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1552 - Wyoming economy opposite of USA economy?

Oh no, not again.

         Or as the old bumper sticker read: “Please God, give me one more boom. This time I promise not to piddle it away” or words to that effect.

         Our governor and members of the Legislature are preparing for one of the more difficult budget sessions in memory as severance tax revenues are plummeting because of low oil and national gas prices worldwide.

         Wyoming is a commodity state, which means that its economy booms or busts, based on the prices that are charged for energy in the form of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium.

         Out here on our isolated island, we sometimes think we are immune to the economic calamities happening elsewhere in the country. Not true.  National and international events are affecting our economy in a big way.

         To those of us who count our lifetimes in Wyoming in decades, a certain question comparing our state with the rest of USA comes to mind: Is Wyoming’s economy the opposite of the rest of the country’s?

         It may be coincidental but it seems that the last three boom-bust cycles in Wyoming and the USA have seen them as two ends of a teeter-totter. The Cowboy State’s economy has been counter-cyclical to the economy of the rest of America.

         In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the USA was booming.  Wyoming was hurting.  Then-Gov. Stan Hathaway said when he took office in 1966 he discovered the state had just $80 in its general fund. You may have to go back to some dustbowl states of the 1930s to find state governments in that bad a fiscal shape.

         Then Wyoming’s economy took off in the mid-1970s and peaked in 1981.  Then it tanked in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

         Meanwhile, the USA was doing very well from 1985 to 1995, while we struggled to get back on our feet.

         Since 2002, our statewide economy has been soaring as energy prices spiked to all-time levels.  At the same time the national economy slipped partially under the burden of those same high energy prices.

         In 2008 the economy was the biggest single issue in that national presidential election.  Everyone was saying the USA was in a recession. Here in Wyoming?  We had $11 billion in the bank and things are going very well.

         Thus, the theory – as the USA economy goes down, does Wyoming’s economy go up?

         Now here in 2015-2016, the country’s economy is bouncing back, mainly because of super low prices at the gasoline pump. I saw prices at $1.67 per gallon in southeast Wyoming earlier in December.

         But as the nation’s fortunes rise, Wyoming’s economy is headed south. We levy a fair severance tax against the oil, natural gas, coal and uranium that come out the ground here and we use that money to pay for our state government.  It is looking like this might add up to a $600 million shortfall for the next few years. 

         So, why is this happening in Wyoming?  Again?

A very simplistic answer could be that Wyoming’s keen-eyed focus on commodities as its economic drivers just is not working.  With coal, oil, natural gas and ag products as the key components of our economy, well, when prices are high for these items our economy soars here, too. When these commodity prices are high across the country, perhaps it is a catalyst that causes plants to close, jobs to be lost and politicians to start using “it’s the economy, stupid” as their mantra for getting elected.

         Obviously, things are more complicated than this.

         Today, most observers believe the demand for commodities worldwide at some future date might help Wyoming’s economy bounce back, no matter what happens to the rest of the country.

     Also, keep in mind those international Paris global warming accords that condemn fossil fuels. They may play a more permanent role in bad economic times here in Wyoming for some time to come.

         A few years ago, I quoted a former Wyoming Business Council CEO Tucker Fagan, who is one of the true believers: “Give credit to leadership and the Legislature for investing the mineral tax receipts in people (Hathaway Scholarship Program, community colleges and Department of Workforce Services) and hard infrastructure. This will give Wyoming a step up to diversify the economy. When we did not have business parks, available water, sewer, power, broadband, etc., we just were not in the game.  Now we will be when the economy comes out its current malaise.”

         Let’s hope so.


1551 - The darkest day of the year

If my late father had a favorite winter day, it would have occurred on Dec. 22, 2015, this year.  That was the day when the nights started getting shorter and the days started getting longer.

         As he got older and entered the long dark winter of his own lifetime, I think those ever-longer nights and ever-briefer days would remind him of his own life slipping away.

He always looked forward to Dec. 22.  He would have a spring in his step as he got up as early to mark the fact that we had all made it through one more dark winter season. “The future is going to be much brighter, no doubt about it!” he might be saying if he were still alive.

         And now that I am in the winter of my own life, it is easy to identify with these same feelings. So with that introduction, let me say that today is a great day.  Yes, the nights are shorter. And the days are longer.

         Alas, here in Wyoming, we still might have four more months of dark, cold winter weather.

         And when you talk about winter, as I write this, portions of the state’s major highways are closed and people are starting to get impatient.

         Over 1,000 semi-trailer trucks were stranded in Rawlins and thousands of college students at the University of Wyoming in Laramie were trying to get home. Cody Beers of Wyoming Dept. of Transportation said there were more than 5,000 semi-trailer trucks stranded in Wyoming during road closures around Dec. 17.

         Now when you discuss things that are dark and mysterious, then there is the odd Wyoming economy.

         The expression “darkest days” has come to mean more than just a winter solstice, what with the statewide economic problems that are occurring. Is it just a coincidence that the word – depression – is used to describe both a personal emotional meltdown and a state economic meltdown?

         Our legislators have been putting in the miles crisscrossing the state attending meetings and trying to identify ways to deal with the economic crisis they will be dealing with when they meet early next year in Cheyenne.

         Shortfall numbers ranging as high as $600 million will put the brakes on a number of good projects.  More layoffs are also predicted.

         Legislators and Gov. Matt Mead will be trying to figure out what plans to cut and what programs to reduce.  There will be plenty of pain to go around.

I would offer them advice:  if you want your solution to work on a universal scale, you must spread the pain around evenly.

         Most everyone is willing to make sacrifices if they believe others are doing it too.

         I thought Mead’s decision to hold off on the $300 million remodeling of the State Capitol to be prudent. But what a pain after all the time getting this program set up and ready to go.

         It should be stressed that this is not a time to just go across-the-board cuts. 

         One example is tourism. Although there is cost to promote tourism, it also is a huge income generator.

         Another example includes health programs, which are required by the federal government. Need to be careful with your cuts there, too.

         But I have some good news to report, too.

I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon a week ago, after witnessing quite an outpouring of good cheer.

More than 250 teeming baskets of food, books, toys and games were distributed to needy families here in the Lander area by a smiling group of Elks members who tackled the job cheerfully in chilly temperatures.

         Yes, it was cold, but you would never know it by the looks on the faces of these folks. 

         For many of them it was a three-generation event with grandpa, a son and a grandchild tagging along making sure the deliveries were made.

         What a great lesson in giving about what this season is all about.

Folks all across the state are busy helping people in need during this holiday season.

         And if you think there are not any needy folks around, did you see the story about the farmer south of Cheyenne in Colorado a few years ago who offered free vegetables to folks who came to his farm and dug them up?

         More than 10,000 people showed up.  The traffic jam stretched for miles up and down I-25. 

         Yes, there are needs out there during these dark days of December.


1550 - Last minute Christmas stocking stuffers

Jerky, books, gadgets and all specific things about Wyoming were some of the ideas sent by friends when I asked them their recommendations as perfect last-minute stocking stuffers this Christmas.

         Kari Cooper in Jackson recommended a “Wyoming Staycation” where people go skiing, attend a UW sporting event or take part in a myriad of holiday activities all over the state.

         Historian John Davis of Worland likes the idea of giving gift certificates to local restaurants.  He might be thinking about how slow business can get in the colder months for lots of these places across Wyoming.  It always feels good to get out.      

         Bill Schilling in Casper is a big fan of Lou Taubert’s and Donells Candies in that city, now going by the tagline of Wyocity.

         While roaming the state I encountered some wonderful products made by folks here in Wyoming. Allison Hicks in Meeteetse makes some cool western-themed purses.  Laura Taliaferro Pearson of Kemmerer has designed a warm western cap for Wyoming gals who wear ponytails.  There is a special hole in the back of the cap designed for ponytails.  Great idea. I also bought a home-made baby blanket from Fachon Wilson of Sheridan.         

         Tom Satterfield of Cheyenne enjoys attending holiday craft fairs in the capital city and says he enjoys buying “local” made items. Also, I would strongly recommend copies of First Lady Carol Mead’s book Wyoming Firsts. Copies are available at the State Museum gift shop.

         Leslie Blythe of Casper loves both Margo’s Pottery and Ramey’s Custom Horseshoe Art, both in Buffalo. Leslie travels the state as much as I do and also speaks highly of Wyoming Horsehair Pottery in Glenrock.

         Here in Lander, the folks at Maven make the best binoculars in the country.  And Fremont Knives is also gaining a great reputation for its quality.  Kevin Roberts suggests a CD of Christmas songs from Wyoming Catholic College. John Angst of Dubois is promoting a DVD of the best performances from “Live From the Dennison Lodge,” a program that appears on Wyoming PBS.

         Pat Schmidt, formerly of Thermopolis and now of Cheyenne, recalls how much it meant to him to be sent a Jackalope postcard when he was serving in Vietnam. When his buddies protested that no such animal existed, Pat’s friends sent him a can of Jackalope milk!

         Chuck Brown of Wheatland says we all need to make a list of five friends that you have not spoken to in 2015 and reach out to them over the holidays.  Give them a “Merry Christmas” call, he suggests.  Great idea.

         Rob Black suggests honey caramels from Queen Bee Gardens in Lovell. The Zellers raise their own honeybees and use the honey in an old family recipe from Scotland.

         Dan’s Meats in Evansville makes super jerky, we’re told.

         Dave Hanks of Farson (he is also manager of the Rock Springs chamber) suggests license plate birdhouses produced by inmates for WY brand industries. You can even buy one with your home county’s license plate as the material.

         Gene Bryan, a Wyomingite transplanted to Tucson, suggests Chris LeDoux wine from the 307 folks from Sheridan.  He also suggests some gals might want to buy themselves an epic woman’s adventure with Shelli Johnson of Lander at

         Favorite authors who need to be on the list are Casper native Ron Franscell, Cheyenne’s CJ Box and Steven Horn, Craig Johnson of Ucross, former Wyomingite Joe McGowan of Denver, Gayle Irwin, Casper, Mary Billiter of Cheyenne, Diantha and Jack States of Lander and Sam Western of Sheridan.

         Linda Fabian suggests a membership in the State Historical Society – great idea.  Also, I would recommend memberships in Wyoming PBS and Wyoming Public Radio.

         Wyoming native Diana Schutte Dowling had this suggestion: “This Greybullonian, Wyomingan, who challenges anyone who thinks the word Wyomingite has any OFFICIAL status, is quadruply grateful for the site this Christmas. 

“Her husband is going to surprise her with the Wyoming Trilogy boxed set and she is going to surprise her Montana lawyer son-in-law, Chris Johnson (born and raised in Worland) with Wyoming at 125 which is perfectly priced for our extended family draw-name-out-of-the-hat gift giving. I lived in Wyoming only the first 17 years out of my 77, but am confident that Bill`s books will greatly enrich my knowledge of and love for Wyoming!”

Wow, what nice comments and perhaps this means it is time to wrap up this column? Happy shopping and remember that the best gift is to help others at Christmas time.