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By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle-WNE 

Economic council bill dies despite business support

 

December 28, 2018



CHEYENNE — In the midst of the Legislature’s interim work this year, the state’s economic diversification organization suffered when a bill to create a lead officer for coordinating efforts across state agencies died in committee. 

The failed bill would have created a new cabinet for economic diversification housed in the Governor’s Office. Along with the new organization that was to include representatives from state educational institutions, the Secretary of State’s Office and Wyoming Business Council, it would have created the role of chief economic diversification officer. 

The Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee voted on a 7-7 count at the end of November to support the bill, killing any chances of sponsorship during next month’s general session. While members of Gov. Matt Mead’s economic diversification initiative ENDOW and the Wyoming Business Council, as well as private business owners, spoke in favor of the bill, committee members who voted in opposition saw too many issues and potential pitfalls with creating an entirely new cabinet to handle economic development moving forward. 

While the bill died on a split vote, no committee or individual lawmaker has made moves to pick up the bill, or some version of it, for sponsorship during the upcoming general

session. 

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, was a vocal skeptic of the bill in committee. He voted against the bill in large part because he didn’t think it was necessary for the Legislature to create an entirely new cabinet and executive-appointed position to coordinate economic diversification efforts. If any governor wants to organize efforts, Gray said, he can simply call a meeting with every agency included in the proposed new committee. 

“I’m all for economic development. But just because a bill is labeled that way, I think we have to get out of the mode that (we think) it’s advancing a very noble and important cause for our state,” Gray said. “We’ve got ENDOW; we’ve got the Wyoming Business Council, which has been in place for decades; and then we have the Governor’s Office. And (the Governor’s Office) can coordinate with these two groups.” 

ENDOW representatives saw the newly created position of economic diversification officer as a key factor to ensuring coordination of the state’s 20-year economic development plan. ENDOW also saw the bill as vital to ensuring any work on economic diversification doesn’t get lost in the shuffle when a new governor takes over. 

“What we realized as part of this process, and what most of us probably knew going into it, is that economy development and diversification isn’t the responsibility of any one agency,” said Jerimiah Rieman, director of economic diversification strategy and initiatives in the Governor’s Office. “It demands a coordinated response across agencies.”

Phil Christopherson, a staff member of Energy Capital Economic Development in Gillette, spoke to the committee about the need for a coordinated effort to ensure economic development doesn’t lose steam as the years go on. 

“This bill puts (the plans) into action. Up until now, it’s all been theory and thought and ideas,” Christopherson said. “It gets something done that allows us to diversify the economy, that allows the state to move forward so when my children and my grandchildren graduate, there are jobs and a place for them to live in the state.”

 
 

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