There have been doubters and naysayers, but economic developers in northeast Wyoming are starting to turn heads and change minds.
“We’re six months in now and we have 15 hot leads. We have about 60 or 70 leads in all,” said David Simonsen, a big grin spreading across his face. “We are doing what we said we were going to do.”
What Simonsen, an administrator with the Northeast Wyoming Growth Alliance, and his organization said they would do is bring new industry to the sparsely populated corner of the state.
The northeast region, comprising Johnson, Sheridan and Campbell counties, could never catch the attention of consultants who help big firms relocate or expand into new territory.
The reason, Simonsen said, mostly comes down to population.
“Site consultants don’t start looking at a community until it has a population of 50,000 people or above,” Simonsen said.
Gillette, the area’s largest city, barely cracks 30,000 people. And a small population means a small potential workforce.
Wyoming isn’t like most states. People here think little of a 90-minute drive for supplies, much less work. Add the three counties together and the potential workforce climbs to about 80,000 people. That’s a large enough population for a consultant to work with, and combining forces means lower costs to each community when it comes to marketing to those consultants.
Next month will mark New Growth Alliance’s first tour. About six site consultants focused on advanced manufacturing were invited to tour the region. Advanced manufacturing is one of northeast Wyoming’s target markets, and no wonder: workers in the industry earn average salaries in the $80,000 range, according to the Brookings Institution. That’s nearly double the average pay in Wyoming, and it’s comparable to the wages many in the area were accustomed to making prior to the energy market downturn.
NEW Growth Alliance staff aren’t just waiting for consultants to come to them. They also chase leads on the road through strategies like trade shows.
Simonsen said the region also knows better than to pin its hopes on a giant employer coming to town. That’s why NEW Growth Alliance has held several mini-conferences focused on entrepreneurship and turning raw carbon into valuable products, among other topics. Average attendance is about 60 people, and participants range from economic developers and elected officials to business leaders and employees.
Setting aside the usual competition among cities and counties in favor of cooperation is a new idea, but Simonsen doesn’t believe northeast Wyoming is unique. The strategy NEW Growth Alliance put in place can be replicated elsewhere in rural, dispersed Wyoming, he suggested.
“It’s an intense process that requires a big commitment, but I think this needs to happen across the state,” Simonsen said. “There are things that need to happen to diversify our economy, and this is a way for regions around the state to do that.”
NEW Growth Alliance received a $100,000 planning grant in 2015 from the Wyoming Business Council.
During Economic Development Week, the Business Council is celebrating both the state resources providing the tools and the entrepreneurs using those tools to build a better Wyoming. Learn more at wyomingbusiness.org.