One model of entrepreneurship (Michael Lewkowitz/Flickr CC)

Wyoming needs to diversify its economy if we are going to thrive in the coming years. It can be difficult, however, to imagine an economic transformation when we do not know the current state of affairs.


Fortunately, the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division has prepared an incredibly informative report on where Wyoming’s economy has been and where opportunities for growth exist.

Some of the data confirmed what we already knew to be true. Wyoming is very closely tied to its resource extraction industry. Wyoming has the highest percentage of workers in the mining industry of any state in the country and the resource extraction industry has the largest percentage of GDP of any private-industry sector in the state. The report noted that between two-thirds and three-quarters of our state-government funding comes either from the resource industry or returns on state investments — most of which were purchased with funds from the resource extraction industry.  

Some of the numbers are surprising, however. Even though Wyoming is the state with the largest percentage of workers in the mining industry, this still only amounts to 4.6% of our workforce. Furthermore, the number of workers in the mining industry declined by 42% between 2012 and 2022.  While the extraction industry is the largest private-sector contributor to Wyoming’s GDP, it only tallies 15.6% of the total. Even though it provides the majority of our state revenue, resource extraction is still just one part of our state economy.

Other data from the report help us to identify areas of potential growth. The analysis found that Wyoming was dead last among all states in the percentage of workers employed in the professional and business services industry and the education and health services industry. At only 3%, we were 48th in the share of workers employed in manufacturing. These numbers paint a picture of a state that is lagging behind the rest of the nation in developing its economy, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors.

On one hand, it is not surprising or concerning that we have a robust extraction industry. Simply put, we have things to extract that many states do not. Wyoming will always be above the national average for the percentage of its economy in mining because we have things to mine, even if the industry as a whole is declining. Instead, my concern comes from the fact that we lag so far behind other states in the areas that indicate a more developed economy. In addition to our legacy industries, we need more manufacturing and more service sector jobs to balance our state economy.

The solution to this problem is relatively straightforward: we need more entrepreneurs. Wyoming’s economy is not going to diversify on the backs of out-of-state companies moving their operations here. It is great when that happens, but we cannot depend on transplanted businesses to be our source of economic growth and prosperity. Instead, we need to make it easier for homegrown businesses to establish themselves and grow — or fail — organically.  

Even though Wyoming has a friendly environment for business as a whole, especially with our low tax rates, it can be unnecessarily difficult for new businesses to get established. Our permitting processes are often slow and some of our laws exist to benefit existing businesses rather than allow for the establishment of new ones. We also need to continue to invest in infrastructure that allows Wyoming businesses to compete in a global marketplace. This means reliable transportation, such as highways and railroads, as well as dependable communications infrastructure such as broadband internet and cell service. We need a capable workforce to staff the jobs these new businesses will create, but above all, we need to foster the entrepreneurial spirit.

Many of us in Wyoming can trace our heritage back to pioneers or other early settlers. They came here because they were willing to take big risks in the hope of a better future. That is the spirit we need to foster if Wyoming’s economy is going to grow. These pioneers were forward-looking. They were focused on what they hoped to create in the future, not on merely holding on to what they already had. It was a risky undertaking, but it was one that made our state what it is today.  Reinforcing that spirit is the key to Wyoming’s economic future.

Cheyenne attorney Khale Lenhart is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. He can be reached at

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  1. I am always confused by WY residents being so in favor of fossil fuels, but rave and rant about renewables. As if you can’t have both – as if one precludes the other. And they seem to ignore the huge subsidies fossil fuel companies receive, while accusing renewables of only being able to exist because of the same. They have a narrow, regressive mindset of either/or, black/white, yes/no – as if you can’t have both. New enterprises do not spring from the head of Zeus overnight, they take time to develop. Oh, and last but not least, the biggest investors in renewable energy are fossil fuel companies, like Anschultz.

  2. It is pretty hard to attract and retain entrepreneurs to Wyoming when the extreme right wing politics of the state and its elected officials continue to drive young, ambitious, and thoughtful young people out of the state.

    1. It seems to me that those in power or indebted to them have no intention of diversifying or helping others to get going in Wyoming. If things aren’t improving and/or expanding it could be the political and governing parties. It is theirs to fix or continue as is – or worse.

  3. Seems to me that Wyoming’s decision makers are reluctant to aid any visionaries. They don’t understand a lot of out of the box thinking and from a natural resource perspective, don’t realize what they have or how to improve and market it.

  4. # 1
    selling wyoming water to the sanctuary states down stream would be a good start.