech is already changing the world. “What will people do when there are no jobs?”  Typical work week might be 26 hours or less. He says three-fourths of all manufacturing jobs are already  “gone and not coming back.”

• Infotech leaves him discouraged especially when it comes to social media. He quotes a favorite author who said, “When everybody is an author, there are no editors.”

He thinks amazing sensors will be developed on a the micro level while, on a macro level, the world will be covered with satellites similar to the doomsday prediction of the Terminator movies, which saw all those troubles caused by a structure called SkyNet.

• Energytech may see more change than any other sector. “Look back 200 years to 1820.  We have advanced 2,000 years in the past 200 years. This will just accelerate,” he concludes. He also credits it to the gradual warming of the climate over those two centuries. “We went from horse and buggy to planning a Mars launch today.”

In 1820, the most valuable material on earth was aluminum; because it was only created when lightning would strike bauxite.  A nine-inch pyramid-shaped piece of aluminum is used as the cap of the top of the Washington Monument, for example.

Having this chat with Jeff Wacker left my head spinning. We are heading into a strange new world that sounded both hopeful and daunting to me.

He really is worried about the robots with artificial intelligence taking over.  “When it happens, it will happen exponentially, so we probably will not know what hit us until it has already happened!” 

On that dreary note, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Although far from the R-word, Wyoming’s economy is slowing

in Economic development/News
Wyoming Economy Chart
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economy continues to grow, but it’s at a slower pace than in the past – raising the question of whether a recession is in the near future. 

Consider this: Wyoming’s number of single-family residential building permits increased by just six in the first eight months of the year over the same period last year. 

That’s according to the Wyoming MACRO Report, a quarterly publication looking at economic and revenue data.

Non-farm employment is up only 1.3 percent in August of this year, compared to August 2018, blunted by 1,400 jobs lost in mining – including coal — and virtually no growth in oil and gas jobs, the report states.

Natural gas production was down 11.2 percent in August compared to August 2018, and coal production was down 8.9 percent in the first eight months of the year. On the other hand, oil production was up 17.3 percent in an August year-over-year comparison, the report said. 

Generally, a recession is defined as a decrease in gross domestic product over two successive quarters. The data in the MACRO report does not show Wyoming in such a contraction.

However, the economy of the state – and the country – haven’t been in a recession for a decade. They may be overdue for one.

“The average economic expansion is much shorter than this,” said Anne Alexander, a University of Wyoming associate vice provost and economist. “It’s now the longest we’ve had. But it’s called a cycle for a reason. They do turn.”

The reasons Wyoming economic growth is decelerating have to do with the trade wars, the headwinds that coal has faced in recent years and the effects of a slower national economy, Alexander said. 

“It’s a combination of national, international and our own state’s circumstances,” she said. 

There is no formula for economists to predict a recession with certainty. But Alexander said it’s more likely than not that the economy headed toward a larger slowdown. 

“The indicators have been pointing to that way for a while,” she said. “The arrival time might already be here or might be early 2020.”

Across the country, manufacturing is downU.S. home sales are steady but prices are down and rail freight volumes are down, she said. 

Wyoming typically gets an advance warning – sometimes six months — before a recession, said Jim Robinson, principal economist for the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division. 

That’s because the national economy often heads south before the state’s. For instance, when the demand for factory goods decreases, it takes some time for manufacturing energy demand to also decline, Robinson said, and Wyoming’s primary export is energy.

Robinson, who helps put together the MACRO and other economic reports, said he is keeping an eye on retail sales in a sector known as discount grocery stores and super centers. Think Walmart or Sam’s Club. 

“That subsector for Wyoming is down 4.5 percent this year,” he said. “That’s consumer spending. That’s important.”

The decrease may have to do with President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, which boosted consumer spending in 2018.

“That’s not happening to the same degree this year,” he said. “But also, consumers are starting to pull back this year.”

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