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Wyoming looks to diversify economy through generational strategy

September 06, 2018
By: Robert Ksiazkiewicz

After nearly 18 months of planning and meetings that gathered input from nearly 140,000 participants, Gov. Matt Mead announced the release of a 20-year strategy for the diversification of the state’s economy. Through the plan, the leaders of Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) provided more than 50 recommendations for the state government and private industries to help grow and attract businesses to Wyoming as well as keep talented young people in state. The intent of this new blueprint for the state’s economy is to reduce the likelihood of repeating the boom-and-bust cycles that plagued the state in the past.

The plan advocates transforming existing key industries (agriculture, energy, and tourism) to meet the demands of the future economy, as well as the development of new industries in such as areas as education and healthcare. Other specific industry cluster targets include artificial intelligence, cloud solutions, autonomous vehicles, advanced robotics, and 5G mobile internet. Improving the state’s infrastructure is highlighted as a vital element to the successful diversification of the state’s economy. This includes increased access to high-quality broadband and better commercial air service.

At the top of the list of recommendations, ENDOW proposes the creation of a Chief Economic Diversification Officer (CEDO) within the governor’s office to oversee and carry out the 20-year plan. This position would be codified by the state legislature as an official cabinet position with a six-year appointment subject to state Senate approval. The CEDO would lead the proposed Commission for Economic Diversification that would be comprised of representatives from industry, education and state agencies.

The plan also calls for a significant investment in expanding the University of Wyoming by establishing research facilities and distance learning centers in partnership with community colleges to ensure Wyoming residents have both physical and digital access to a wide range of bachelor and graduate degree programs. Currently, the report highlights that only 30 percent of residents have access to the state’s flagship university.

In addition to improving access to education, the report also outlines the goal of transforming the University of Wyoming into one of the world’s pre-eminent energy research universities. It also calls for support for high quality programs in entrepreneurship and artificial intelligence.

Other select recommendations include:

  • Develop physical and digital platforms that provide private-sector innovators the ability to test and scale their products;
  • Create spaces for deployment of disruptive technologies and creative solutions in areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud solutions, autonomous vehicles, advanced robotics, and 5G mobile internet;
  • Promote and incentivize the creation of modern apprenticeship, internship, and training programs;
  • Develop portable and stackable credential programs;
  • Enable shared infrastructure – including federal and university laboratories – to facilitate productivity gains and enable companies to market new products;
  • Invest 2 percent of Wyoming’s investment portfolio in home-grown companies; and,
  • Create business development and innovation zones where industry has access to research and development facilities, special permitting, and tax incentives.

The report also calls for increased marketing efforts of Wyoming products and services including appointing global ambassadors, in each major financial center in the U.S. to enable attraction of investment capital.

The next step for the ENDOW initiative is to develop a four-year action plan that includes budget requests and specific policy recommendations. Mead also intends to meet with both gubernatorial candidates Mary Throne and Mark Gordon to talk about growing ENDOW and its ideas past his term in office.

 

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