Would Wyoming’s economy benefit if it became a sanctuary state and attracted tech engineers? Could they find an attractive place to work similar to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California? (DustMoon.com/ShoutMeLoud.com via Creative Commons)

You know what would be a real baller move? Wyoming declaring itself a sanctuary state.

Of course the “Equality State” should welcome refugees and immigrants. We pride ourselves as neighborly and eager to offer a “hand up” rather than a “hand out,” as the saying goes. Besides, declaring Wyoming a sanctuary state is in perfect keeping with our politicos’ repetitive gesture of extending a middle finger to “the feds.” Nothing is held in higher regard in Wyoming politics than defying the feds, so why not align with new allies while staying true to tradition?

The state can also make a serious play for tech workers fleeing Silicon Valley, whether they are foreign-born and looking toward Canada due to the chaos of President’s Trump’s travel ban, or if they are among the tens of thousands who cannot afford SV’s insane cost of living. Forget Vancouver. Have you seen the Tetons? Menlo Park and Palo Alto are nice, but dollars go much further, and the views are much finer, in Pinedale and Jackson. Heck, even Gillette and Casper have their charm.

Take it from Wyoming expats; for decades the state’s main export has been its young people. Now formally baptized in hipsterism, many of them are eager to return with their young families and launch their own businesses or telecommute for metropolitan-based employers. Understanding this, Gov. Matt Mead launched Wyoming Grown a couple of years ago, trying to lure its skilled youth back home. (Sure, I privately referred to the program as Wyoming Groan, but I also admit the intention is a good one.)

It’s time tech workers learn the secret that many investment fund managers already know; Wyoming is a sweet tax haven. There’s also no state income tax, and Wyoming communities are hungry to offer tax breaks and other incentives for new-blood businesses. Living and working digitally is second nature in remote Wyoming, where there’s also plenty of sunshine and wind to power server farms.

Wyoming should be especially motivated to take advantage of the politically and economically induced brain drain from America’s coasts today. Its economy is over-leveraged in the business of extracting fossil fuels. Wyoming faces a $400 million school funding crisis while the Legislature still guts the state budget in response to the downturn in energy. All the while, tucked inside its boot is a $7 billion “Permanent Mineral Trust Fund”  —  among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. Earnings from the fund were supposed to help Wyoming weather between-boom-times, but it’s never been enough to avoid deep budget cuts. Programs to help the most vulnerable among us are the first to go.

The dirty secret about sitting atop mountains of cheap coal, oil and natural gas is that it doesn’t give Wyoming command over the carbon-consuming world. Instead, it can strip the state of self-determination and make it subservient to the chaotic whims of world markets and politics. Unless the state can diversify its economy it will continue to erode the very social structures needed to bring in new businesses and the people to fulfill them.

Wyoming needs new ideas and outside perspectives. As recently noted in The New York Times, “Another reason immigrants do so well in tech is that people from outside bring new perspectives that lead to new ideas.”

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Rather than bemoan the fact that its fossil-fuel and mineral-extraction-based economy is rapidly shifting, it might be viewed as an opportunity. The future is less carbon and more silicon. Wyoming can still be a leader in energy, even if it’s more renewable than finite. The state’s most precious resources are its wildlife and its wide-open spaces with plenty of room to explore  —  not its subterranean riches of oil and coal.

If Wyoming were to declare itself a sanctuary state, nobody would see it coming. I said it would be a baller move instead of a humanitarian one, because the state’s motivation is much more likely to be economic. Sadly, Wyoming’s once-independent brand of conservatism has become saturated by national-brand partisanship. If Wyoming culture and politics were true to the narrative I was taught while growing up there in the 1970s-80s, declaring itself a sanctuary state today wouldn’t necessarily be baller, but a no-brainer.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is on leave from WyoFile while serving as a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University. He is a WyoFile reporter and former editor-in-chief of the organization.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. C Crumrine is the voice of the Wyomingites who will forever hold the state back…mocking what he views as “left lunacy” when he probably hasn’t shaken the band of someone who doesn’t think or look exactly like him/her in his/her whole life. If we were such an open state there wouldn’t be this non-thinking mono-political population and we wouldn’t be the only state without a refugee resettlement plan. Instead we have the lowest percent of college educated people who thoughtlessly vote for the most conservative wing-nuts possible.

    Dustin is right about our state needing to shake it up big time if we are ever to attract young people here…and even if we did and brought in a whole bunch of new industry and young people it wouldn’t do us much good if we didn’t tax ourselves just a tiny bit…otherwise we are just in the whole even more with more students in the system and no one paying for them (or any other services a normal state might provide).

    This state needs to get its sh*t together and sadly it’s people like C.C. above who imagine themselves and this state to be open minded rugged individualists and are totally unwilling to look deeply at issues or their own preconceptions…” we don’t need no stinkin progressive people or ideas here in Wyoming those ‘librals’ with those ideas about caring for others aren’t welcome here! “

    1. S Smith

      I think what we all want is legal immigration with the best and the brightest coming here to assimilate and integrate into our culture. What we don’t want is a sanctuary State or cities or the cost of having either.
      For several summers my niece used to do hotel maid work in Jackson Hole when she was in HS.
      This was in the 1980’s. She was making $15.00 an hour which was dang good money!
      Then they brought in Mexicans to do the work for $5.00. No more summer jobs for High School’ers!
      We had a real nice hospital in Drigg’s ID. Then the Illegals working in Jackson moved in.
      It was cheaper to live in Idaho and drive Teton pass in carloads and Idaho didn’t ask for any green card or passport to get a drivers license. The influx of illegals made babies as fast as they could to anchor themselves in the US. But they didn’t pay for the hospital services. By the mid 1990’s the Drigg’s hospital closed it’s doors, permanently, from unpaid medical bills directly related to illegal’s.
      The cost of illegals to the US is staggering.
      Total cost a whopping $538.3 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR! Denver Post.
      The elites in Jackson started bringing in workers from the former Soviet Union eastern block countries to work the jobs that expose them directly to elites in the 1990’s. Waiters and waitress’s mainly. the illegals working in Jackson Hole send a great deal of their income back to their country of origin. They have had a staggering effect on the trades and the loss of jobs for American citizens.

  2. Like everyone that supports the so called “sanctuary” status, this author completely misrepresents the difference between LEGAL immigrants, which Wyoming is more than willing to welcome and ILLEGAL aliens many of which are hiding in the sanctuary cities because they are wanted by the law. Those of us that like living in peace and having law abiding citizens walking next to us on the sidewalks are not so thrilled to have these hipster know-it-alls calling for anarchy and thumbing noses at the law. Law enforcement, especially ICE, is meant to protect and that’s what it does. The left lunacy has people blurring the line that if you don’t like anarchy you don’t like immigrants which is an idea furthest from the truth. Wyoming and many other states welcome fresh ideas, new perspectives and boosts in the economy but we also respect the law and open our arms to those that are willing to go through the channels to get here legally and respectfully. Mock our economy, mock our state motto, mock our country all you want but the fact remains that there are still more law abiding citizens than not… for now.

    1. Is thumbing your nose include not paying taxes, 5 draft dodger deferments, hiring illegals etc etc…oh wait, that’s our president doing that….sorry got confused when you leaned in on law and order…..update…every federal judge who read the Muslim ban declared it illegal….

  3. Good opinion piece and quite hilarious. I am confident our “Equality State” would welcome all races, creeds and cultures into its cold, cold heart. If the narrative you were taught in the 70s and 80s WERE true it would be a no-brainer. But, sadly, there is a long list of “alternative facts” impinging on that vision.
    Congratulations on the Knight fellowship!