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Commercial Department: Spotlight: Wyoming: July 2018

 

Spotlight: Wyoming

Wyoming is working to re-energize its economy.

Wyoming, which became the 44th state in 1890, in many ways still resembles the American frontier of a century ago. Its 579,315 residents as of July 2017 make it the smallest state by population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the state is still renowned for its natural beauty, a hallmark of its frontier days as well. It is home to Yellowstone National Park, Shoshone National Forest, Devils Tower National Monument and more than two dozen national historic landmarks.

Wyoming has long been known as the Equality State after its territorial government gave women the right to vote in 1869, more than 50 years before the 19th Amendment granted suffrage to all American women.

The state is heavily dependent on the energy sector. It also is struggling to attract and retain residents and businesses, a problem magnified during energy-sector downturns. According to a report this past November from Forbes, the state lost 1.1 percent of its jobs during the prior 12 months and 3,800 residents in 2016. The cost of doing business in the Equality State is 1.3 percent more expensive than the national average, and Wyoming ranks in the bottom half of states for labor supply, quality of life, growth prospects and economic climate, Forbes said.

The cost of living also is on the rise in Wyoming, with the state’s Department of Administration and Information reporting a 2.3 percent year-over-year inflation hike as of fourth-quarter 2017. All consumer categories — including food, medical expenses, transportation and housing — had annual inflation increases for the first time since fourth-quarter 2013.

There are positive signs, however, as the number of oil rigs operating within the state was at a three-year high as of this past April, while sales-and-use tax collections rose by about 19 percent over the previous nine months. Wyoming also is looking to boost its aerospace-industry presence, working with companies like L&H Industrial and Square One Systems Design on marketing and outreach efforts. The aerospace industry contributes $30 million a year to Wyoming’s economy, compared to $18.5 billion and $15 billion in neighboring Colorado and Utah, respectively, the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance said.

In November 2016, Gov. Matt Mead announced the creation of the ENDOW initiative — Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — to address job-growth concerns. State leaders have said the lack of a major population center is hampering the state’s ability to attract new businesses, as Casper and Cheyenne are the only cities with at least 90,000 people within a 60-mile radius. Fewer amenities for millennials may be an obstacle for the state in recruiting a larger number of skilled, technology-related jobs.

skip to 3 Cities to Watch>>  

Cheyenne commercial market

c_2018-07_Spotlight_chart-1.jpgA first-quarter 2018 report from the Wyoming Center for Business and Economic Analysis shows that commercial property vacancies in the Greater Cheyenne area crept upward between first-quarter 2017 and first-quarter 2018. The area had more than 352,000 square feet of vacant office space as of this past first quarter, with downtown Cheyenne accounting for more than half of that figure. Average lease rates for offices were rising, however, from $14.05 to $14.90 per square foot between the first quarters of 2017 and 2018 — even as the office-vacancy rate rose from 12.8 percent to 13.6 percent over the period.

The same report said vacancies for warehouse and retail spaces also increased slightly (each less than a percentage point) year over year as of this past first quarter — with the most recent figures showing the warehouse vacancy rate at 8.2 percent and the retail vacancy rate at 13.3 percent. Average lease rates on these properties declined year over year, with warehouse space dropping to $7.78 per square foot and retail space dropping to $10.90 per square foot.

Focus: Mining

Mining is a key component of the Equality State’s economy. Wyoming is the nation’s leading producer of bentonite — a mineral used in products like pet litter, crayons and cosmetics — and mines up to 70 percent of the world’s known supply, the Wyoming Mining Association (WMA) said.

The Equality State also has been the top coal producer in the U.S. since 1986, WMA said, and the coal industry serves as Wyoming’s second-largest source of state and local tax revenues, contributing more than $1 billion annually. Coal miners earn an average salary of $82,000 a year before benefits, almost twice the statewide average across all industries, WMA said. Trona, which is used to produce baking soda, is the state’s top export. In 2016, Wyoming mined 17.5 million tons of the mineral, and the trona-mining industry supported nearly 2,300 jobs statewide, according to WMA.

Unemployment

c_2018-07_Spotlight_chart-2.jpgWyoming’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent as of this past April, only the second month with a figure below 4 percent since February 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Total year-over-year employment has been growing by about 1 percent in recent months as the energy sector has rebounded — with job growth in sectors such as professional and business services, mining and logging, and manufacturing rising year over year between 3 percent and 9 percent as of this past March.

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services projects the state will add more than 7,300 jobs from second-quarter 2017 to second-quarter 2019, a growth rate of 2.7 percent. The state’s mining industry, which is highly dependent on fossil-fuel extraction, bottomed out in 2016 but appears to be rebounding. The leisure and hospitality sector, which has steadily grown for more than a quarter century, is anticipated to grow by 4.5 percent, or 1,600 jobs, during the same two-year period, Workforce Services said.

Sources: Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, Casper Star-Tribune, Cheyenne LEADS, City of Laramie, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Forbes, State of Wyoming, University of Wyoming, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, Wyoming Center for Business and Economic Development, Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming Office of Tourism, Wyoming State Historical Society.



3 Cities to Watch

Casper

Sitting at an elevation of 5,100 feet and in close proximity to numerous hiking trails, ski resorts and fishing locales, this city of 59,000 people in Natrona County has an average of 220 sunny days per year. Casper’s median household income of $57,511 has grown at about twice the rate of the national average since 2000, the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance reports. Natrona County’s largest employers include Wyoming Medical Center, Wyoming Machinery Co. and WESTECH, which designs and builds truck bodies for the mining industry.

Laramie

c_2018-07_Spotlight_city.jpgThe city of 32,000 in Albany County is the state’s educational mecca as nearly 14,000 students attend the University of Wyoming. Laramie has a regional airport and is a two-hour drive from Denver, making it increasingly attractive as a business community. Technology and manufacturing jobs are on the rise in Albany County, and the state’s first technology-zoned business park, located just a mile from the university, is looking to accommodate more employers. The growing local tech sector includes companies like Medicine Bow Technologies, Bright Agrotech, UL and Handel Information Technologies.

Cheyenne

The state capital and home to about 63,000 people, the city touts a variety of cultural and recreational attractions. F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which employs more than 4,000 people, recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. The base houses the 90th Missile Wing and was home to the nation’s first operational intercontinental ballistic missile site in 1958. Other top area employers include Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, Sierra Trading Post and the Union Pacific Railroad.

What the locals say

“There’s a huge initiative to make sure that we have connectivity statewide, and I think that’s very hard in some rural areas of Wyoming. … Transportation is another big issue. Smaller communities just tend to not have air service, so if you’re trying to locate a tech company, even if they truly love Wyoming — they love the outdoors, they love the clean air — you’ve got to be able to get in and out. This ENDOW initiative is focused on trying to find ways to move people in and out of the state.”

c_2018-07_Spotlight_local.jpg

Mary Doherty 
President, WIDC-Frontier CDC 


 

Neil Pierson is editor in chief of Scotsman Guide Media. Reach him at neilp@scotsmanguide.com or (800) 297-6061.

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