Wyoming is "open for business"

  • Former Gov. Stan Hathaway

    Wyoming Division of Cultural Resources
  • Former Gov. Ed Herschler

    Mike McClure
  • Former Gov. Mike Sullivan

  • Republican Gov. Jim Geringer elected in 1994


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

That's the theme pushed by Gov. Jim Geringer, a Republican elected in 1994.

It's been used before, and it hasn't worked. Nor have these other themes: Wyoming is a good place to raise families; Wyoming has an educated workforce; companies will thrive in Wyoming because employees will love the outdoor leisure. It hasn't even worked to tell companies outright that Wyoming has low taxes, low wages, a passive workforce and no regulations.

Here's a sampling of the campaigns Wyoming's promoters have made during busts. The state does little promotion during booms, since everyone is too busy trying to cash in on what they figure won't last long.

1950 In a promotion aimed at businesses, the Commerce and Industry Commission touts a "cooperative state government" in a state where business thrives, thanks to "the utter lack of restrictive laws and regulations on business."

1961 Pacific Power and Light Co. commissions a San Francisco consultant to prepare an "objective economic survey." The consultant concludes, "Wyoming has virtually every requisite except population to become one of the greatest industrial states in the nation." The consultant also predicts that the state's growth would "equal or exceed that of other fast-growing Southwestern and Western states," reaching a population of 700,000 by 1980, thanks to favorable tax laws and the "conservative philosophy of organized labor." To fill out the picture, Wyoming residents were characterized as "happy people" who "appear to be above average in intelligence" and "live in contentment."

1969 The state gets some unexpected, unwanted publicity when a Wall Street Journal reporter visits. The headline on his story: "Wyoming is emptier and its economy lags as people move away." Reporter Dennis Farley talked to University of Wyoming economists, who suggested "processing more raw materials within the state and pursuing light industries, like computer-related concerns, that aren't deterred by Wyoming's liabilities." Instead, Farley found the state's economic development board pinning Wyoming's revival hopes on "oil and mineral activity." Gov. Stan Hathaway, right, was "stumping for industry" in New York and Los Angeles, "courting industrialists' with Wyoming moose and elk steak dinners, the Journal reports.

1970s Thanks perhaps to the moose and elk steaks, construction begins on the huge Jim Bridger Power Plant in Rock Springs. Five thousand workers move into the town of 10,000. The Arab oil embargo touches off a drilling boom across Wyoming. The development of soda ash east of Rock Springs adds to the boom, and coal production starts to increase in the Powder River Basin near Gillette. Population growth is a stunning 46 percent, and talk about economic development and diversification ceases. Then-Gov. Ed Herschler, left, a Democrat, pursues a policy of "growth on our terms," which is endorsed by most boom-weary residents.

1981 The party is over. Oil prices skid, national energy demands wane, almost 20,000 people leave the state by 1984 and unemployment rises after having remained at a remarkable 3.7 percent during the boom. Mineral production begins its slide, and as prices for oil and coal drop, so does Wyoming's primary source of state income.

1985 It's time to think about economic development and diversification again. Legislators allocate $100,000 for the "Wyoming Futures Project." Statewide public meetings are held, and "Building a Stronger Wyoming" is produced. The report's conclusion: "A broad and ambitious program of action is needed to move Wyoming in new directions." The coming period of little or no growth should be used to "develop an economic base that is far more diversified."

1986 The Legislature sets up an $18 million economic-development loan program. Over the next decade, the state loses about $8 million from bad loans.

1987 It's back to energy and minerals. New governor Mike Sullivan proposes, and the Legislature approves, tax breaks for the coal and oil and gas industries. The Legislature also authorizes $21 million in 7 percent loans to companies experimenting with "clean coal" technologies. The state loses from $10 million to $13 million, and "Char-Fuels' becomes a synonym for failure in state-driven economic development.

1988 The Legislature allocates $500,000 to the Economic Development and Stabilization Board to pay for a new promotion and slogan -- Wyoming: Where nothing stands in your way." The theme conjures up rape-and-scrape visions and is replaced by a tourism slogan that sounds vaguely New Age: "Find yourself in Wyoming."

1989 The same board goes after industry, emphasizing low taxes. A brochure pitches Wyoming as "God's country" filled with people who "aren't afraid of hard work." New firms are promised "minimum governmental interference and maximum government support."

1991 Economic development promoters in central Wyoming's Fremont County secure a $100,000 federal grant to study the burial of spent nuclear-fuel rods from around the country at an abandoned uranium mine site. In 1992, Gov. Sullivan halts the study in the face of overwhelming state opposition.

1994 Republican Jim Geringer breaks the 20-year Democratic hold on the governorship. His economic development theme: Wyoming is "open for business."

1995 The Legislature authorizes up to $10 million in economic development loans, primarily aimed at helping finance a proposed lamb plant near Worland in northwestern Wyoming. The company balks at disclosing information about the project; the plant is never built.

1997 The Legislature approves $40,000 (matched with private funds) for another study of how to achieve economic diversification.