A conversation with.Mark Willis, Director of the Business and Industry Division of the Wyoming Business Council
"At this point, we are managing growth rather than pushing growth. We don't have to be in a hurry; we are working hard for the quality companies that we want to attract."
A. The last legislative session set aside $46 million for business-ready grants, business parks, and business-ready communities. We've already committed $42 million of that, so there will be a supplemental budget appropriation. The first year's grants were geared towards infrastructure, water, sewer, roads, and shovel-ready sites. In the past few years we have concentrated on recruiting new business. To augment the work force, the legislature will be considering two more grant programs regarding affordable housing infrastructure and child care. With our low unemployment and budget surplus, we can be fairly selective with what companies we target.
Q. What are the most promising areas for growth?
A. Energy, specifically equipment used in energy, is one of our focuses. We continue to be active in mining, oil, coal, gas, and wind energy. In certain energy areas, we need to recruit workers. We are taking part in job fairs in Flint, Michigan, to attract workers such as welders and machinists. These jobs pay well, and the workers will find a low cost of living, no personal income tax, and one of the lowest property taxes in theU.S. We are one of the least expensive places to do business. Everybody knows Wyoming has world-class hunting, skiing, and fishing, too.
Q. What are you doing to promote future energy innovations?
A. We are initiating a new energy school looking into categories such as coal gasification and wind energy. During its 2006 session, the Wyoming State Legislature established a University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources and appropriated $12.1 million to fund the first two years up to its three years of full implementation. We want the University of Wyoming to become a Center of Excellence for energy research.
Q. What other categories show promise?
A. Technology is growing out of the energy sector, too. Several robotics projects have grown out of the oil fields, to accommodate for worker shortages. Research and development prototype developments and financial management projects are happening in the Jackson area. A new $12 million business incubator, the Wyoming Technology Business Center, opened last October 21 on the University of Wyoming campus with eight companies, two of which were university spinoffs. Since we don't have to worry about hurricanes, we are popular with data storage and data recovery centers, since there is no threat to them here. Interest has increased since Hurricane Katrina.
Q. Are you modernizing infrastructure to attract technologies companies?
A. We do have a complete fiber connection throughout the state. Our Governor, Dave Freudenthal, used state resources to run fiber and Internet connections to every high school in the state. In cooperation with Colorado and New Mexico, we are obtaining funds for a feasibility study to establish a high speed rail corridor from Albuquerque to Casper. If we get that in place, it opens up a whole new wealth of possibilities for communities. At this point, we are managing growth rather than pushing growth. We don't have to be in a hurry; we are working hard for the quality companies that we want to attract.