It’s amazing that politicians employ speech writers considering how much mileage they get out of the same-old soliloquies.
“Economic development remains a vital part of our future. We must do more today to be prepared for tomorrow. As we look ahead, it is important that we diversify our options to better weather the dips in our boom-and-bust economy. Meanwhile, we will await the reports of the new committees formed to explore potential areas of growth. We look forward to reading their conclusions.”
We have been hearing these spiels for ages, but we don’t have much to show for all the repetition. The rhetoric is heavy on the buzzwords and pledges, but light on details and concrete steps. While we can’t think of an official who has spoken out against economic development, many have stood in opposition to it in action and inaction. Considering market trends and pessimistic economic forecasts related to the energy industry – Wyoming’s primary source of funding – it’s time to do more than commission another series of studies while waiting for the next economic upswing.
To see the long-promised diversified development, our community needs to be more proactive, enhance what we already have, and expand its imagination.
REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEONE: Telemarketers and spammers can be role models. The proliferation of robocalls and emails piling up in our inboxes proves the value of contacting people out of the blue. They wouldn’t do it so much if it wasn’t paying off. We’re curious to know if local leaders are applying these methods and cold calling prospective businesses.
Instead of waiting for suitors to come knocking, are we going to them? We have empty buildings where profitable stores operated before they were brought down by failing chains. Some big-name competitors may be delighted to hear about our underserved market that features prime locations ready to be filled.
Our leaders should be asking companies what kind of infrastructure and incentives they need to come here. We won’t be able to meet all their demands, but we won’t know what companies are looking for unless we’re engaged in a dialogue. And harkening back to the impact of volume, the more connections we make, the more successes we will see.
EXPAND ON WHAT IS ALREADY HERE: When residents are surveyed about what businesses they’d like to see come to Sweetwater County, restaurants and grocery stores are popular. While we would appreciate more shopping and eating options, we think it’s more important to attract bigger companies that would serve as economic drivers.
Considering that Sweetwater County is the extraction point of so many natural resources, we should solicit new factories that would make complimentary neighbors. Instead of shipping coal, trona, and other materials across the country, why not do more with them here? We’ve already got good transportation connections to the interstate, railroad and airport. In the same way that people flocked to the mines when they first opened due to the jobs, if we can work with industries to build it, workers will come.
Then there’s tourism. We have a lot of exceptional sights, but they don’t garner the attention they deserve because they’re hard to access. Careful and considerate development could increase their profile and local profits. It wouldn’t take much to add a few more roads, bathrooms, interpretive signs, picnic areas and visitor centers to add to the allure of places like the sand dunes, petroglyphs, Boars Tusk, pioneer trials and the Lincoln Highway.
While mineral resources are finite, tourism can be a renewable resource that keeps on giving. We have vistas that can’t be glimpsed anywhere else, and with a little investment and promotion, more people will be able to see them.
WIDEN YOUR VISION: Some leaders’ idea of economic development is limited to digging and mining in new areas. This may have worked for a long time, but expanded tactics are required today. We need to embrace a wider definition of development and look for new opportunities.
There isn’t a single silver-bullet solution. We need to look to big and small companies that will all add to the variety and stability of our economy. In addition, we should support the businesses that have stayed with us through the ups and downs. We should help them adapt to changes in market trends and customer habits so they can stick around and serve as examples. The more we can learn from each other, the more secure our future will be.
Along with encouraging new ways of thinking about economic development, we want to highlight some new contributions and opportunities.
— It’s great that Wyoming community colleges can start developing four-year degrees. This will require time and money to get going, but expanding options for students means we’ll have a homegrown workforce with a wider variety of skills.
— Then there’s the impact of the expanded lodging tax. Last November voters decided to increase the tax collected by hotels and campgrounds, which Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism uses to promote the area and sponsor local events. With the additional funding, it’s setting up guided tours around the Flaming Gorge from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is a great way to maximize potential and show off local gems.
— The Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition is developing its strategic plan, as it works to expand existing business and attract new ones to close retail gaps it has identified. It is also celebrating National Economic Development Week. The event starts on May 6, but there will be activities all month long, including a Small Business Resource Fair, a networking event for women business owners and leaders, guest speakers, and a leadership and management workshop.
Economic development requires community commitment. In addition to attending open houses and sharing ideas, residents should expect action from elected leaders. “What plans do you have?” they should ask. Find out their goals for the next year, for 2025, and beyond. If we want a stabilized economy that supports the services we’ve come to expect, we need to build it on more than smiles, stalling studies and empty promises.