Green River Star -

Our View: State faces economic storm

 


The state is looking to weather a storm, and it’s one that Wyoming could have at least bought an umbrella for.

Newspapers across southwestern Wyoming have published stories about the upcoming budgetary shortfall local governments are expecting to experience. The state is in the same boat, with Gov. Matt Mead calling for a $200 million cut this year from the state budget.

Yes, the discussion at the state includes setting possibly guidelines on opening up the vault on the state’s rainy-day fund, officially known as the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account. This is something the communities in Sweetwater County have been clamoring for since 2008 when the economy started slumping. Yet, part of these budgetary problems we’re hearing about comes from the incredible dependency Wyoming has on oil and gas.

When the times are good, they’re definitely good. The state saw huge budgetary surpluses during the oil and gas boom in Sublette County -- more than $900 million during a single biennium alone. Yet, when times are bad, they’re really bad. Sweetwater County is looking at a $6 million shortfall in its next budget and other energy-dependent counties are in the same boat. This may result in cut services and potential layoffs and to some extent, it may have been unavoidable. But, it’s also a consequence of our oil and gas dependency.

What needs to happen is discussion about how we can grow Sweetwater County’s economy in a meaningful way that reduces the impact of the boom and bust cycles. Sweetwater County is an energy-dependent economy and always will be. As such, there isn’t a way we’ll be completely shielded from those economic highs and lows. However, some longterm and smart investments may pay continual dividends at times when the energy economy is in flux. Unfortunately, these discussions don’t germinate until the boom turns to a bust.

Yes, The Rock Springs Chamber and Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism are conducting projects to help the area, but Sweetwater County really needs a dedicated economic development agency. Both chambers of commerce can conduct activities related to economic development, but their budgets don’t support the scale needed for Sweetwater County. Funding for a countywide agency can be tricky of course, and in lieu of a fully-funded agency, the budgets for both chambers should have more funding to do that work.

Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t a short term, magic shot to quickly bring money into the area. However with smart investments, Green River and the rest of Sweetwater County can better weather the economic downturns we will undoubtedly experience.

 

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