Economic diversification: A partisan campaign slogan? A slap at the mineral industry? A code word for inaction? Whatever the definition, we know the plea for “economic diversification” has spun around in Wyoming political circles for a long time, and more often when we are in one of our frequent “bust” cycles — like now, maybe.

Indulge me. When I was running for governor in the mid 1980s, Wyoming was in a “bust” cycle. So, from the primary in the spring of ’86 through that summer’s campaign and up until the election in November, every candidate for statewide office had to be on the dime and on the stump addressing the need to “diversify” Wyoming’s economy. But, the “boom” of the ’90s came and the need faded. Except for private entrepreneurial initiatives here and there, officials and politicians returned to “talking the talk,” rather than “walking the walk.”  As we all know, there’s always another boom just around the corner…

Why does the state need to go beyond “talking the talk” this time? In other words, is this time somehow different? What if the mineral market — coal, oil and gas — are irrevocably bottomed out? What if fossil fuels have taken a fatal hit in the national economy?

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The latest effort to start walking is Gov. Mead’s new initiative called Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming. The group leading the initiative issued a preliminary report that spurred some legislative action this year. And now ENDOW members have put out a survey to get more comment on the direction they’re taking.

Chris Madson

Chris Madson read ENDOW’s report and found it severely lacking. He calls for investment in Wyoming’s high-class assets — our wildlife, fish, and beautiful streams, mountains and plains — to attract more tourism and recreation. Madson is the former editor of Wyoming Wildlife magazine, and holds a master’s degree in wildlife ecology.

Read Madson’s essay here.

Rosie Berger

Rosie Berger, a member of the ENDOW executive committee, responds describing ENDOW’s plans for a strong foundation. Berger, former speaker pro tem of the Wyoming House of Representatives, served six years on the Wyoming Parks and Cultural Resources Commission and spent decades in the travel industry.

Read Berger’s essay here.

Let’s talk about it! Post your comments and questions on WyoFile, and respond to ENDOW’s survey  — deadline May 7.

Dr. Peter Kooi Simpson is a University of Wyoming professor emeritus who taught political science for more than 12 years. A University of Wyoming basketball player and veteran of the Navy, Pete earned...

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  1. Wyoming faces a difficult “Catch -22” scenario, the need to employ new economic engines is easy enough to see and was clearly reflected in the last few legislative budget sessions. Energy is not a reliable long term source of revenue, something else is needed. Wyoming’s second largest industry is tourism and recreation, thats is wonderful but likely can’t carry the burden of funding the states needs alone. More sources of economic activity are needed, these are unlikely to come about without fairly large shifts in Wyoming’s population. Shifts toward a larger population which may irreversibly alter the landscape of Wyoming physically and socially. Will our state be as attractive a destination for hiking, camping, hunting and fishing when and if it becomes the latest victim of what can only be described as Front Range sprawl? Ever increasing population has permanently transformed Colorado and many might argue this transformation has not been for the better. What will the impact of a full court press for a new economy look like and how will it impact the soul of Wyoming? More questions to consider, can Wyoming achieve any of this when it lacks a major urban center? What will that center be? Cheyenne? How is the growth in Cheyenne being received by the residents there? How is it being planned and managed with the planning and zoning differences between local governments at the city and county level? Another painful but necessary question was asked by Mr. Goolsby earlier on this forum, will any of this matter if we cannot alter the dominant political will to re-examine the tax structure and mandate new revenue generation? Wyoming is a special place with a small population and an incredible wealth of outdoor opportunity and yes fossil fuels. The fossil fuel economy is no where near death but nothing lasts forever and the state has seen what may prove to be only the earliest signs of its long goodbye. Do we ride it out over the long term risking continued environmental degradation? Do we take a pass on new economic opportunities and new population traumas and stick with what we know? There is no path forward that can protect the Wyoming we love, there is no economic future, energy dependent or otherwise without sacrifices to much of what makes the state what it is, special. In the meantime our communities, schools, university and infrastructure demand investment and expenditure for the existing residents of the Cowboy State. Saddle up.

  2. I generally agree with Rosie Berger and the ENDOW executive council and also with Chris Madson. I chose to come to Wyoming 43 years ago and I choose to stay here. My reasons for living in Wyoming are largely because we do have wide open vistas and abundant wildlife. We should fully understand that diversification and the ensuing population increase will decrease those vistas and wildlife. I would like for my daughter to feel that she could live here and prosper. We would need a much better transportation system to make that possible. The ENDOW executive council states a goal of “67% of the working age population to hold a degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma by 2025. I seriously doubt this can be attained with one lone four year university in the southeastern edge of the state. We will also need a revised tax system that no one in an elected position is even willing to discuss.