It’s not every day that a million-plus people choose to visit Wyoming, so when it does happen, the event tends to make headlines.
On August 21, the sun didn’t stand still; it just seemed that way.
More than a million visitors flocked to Wyoming to catch a glimpse of the extremely rare total solar eclipse. The entire phenomenon lasted only a few minutes, but for a state of 585,501 people, that was long enough to make cash registers ring and state leaders rejoice.
“We’re still getting final numbers, but we know that it added up to millions of dollars in economic impact for our state,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead says. “We know that the real impact will be much greater in years to come. We attracted people to Wyoming who otherwise would not have come. The experience of the majority was the amazing beauty and the hospitality that we provided. We’ll see many of them come back. They’ll see that we are a wonderful place to live and a great place to do business.”
Capitalizing on that attention will be the goal of Gov. Mead and the Wyoming Business Council. In a recent interview with Site Selection, Mead outlined the business climate improvements he has made and talked about his vision for the state.
What business climate improvements have you made since becoming Governor of Wyoming?
GOV. MEAD: We have made a lot. One is that we are rated yearly as a state with low taxes. That is good for businesses. We had a rules reduction effort in 2015 to reduce our rules by one third. We completed a new database on rules. We also launched a large loan initiative to fund companies. Connectivity has been a big issue too. The Wyoming Unified Network is a 100-GB backbone. It connects state agencies and schools and businesses. We are at Internet Protocol Version 4 and we will be the first state to go to Version 6. Technology has been a big push for me. Technology should be the fourth largest industry in Wyoming. We also allocated funds to workforce development and we will allocate more. We have seven community colleges in the state that train workers for the jobs needed here. We have Wyoming Grown, where we reach out to people who have left Wyoming. We let them know that we are a different state than we were 10 years ago. This is a great place for startups and a great place to make a living. We want to be known for moving at the speed of business.
What do you consider to be your administration’s greatest achievements to date in economic development?
MEAD: We have recruited businesses like Microsoft and we are headed in the right direction. ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) is our 20-year plan to make headway in building a more diverse economy. We have the largest rainy-day fund in the country relative to our general fund. Historically and now, we have been conservative in our spending. We are the number one energy state in exporting BTUs. We should be thought leaders and innovators in minerals. We have invested in higher education in this field. A good example is our work in coal through a joint effort with the X Prize Foundation. The goal is to turn the slipstream of carbon dioxide into a useful product. It creates a carbon industry – graphene carbon fiber, etc. We are even using CO2 in the production of beer.
What are your priorities for the Wyoming economy for the coming year?
MEAD: The challenge we have now is that energy prices are down. We must figure out a way to counter this. Tools include partial usage of the rainy-day fund, recruiting more manufacturers, and increasing manufacturing at a higher rate than the rest of the country. But first we must do a good job for the businesses that are here. ENDOW is going to be a big part of that. Agriculture and technology are priorities. They must be if we are to provide a great future.
What is Wyoming’s best-kept secret?
MEAD: The quality of life that we have is second to none. Businesses come from other states and discover the work ethic of our people. I want folks to know that my door is always open for business. They can come in and talk policy with me. They don’t have to go through bureaucracy. They know that in Wyoming you can be heard. Your concerns will be known to the government.
What is your state’s brand identity? What would you like it to be?
MEAD: Wyoming is known as the True West State and the Cowboy State. We still strongly believe that the future is ours to build. We are innovators. We are ready to grab opportunity. We have a strong moral code. It’s called the Code of the West. It permeates everything we do. We treat one another with respect. And we are willing to take risks.
Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.