Adding Value to Wyoming’s Natural Resources
It’s my strong conviction that the companies that work here, employ our residents, and pay Wyoming state taxes should be rewarded for their investments. I also believe the state of Wyoming can work with those companies to make our resources even more directly beneficial to our state’s residents in the form of additional investment and job creation in value-added activities. I strongly support continuing to work with private partners and other stakeholders to develop an export strategy for Wyoming coal.
I believe the state must redouble its efforts to support infrastructure for transporting our resources, including highways, pipelines and electricity transmission, which are vital to our ability to add value to our natural resources beyond severance taxes. Wyoming must invest in education that will ensure our workforce has the technical skills to take on a value-added economy.
We must reduce regulatory barriers for private value-added projects -- such as hybrid energy facilities -- and other strategies that enhance the value of Wyoming’s natural resources. The direct benefit to Albany County is a more resilient and robust economy for our residents.
I have direct experience in this arena. Because of my background in energy and regulatory economics, I serve on the Taskforce on Nuclear Energy Production as Governor Mead's appointee. As a taskforce member, I work with professional geologists and Wyoming legislators to craft policies that will add value to our uranium resources, including enhancing the role of higher education in developing nuclear energy production and reducing infrastructure and regulatory barriers. This same model should continue to be used to promote value-added business related to our vast natural resources
Supporting Wind Energy Development
Wyoming’s tax structure recently became less friendly to the energy industry for developing an important resource: wind energy. To continue selling to the grid -- including California, one of the largest customers in the western United States -- Wyoming must remain competitive in wind energy development.
States in our target energy export market are requiring renewable portfolio standards to ensure increasing amounts of their power purchases come from renewable energy. The Wyoming Legislature allowed the sales and use tax exemption on equipment used in wind energy projects to expire this year, which is contributing to a slow-down in wind energy development. That puts Wyoming at a competitive disadvantage, and I strongly support reinstating the exemption.
To mitigate the impact on roads and other community resources, I also endorse assessing an impact fee that can be targeted for affected communities. This form of insurance will hold communities harmless for the heavy use of their resources as wind projects are constructed, provide certainty for companies and investors, and benefit Albany County residents and residents statewide by accelerating the development of this valuable and highly desired resource again.
Economic Development and Wyoming Small Business Support
Diversifying our economy from the grassroots level is the key to keeping our successful businesses in Wyoming. That provides more employment opportunities to Wyoming youth and attracts more businesses to Wyoming.
96 percent of Wyoming’s businesses are small businesses employing nearly 65 percent of our workforce. Since the recession, these businesses have accounted for more than 50 percent of new private-sector jobs created in Wyoming.
Opportunity starts with supporting existing businesses, ranches, and farms, along with developing policies that support new business creation. It includes keeping taxes and regulations to a minimum and expanding technical support for export strategy development. Encouraging Wyoming businesses to expand their markets both domestically and internationally and bolstering their growth in Wyoming will be crucial in stabilizing our economy in the long term.
Albany County offers enormous opportunity for entrepreneurial growth. Our economy relies less on natural resource extraction, so entrepreneurship must play a key role in our county’s economic development. Nationally, nonfarm proprietor employment accounts nearly 20 percent of employment, and in Wyoming on average, it accounts for more than 20 percent of employment. In Albany County, that number is around only 13 percent. While microenterprise employment (self-employed individuals and employees in establishments with fewer than five employees) is extremely strong and outpaces both the national and Wyoming averages, average income per proprietor in the United States is nearly $30,000, about $29,000 on average in Wyoming, but only around $14,000 in Albany County. That means there’s lots of room for growth and improvement. Nationally, nonfarm proprietors’ income accounted for 9 percent of total personal income, and in Wyoming, about 11 percent, but in Albany County our small businesses owners’ and employees’ income accounts for only 4.5 percent of personal income.
What do these numbers all mean? They mean that we need to support tourism, a source of great income for our entrepreneurs. We need to invest in education and business support through our university and community colleges to help our small businesses explore new markets here and abroad, and new ways of doing business. These businesses are and should continue to be the backbone of our community.
Most importantly, this translates into direct benefits for you. When our innovators, entrepreneurs, small businesses owners, farmers and ranchers do well, our community is stronger, creating jobs, higher wages, and a more prosperous economy for all of us. I will work for you to ensure our ready-for-business culture in Albany County thrives.
Common-Sense Health Care Policies
The demographics of the Cowboy State are changing. Our population is among the fastest aging in the United States, and this means we must have a medical community to match. A Wyoming Department of Health analysis shows that by 2030 32 percent of Wyoming’s population will be over age 60, making us the fourth oldest state in the nation.
We have an opportunity and obligation to work with our health care community to create jobs by training, recruiting, and retaining health care providers that will give residents of Albany County continued access to quality services.
The Wyoming Department of Workforce services estimates that Wyoming will experience increasing shortages in health care occupations at an increasing rate in the coming years. These shortages will intensify because the healthcare provider workforce must change to meet the needs of our aging population; they have unique needs and require a wider array of healthcare providers.
The most acute shortages are expected in the professions of registered nurses, physical therapists, medical and clinical laboratory technicians, respiratory care, substance abuse and addiction counseling, occupational therapists, medical transcriptionists, and licensed practical and vocational nurses.
The state of Wyoming needs to continue its commitment to funding the Wyoming Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Program and our various physician-recruiting grant programs, and I support this. We must also intensify our involvement in the National Rural Recruiting and Retention Program to include nursing and mental health professionals. Investing in our education infrastructure at both community colleges and the University of Wyoming to ensure the health care workforce meets the dynamic, changing needs of our population.
In addition, we must examine policies that will reduce skyrocketing health care costs to the residents, businesses, and taxpayers of Wyoming, including the rising rate of Medicaid costs borne by the state. My experience on the Albany County Hospital Board gives me specific expertise in this area.
Albany County and the Casper Aquifer
We must continue to have a conversation as a community about the best way to protect our families’ drinking water while continuing to support economic activity and growth in Albany County. The solution must be informed by the best science as well as the needs of our residents. State, county, and city stakeholders should explore working together to protect the aquifer while ensuring that development can continue. Any process must be open and transparent to the people of Albany County, and must balance the role of the state and municipal governments with our community need to develop and grow.
An interesting mechanism to protect a crucial piece of the Casper Aquifer zone was proposed in the last legislative session. Unfortunately, that mechanism failed to pass the Legislature. I will work with all stakeholders in our county to explore opportunities to continue the conversation started last session and work towards a solution that will benefit the residents of Albany County.