By Ryan Patterson
The Sheridan Press
Via Wyoming News Exchange
SHERIDAN — In a visit this week to Sheridan, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon met with several community members, business leaders and educators.
One of Gordon’s stops included an update at Sheridan College to learn more about the Sheridan Economic and Educational Development Authority, provide brief remarks and answer a few questions from audience members related to business and education.
About 90 people attended the 50-minute event, including many business owners and legislators. Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, provided the opening remarks and introduced the governor, while Northern Wyoming Community College District President Paul Young gave the closing statement.
Gordon gave a 10-minute speech and then left 10 minutes for taking questions. He discussed several topics, including small business development, the potential to expand technology in Wyoming and the relationship between commerce and education.
Gordon aims for Wyoming to have excellent economic growth and new businesses but didn’t mention any specific solutions on Tuesday.
He discussed ways to attract and keep homegrown businesses in the state. Gordon said there is probably a better chance of keeping local operations in the state for the long term rather than having tax breaks for large corporations to come to Wyoming for a short time.
“I want to make Wyoming the most fertile place to grow a young business,” Gordon said. “… Sometimes we focus on trying to attract the giant thing that’s going to come from out of state and is going to pay all our taxes. That is a real struggle and lots of times those businesses come and are happy to move away just as soon as they get a better deal. If people come invested in the community, want to be here, they’re going to want to see this economy grow and expand.”
Gordon also said addressing health care will be vital to attracting businesses. The state will have to figure out what health care will look like in five years and figure out ways to address that and then help bring new businesses and employees.
“If you don’t have good, reliable health care, you’re not going to get businesses to locate there,” Gordon said.
Near the end of the informal meeting, Sheridan City Council member Jacob Martin asked Gordon what blockchain technology will bring to Wyoming in the future.
Gordon said there is enormous potential in blockchain, noting that it could potentially bring more financial businesses to Wyoming. Gordon said Wyoming is beginning to compete with Malta, Singapore, Delaware and New Hampshire to attract financial companies.
Gordon said blockchain can make Wyoming a great place for technology and digital business innovation.
“Some people look at it as speculative or some people look at it as problematic, but it is another form of settlement,” Gordon said. “… I think if we see our way clear, it really … can make Wyoming the most accepting place to bringing technology in.”
Gordon said the two areas are intertwined and can both improve when working together.
He cited a recent bill that passed the Wyoming Legislature that allows community colleges to provide bachelor of applied science degrees as an example of something that should help both areas, despite some concern from the University of Wyoming.
“There was a perceived struggle between our university in Laramie and the community colleges, and what this bachelor of applied science would really mean,” Gordon said.
He added the new law will allow community colleges to better serve high-schoolers with college credit courses and ideally build a workforce with versatile skills.
An audience member asked for Gordon’s perspective on UW’s role in economic development around the state going forward. Gordon said UW can play a factor in that area, but he also said other businesspeople are better able to help young entrepreneurs.
“I think universities by and large can be extraordinarily helpful in economic development by being centers of research and learning,” Gordon said. “… I worry sometimes that when you ask an academic to tell you how to run a business, that can be — it’s good to know how to do accounting … it’s good to know the different aspects of it, but we really need entrepreneurs to be helping mentor other entrepreneurs and lead a business plan and the kind of infrastructure that allows entrepreneurs to work.”
Robert Briggs, executive director of SEEDA, spoke for about 10 minutes before Gordon. He focused on job trends in Wyoming and Sheridan County over the past decade.
Briggs said one of the ways to avoid severe economic downturns in Sheridan County is having various entities work collaboratively. It also helps to have foundations ready to work with institutions and nonprofits to enhance quality of life.
“All of these are ingredients in the secret sauce,” Briggs said.
Briggs said every job is like an ocean in that they seem simple on the surface but run deep and require development and investment.
Gordon and Briggs presented an optimistic portrait of future business plans in Wyoming, but it remains to be seen how much progress will be made.