Fort Washakie is home to nearly 1,800 people. (Matthew Copeland/WyoFile)

The Wyoming of tomorrow needs thriving rural communities, a broadened economic base and mechanisms to support sustainable growth in our larger cities.

These won’t read as new assertions to anyone familiar with this column. But given the inherent limitations of an 800-word format — great for conveying broad concepts, but not a lot of room for nuance and detail — and because big problems aren’t solved overnight, it’s worth diving deeper into just how the state should tackle each of these priorities. 

Opinion

Let’s look first at the future of our rural communities. No matter how big Cheyenne and Casper get, we will always be, at heart, a rural state. The small, spread-out nature of our population and the wide-open spaces in between largely define Wyoming’s character. Nothing we do is going to change that. 

As a rural state, we have strengths and weaknesses. We have lots of natural resources; unparalleled tourism and recreation opportunities; safe, friendly, affordable communities; plenty of room for growth; and a scale that enables individuals and organizations with vision and gumption to have real, meaningful impact. 

Of course, there are tradeoffs. We have long winters, difficult weather and the wind. Travel within and to and from Wyoming can be long, arduous, expensive and, often during those long winters, unreliable. Public services and other necessities are often more expensive per capita because we rarely enjoy the economies of scale.

Wyoming’s future as a whole is inseparable from that of our rural communities. If the state is to prosper, so too must our rural communities. That means small towns and far-flung hamlets that don’t suffer population loss, are able to sustain their key industries and are positioned to capitalize on new business opportunities as they arise. The question is how to achieve this future. There are plenty of things that we in Wyoming can’t control. Most notably, we do not control global markets, including demand for coal, oil, gas or agricultural products. We can, however, determine how prepared we are to seize the opportunities available to us. 

For Wyoming’s rural communities to thrive, we must be able to compete with other similarly situated places. We must invest in the kinds of infrastructure that provide our rural communities with equal access to markets and level the playing field when competing with other communities for jobs and investment. We need good roads, quality internet and data access, affordable energy and ample land and water. We already have energy and land, but we have more work to make sure we are prepared with the rest. These are the types of things that our state government should be focusing on if it wants a prosperous future for Wyoming.

We also need other community investments that do not necessarily spring to mind when we talk about “infrastructure.” The people who live in rural Wyoming do not live here because they want the city life (and if they do, they are not likely to stay for long). Rather, those who choose to live here want access to the outdoors, the different pace of life and the sense of self-reliance that comes with rural and small-town life. But a lack of fundamental, baseline community resources — think access to healthcare and quality education — may cause otherwise great community members to leave, or never come in the first place.  Communities’ abilities to support a certain standard of living have similar effects on would-be residents’ decision making. Accordingly, when we talk about the investments that must be made in rural communities, we also must think about the things that are necessary to live “a good life” in the modern world. 

Government itself cannot create prosperity — only people can. However, government can set the conditions that either grease the skids or erect barriers for people to achieve that goal. If we want rural communities with their best days ahead, we must create the conditions that empower those who want to build their life in rural Wyoming to do so. We all know what a great place to live Wyoming can be and we should hope that those who share that understanding have the opportunity to experience it as well. Our state should therefore focus on building the infrastructure to support rural communities, as well as making the community investments to provide the quality healthcare, education and standard of living that our rural communities need to thrive. If we can do this, Wyoming’s future is bright.

Khale Lenhart

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

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  1. Beginning in the 1920’s in the Soviet Union, Stalin’s Communist government began taking control of rural agriculture. When citizens resisted, his government instituted further tyranny: Millions were rounded up, placed in camps, and executed. Millions staved to death during what became to be known as “Holodomor” (Ukrainian for hunger “holod” extermination “mor”).
    Walter Duranty, an American New York Times reporter stationed in Moscow, won Pulitzers for his articles on Communism that denied and covered up the Russian Genocide. The goals of Marxism never change.

    1. Yay! More boomer doom and gloom….

      The sky is not falling. It is irrational to convince yourself that the “end is nigh” on every article that you might not agree with.

  2. You. Said “affordable”. Rental and purchase costs are too high. I have no idea how to change that but many people in our state struggle to find housing. It would be nice to have affordable housing near ones work place, not driving 45 minutes to an hour+ to and from. Maybe some monies could be used to incentivize building better affordable units.

  3. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    https://www.wyomingpublicmedia.org/politics/2018-08-22/greg-hunter-u-s-house-of-representatives-democratic-nominee

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2016/11/10/shopping-i-cant-really-remember-what-that-is-or-how-differently-well-live-in-2030/?sh=37adda7a1735

    There’s no changing the mind such radicals who have the audacity to dictate where and how other people live, but the people can certainly keep such disingenuous globalists out of office. 😀

    1. “There’s no changing the mind such radicals who have the audacity to dictate where and how other people live, but the people can certainly keep such disingenuous globalists out of office.”

      I am proposing ideas and asking that the people to consent to them? These solutions make sense fiscally and socially. I am not trying to force any ideas, just proposing what is obvious from the data.

      However, I gather from your “tone” you are fed up and people with ideas like mine should never be aired but wiped from society by the righteous real citizens like yourself?

      I have certainly been kept from office but life in America has declined and become a debtor nation because realists like me never even get considered, but I refuse to back down when the data and the Constitution is clearly going my way. You can accept facts or you can get mad at the messenger. Your choice.

  4. I get the aspirational notion of your opinion, but based on the data I see, the only real solution this State has is to decide how rural communities are going to be shut down and the existing housing stock moved to more rational locations. In my opinion Wyoming should only invest in communities where existing large scale transportation is already a reality (I-25, 287 and I-80 corridors as an opening proposal)

    In my look at America, we can no longer afford sprawl as we became too reliant on cheap energy and made investments in far flung places in the fevered dream that cheap energy would last forever. It is clear that inflation is worldwide and is tied to rising energy costs, which leads to a decline in prosperity. We have also taken on astronomical debt to stave off declining prosperity, which has been occurring since the mid 1980s if one honestly looks at the data.

    Roads, police, transport, water, wastewater, fire, healthcare, electricity, schools and internet are the minimum requirements for any city/town to function and its clear we, Wyoming, nor the US, should invest in towns that are located in places that are a waste to build the roads too.

    Wyoming is throwing good money after bad when it makes investments in rural towns that are absolutely unsustainable going forward. Change my mind.

      1. The place I am from is called reality. If there are not enough people to generate enough revenue to support basic operational costs in a state that doesn’t want to increase taxes whilst the tax base from oil, gas and coal is declining; then please explain where the money will come from to keep a small rural town alive?

        I watch how legislation is crafted in Wyoming and it is clear that it is based on short term thinking by funding projects that fix one area of a small town like funding a water system, while it is clear the town cannot afford to pay the operational costs for the remainder of its needs.

        Wyoming residents also pass unwelcoming legislation that drives young people and open minded businesses from even thinking of locating or remaining in what is otherwise a beautiful state. Sprawl and racism destroyed a good many of eastern rust belt towns and that model applies to Wyoming.

        I am not saying just to ignore rural towns, but shut them down in a manner that moves that existing housing stock to towns that already have sufficient infrastructure and services that will survive without wasting any additional tax revenue.

        Expanding open range while concentrating people in sustainable communities is a far better investment in both social aspects as well as good use of a declining revenue base. The only other option is too starve existing sustainable communities of tax revenue in an attempt to keep small rural towns alive. Isn’t that Socialism in a sense, a word that all Wyoming conservatives seem to hate?

        In another comment you indicated a desire for more affordable housing, well there is a great deal of existing under used housing in small towns that could be moved to larger towns. We have large vehicles moving windmills to rural areas, why not load those vehicles with houses and then set them up?

        Keeping obvious ghost towns alive is not a smart way to run a state, no matter how you “feel” about it.

        1. Are you from Wyoming? Do you live here? The State is seldom the solution for living conditions or living standards. That leads to corruption and victimization. People have the right to live how they wish to, they do not care what you think they should do or how they should live.