The shaded stool of Wyoming's other economic sectors.
Yep. We still haven't covered it all.
But then the candidates haven't either, and that's the point.
In the June 24 issue of the Star Tribune there's an article over concerns in the tiny Carbon County town of Rock River about a lack of housing there that threatens to soon become a problem due to an economic boom.
Coal coming back to Carbon County, you might be thinking?
And indeed, the last time southern Carbon County had a boom that's what brought it about. But that one skipped Rock River. Rock River last was doing really well a long time ago, although it still did well enough at some point that a relatively new modern school was put in there since the 1970s.
What the anticipated boom in this case would be caused by is an expiration in Federal wind power subsidies which is causing companies that put in wind farms to rush to try to get theirs in, and qualify, before the subsidy expires, which it is likely to do.
Wind turbines have been used for power generation since houses were first wired with electricity. Indeed, one of the missions of the Rural Electric Administration was to get farmers and ranchers off of windmills in their yards and on to the grid. Granted, the grid was probably safer than the wind generators of the time, but, none the less.
Now, this isn't an article on wind power. I've had others on that topic. Rather, this is an article on the topic of "the other" industries that candidates in the election will vaguely reference, but rarely specifically actually address.
In part this doesn't occur as, at least now in the GOP, you just can't say "well. . . oil and gas is doing fine and coal isn't going to get better, so we better look at . . . .". The official mantra is that coal will recover and oil and gas wouldn't be boom and bust if only the Federal government would stay out of things. That's naive.
And we know that its naive at that, but we don't want to say too much. It's sort of based on the power of wishful thinking thesis, but nobody wants to really deal with the decline of coal.
Which is all the odder when we consider that Wyoming at one time had a lot of other extractive industries. Wyoming was an iron producer, for example, and was well into the second half of the 20th Century. And Wyoming was a major uranium producer. All that is no longer the case, due to market forces. Uranium, I'm pretty convinced, will come back. But you only have to go to Shirley Basin to see that its gone. There's no town there, where once there was a mining town there.
But there are windmills there, that's for sure.
Wind mill installation has become a big deal in Wyoming. That doesn't mean you could plan an economic future on it, as installation is like petroleum exploration. It isn't really steady. It goes in, and then you have the infrastructure. So, for places like Rock River and Medicine Bow, you have to deal with the boom in construction followed by a bust, but the infrastructure and the jobs associated with it, remain. And they remain for a very, very, long time.
Now, this post isn't the "why aren't the candidates speaking about wind power" post, although so far they don't seem to be. It's the "what are those other economic areas" they vaguely reference?
This is probably too broad of category to make a fair post about, frankly, but some attention does need to be given to it. There are a lot of economic activities in Wyoming and we've addressed a lot of them. But not all by any means. When candidates speak of "improving the economy", what are they talking about.
Some candidates, to be fair, have made specific references to other areas. Galeotos and Throne have both spoken about technology, although oddly Galeotos was sort of uncharacteristically hostile to the topic in one instances, assuming the Tribune is reporting that accurately, as Throne seemed to get to it first. Having said that, Throne and Galeotos both have spoken about trying to harness the computerized technological advances of recent years to Wyoming's benefit, and they seem to have some concepts, vague though they may be, about how that would work.
Hageman seems outright hostile to any discussion that doesn't involve 100% application of Wyoming's traditional industries, by which she is pinning her hopes on the extractive industries. That doesn't seem to show much vision at all, but she's not the only one who likely looks at the economy in that fashion. If you are in a line of work, and most Wyomingites are not, which is somewhat insulated from booms and busts, that is in fact an attractive way to look at things. . . somewhat. It has its own problems no matter what, but suffice it to say if you are a small business owner or a laborer, this view really has its problems.
Other candidates simply promise to fix the economy. Foster Freiss, for example, notes that he's a successful businessman and he can be trusted to fix the economy. Well, being so successful that you can keep a home in Jackson and another in Arizona means something, but what it doesn't mean is that you know anything whatsoever about Wyoming's economy.
And a lot of things go into an economy. You can't just "fix" them. Economies are natural in a way (although the corporate capitalist model we have is not a "natural economy" in the pure sense). That's a big aspect of the economy that the candidates haven't really addressed in a full on way, although some have topically.
As an economic unit, the state, the state has to play to its strengths and attempt to build some where they are lacking. Some have noted that, and that's particularly noted by people who are strongly reliant on the extractive industries. But it is missing in regards to other things, such as agriculture, in the discussion.
Be that as it may, there's been little (some, but not much) reference to our weaknesses. Those weaknesses are specifically what the ENDOW study looked at.
There's a lot about Wyoming that makes development of its economy outside of the existing areas its strong in tough. We lack good transportation and we lack intra state air travel nearly entirely. We have no passenger rail at all. Travel during the winter season can be death defying. . . or in fact deadly.
It's also popular to note that we have no major urban areas, but in fact we do.
Wyoming does have a major regional city. Or actually two such cities.
And those cities are Denver Colorado and Salt Lake City Utah. Maybe more than that.
Now, that may sound like I'm missing something, but the opposite is true.
Wyoming does have its own culture within the regional culture. But we have to acknowledge that it is still part of the Rocky Mountain Region and the Northern Plains. And that matters as, at the end of the day, while the states and provinces (did I say provinces, as in Canadian provinces, why yes I did) have their own cultures, their boundaries are not natural ones, for the most part, and therefore they do not have the geographic impact of natural boundaries. The line separating Wyoming from Colorado, in other words, is not the Rhine River or the Atlas Mountains. It's just a line. That line is real in various ways, but you can cross it and never know.
Indeed, as an aside, when a student in Laramie I had a deer license in southern Wyoming and the only really good place I could find to hunt was so near Colorado in those pre GPS days that I constantly worried about crossing into Colorado. I'm really good with a topographic map, but none the less I worried about it. Oddly enough, I was hunting in an area where there was a very large stream, a proto river, present and instinctively you found yourself thinking that "across the river is Colorado". Not so much.
Anyhow, we live in age of increasingly improved transportation and communications. And we live in an age in which economic consolidation has moved towards the cities. It's been often noted by demographers that, over a long period of time, indeed a period of time exceeding a century, Americans have been leaving rural areas for cities, and leaving towns and small cities for big cities.
Whether this is good or bad is another matter. Frankly, I feel its nearly universally a negative trend. But it being a negative trend doesn't mean it isn't a trend. And in our region, that has meant that for much of Wyoming Denver Colorado is the regional hub. For far western Wyoming, that hub is Salt Lake City. And that's the way it is.
That may be more fine with most Wyomingites than we care to admit (and I'll have more in that in an exciting conclusion to this series) but the truth of the matter is that our major hubs are regional. Denver and Salt Lake City. If you expand out just a bit, the hubs also include Calgary, St. Paul, Minnesota and Houston Texas.
If you feel otherwise, consider the evidence. I've worked with and for people in the oil industry who worked in Denver and had bosses in Calgary or Houston. If you grew up in Wyoming and have an advanced degree, other than in medicine, veterinary medicine, dental medicine, law or accounting there's a really good chance that you moved to Denver, Salt Lake or St. Paul. Shoot, a lot of Wyomingites end up moving to Denver or Salt Lake simply due to economic reasons, irrespective of their educations. That includes individuals with nearly no education, and those with advanced degrees. One friend of mine with an advanced degree grew up outside of Hanna, worked in the mines for awhile, before ended up with what will be a life long career in Denver. Pretty typical.
And this is the way it is, and we're not changing it.
So, when we speak of those other areas, we have to accept the geographic and economic realities, including that we can't really change a lot of that.
So what are our plans, really?