Wyoming Business Council
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It's easy and secure, thank you. - Josh Dorrell is the Chief Executive Officer of the Wyoming Business Council. A position that he's held for just over a year. We'll explore the history, the current role and the vision of the state's Economic Development Agency and ask what are the challenges ahead for Wyoming as it competes in a post-COVID, less carbon dependent world, and what are the bright spots? The Wyoming Business Council, next on Wyoming Chronicle. (lively music) - [Narrator] This program was funded in part by a grant from Newman's Own Foundation, working to nourish the common good by donating all profits from Newman's Own food and beverage products to charitable organizations that seek to make the world a better place. More information is available at newmansownfoundation.org.
Funding for this program is made possible in part by the Wyoming Humanities Council, helping Wyoming take a closer look at life through the humanities. Thinkwhy.org and by the members of the WyomingPBS Foundation. Thank you for your support.
- Welcome, we're very excited about what Wyoming has to offer foreign investors and businesses. We have a lot going on and a lot of great opportunities and potential. Wyoming was founded on opportunity and potential prior to, and since becoming the 44th US State in 1890. Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote, in 1870, Wyoming's Louisa Swain became the first woman in the world to cast an electoral ballot.
We were also the first state to have a woman governor. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the world. And in 1906 Devil's Tower in Northeastern Wyoming was designated the first national monument. In 1891, The Shoshone National Forest became the first national forest in the US, and way back in 1834, the first business, West of the mighty Missouri River was established in Wyoming. It was a trading post to serve the fur trader industry.
Today, that same can-do American West spirit is driving efforts to grow and diversify Wyoming's economy by adding value to the state's core energy, tourism and agriculture industries, as well as activating new economic sectors in healthcare, financial, scientific and professional services, digital and technology, arts and culture and advanced manufacturing. But don't just take it from me, take it from people doing business in Wyoming. - We really looked at a lot of different States that we could potentially move to out West, and Wyoming stood out for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is they made it very attractive for us. I mean, ultimately we're a business, and we need to be able to continue to function.
- Wyoming in general is really business friendly, 5% sales tax really isn't that much compared to everywhere else. We don't have to worry about state income tax, state business tax. - We both moved here about 20 years ago and we really found that Wyoming is a place where we wanna do business. - Wyoming came very, very quick to the table. - They've made it a much easier transition than it really could have been.
So we're really thankful for the efforts that have been here, represented from a lot of people in Wyoming. - For me, the business side of it allows me to make a living because there's not a lot of that tied up regulation. - The whole approach by the state was very positive.
We were given opportunities to choose where in the state we wanna be and how big or how small we wanted to go, et cetera, et cetera. So we felt at home right from the word go. - Wyomingites share a lot of things.
We have a lot of commonalities. And so, you know, underlying everything is this sort of layer of authenticity. - Love being here, people are very friendly, step up if you have a need for something, people will step up and help. - We need workers and we need a corridor that allows us to get to the ocean, and we have it here in Wyoming, it's perfect. - I'll have to travel to big cities several times a year to sell my items and whatnot.
I can stand it about a week and then I'm ready to come home and you know, not have to deal with traffic. (lively music) - And as we continue our discussion of the Wyoming Business Council, we're pleased to be joined by Josh Dorrell. Josh you're the Chief Executive Officer of the Wyoming Business Council, a position you've held for just a little over a year. - Yeah, thanks Craig.
- Welcome. - Thank you, thank you, glad to be here. - Even though you're relatively new to the Business Council, it's been around in Wyoming for awhile. Give us a little bit of its history before we dive into what you've been up to.
- You bet, yeah, well, the Business Council's been around since 1998 and really its focus from that time is to really work on developing a diverse economy and make our economy as resilient as possible so that communities can thrive and we can create opportunities for Wyomingites. - The governor said that, in his state of the state address, that you've been busy with a reformatted Wyoming Business Council, what does that mean? And certainly your role has been much different in the COVID world than you could have possibly anticipated? - Yeah, for sure. And I can't speak for the governor but what I can say is that really over the last few years what we've really tried to do is focus in as much as possible on a new state economic development strategy that was developed in 2019. That strategy is pretty simple in a lot of ways, but it's very impactful, I think, because it's all about taking our core industries and leveraging those to activate new economic sectors.
And so for us, the focus has really been on alignment with all of the other entities in the state and the communities in the state that are working hard to develop our economy. You know, COVID definitely exacerbated the problem but even as early as 2019, you know, some of the signs were there. There were some really big challenges in some of our big markets, as well as some bankruptcies and things that were coming down the pike.
- The core industries that I think you're referring to are oil, gas, coal mining, construction industries. - Natural resources. - And tourism, those are the base core industries that you really spend a lot of your time with I'll bet? - That's right, yeah, those three, natural resources, tourism and agriculture have been and will continue to be, you know, a real impact in our economy, and such a driver for the communities across the state. - Certainly the role is economic development, but you ended up playing a crucial role in, I guess, economic maintenance during COVID.
- Yeah. - But Business Council became pretty much the intermediary, I guess if you will, of federal money that went out to Wyoming businesses. How did that process work for you? - That was a big challenge. And those relief programs were so important to the businesses in the state. And, you know, we like to think of it as businesses go, our communities go and to provide that stability.
And so for us to play a role in getting nearly 1/2 a billion dollars out into the communities in our state was a great honor. It was something that was a challenge but it was something that really in a lot of ways accelerated the Business Council's relationship with those communities, with those entities. - And it forced that relationship, if you will? - Absolutely, in such a good way and you know, we look at it as now we have developed not only internally, some processes that are gonna help us, but they've also developed a lot of relationships that are going to be important as we face these challenges coming ahead. - Josh, before we turn away from COVID, one thing I wanna ask you about is there has been some concern placed on some of the monies that went out to Wyoming businesses, some desperately needed, but others perhaps abused. What are your thoughts and then how is that process working to make sure that the money that was meant to go out, went out to the right places? - Yeah, you know, we worked hard initially to make sure that we were vetting and going through multi checks to make sure that the businesses were eligible and also legitimate.
And of course, you're going to have a very small portion that maybe either don't need it or possibly abuse it. And one of the things that we did is put an audit process in place and worked with a third-party auditor to really look at the entire program, work with them to audit maybe some that were potentially fraudulent, as well as a random sample of all of them, so that we could ensure integrity in that process. And we wanted to do that not only for our own, you know, to be good stewards of the money, but also as we look into the future, the federal government will be asking the same questions and we wanted to be able to make sure that we did a great job of that.
And that audit process, it did find some cases where folks maybe had took money that maybe they shouldn't have, and many returned it, no problems. Other folks have have had their own reasoning behind it, and, you know, we just wanted to be good stewards of that money and do that audit process. - What's your assessment, if you will, on how COVID is impacting Wyoming's economy today as we're kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? - I think there's just as much good as there are negatives. And what I mean by that is businesses had a really challenging time last year.
And those businesses were able to, you know, maybe have some relief to get them by, but they also tightened things up. They also went out and found some resources to make them better moving into the future. And so, I hope, and there will be businesses that fail, they do every year. - And likely have been already. - And yes, absolutely.
But I look at it as I do believe that it will make those businesses stronger in the future and allow them, because maybe they've gone more online or maybe they went and found new markets or they tightened up their supply chain or found new ways to operate. We're hopeful and we've heard good stories of people really taking this as an opportunity to improve and and set themselves up for success. - I think you're aware that the Department of Administration and Information released its fourth 1/4 economic assessment in the state of Wyoming. There are two pieces of that that I'd like to get your input on and your thoughts about. One is that Wyoming's employment has decreased 6.1%
or about 17,700 jobs compared to one year earlier. Some of that and a substantial amount of that in the energy sector, but not all. What's your reflection about that today? - Well, if you look at those big industries for us and energy is definitely one of them, those were hard hit. I also do think that, you know, tourism had had a pretty good year but employment numbers might have changed and they might have done more with less, right? We look at those as those jobs as how do we create those opportunities for the communities, because we know that as people lose their jobs in a community, it sends ripples. And so that's a challenge that we're trying to face, right? And trying to bring in new companies or help existing companies expand to bring those, you know, to get that employment back up.
- And as, I guess, as we filter through our discussion today that's the main question is in Wyoming's transition economy. We'll talk about that here in a little more in just a minute. Can we recover those jobs in your view? - Well, in my view we can, because that's my job every day is to create those opportunities. And we do want to be able to replace those jobs with good paying jobs, things that people are used to and can thrive in. You know, the word transition is an interesting one because I think of it, you know, maybe less of a transition and more of an additive. Like what are we going to move into that we can add to our economy so that as other industries go up and down, that those can be additive into the future? And so, you know, you're seeing examples of people, you know, building resilience by diversifying.
So there are some communities around the state that were heavily involved in one industry, which is a challenge for any business or community because then you're dependent upon the ups and downs of that industry. And those that have really sort of said, "Hey, we're gonna move into another area", now they've got a base, an economic base of stability. That's going to say, let's say energy in a certain sector comes back up. Now they've got an "And" situation, not an "Or" situation.
- One other component of that report that I found interesting is Wyoming's total personal income from year to year grew 0.4%? Well, our nation's grew 4% during that same period of time. That has to be concerning to you? - It is concerning, you know, we want to be business-friendly and we wanna be friendly to bring new people in and also create those opportunities for folks who are here. And so we do want to make sure that we're finding ways for people to continue to grow in their income, and be able to do more things in their communities. - Related to COVID is here comes the American Rescue Plan, with moving vans full of money. Maybe aircraft carriers full of money if they could get here.
But a lot, 1.3 billion bucks maybe coming to Wyoming, what's the vision for that money in your eyes? - From my perspective, I would like to have all of it for economic development, right? That's my job and the thing that I focus on the most, however, I realize that there are other services, other needs across the state. The way we are looking at it is... - We, as in the Wyoming Business Council. - The Wyoming Business Council, yeah, thank you. The way the Wyoming Business Council is looking at it is over the last year, developing the relationships, understanding what businesses are are challenged with, gives us a unique opportunity to look at relief, of course, but also how do we look at stimulating the economy moving forward? So one of the things that I'm really happy about and we don't have treasury guidelines yet, but one of the things that we're hearing is that this can be utilized for other programs that might stimulate the economy rather than just refill the coffers that maybe were damaged during COVID, right? - They're more visionary.
- Visionary, and really maybe can make a difference five, 10, 20 years down the road. And so we're looking at both, how do we make it through today, but then also really looking at how do we put programs and use this money to catalyze growth into the future? - Josh our viewers just saw in the roll in before we started to speak, that Wyoming's tax climate is awesome. That it's the best, you know, we're first here, we're second there, we're first here. - [Josh] Yeah. - But some legislators have said to me over the last few years, and more than 1/2 dozen, somewhat sarcastically, but we do have no state income tax. We do have a low property tax rate, how's that working for us? - [Josh] Yeah.
- Well then why isn't everybody here, is kind of the indirect thought there. - So that's a really good question. And what I would say is that recruiting and expansion are a little bit more complex than one factor, right? And taxes are important. And really what it does is it says the bottom line for an organization is something that's important. And first of all, the taxes are sort of outside of, I don't get to set them, I don't get to...
- It's the Legislature's job. - That's right. And what I do though, is we look at the companies that are coming in and it's something that might bring them to the table. And it's something that they factor in, but it's only piece of the entire puzzle. And so I look at it as we want to be able to, and as businesses want to know certainty.
Well, gosh, there's not a whole lot of certainty and tax certainty in any state, I think is actually a challenge. So the certainty in Wyoming is that it's low right now, and that it's likely gonna be low in the future compared to other States. But again, we look at these opportunities when a company comes to us is what do they really care about in the big picture. Taxes are one, workforce is another, housing, right? You know, these are all factors that are important and they also look at lifestyle.
And so one of the things that we do have is quite a bit different lifestyle. The regulatory environment that we have is very business friendly and an easily accessible. And it's not a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. - Anecdotally, we've all heard in the world of COVID that you know what, people are now looking at Wyoming.
Is that more than anecdotal thoughts? - It is more than anecdotal. In fact, we were the number one state for influx of people, for lifestyle reasons. And that's data for moving companies.
So it's not, you know, it's somewhat anecdotal, right? But it's more structured than that. And so we are seeing that, and I like to think about it as that's not necessarily putting an undue burden on our system, that's bringing people into the state that can make a positive difference. And really creating that, you know, tension if you will, in the system and really changing the game so that we can make different decisions in the future. - So the story I've talked with about the governor, with Governor Mead and Governor Gordon, and with others, is the pickup that was driving in front of me or past me in between Douglas and Wright, beautiful F-150 pickup with a big sign in the back with a buck and horse with the circle and a line through it that said "No vacancy." And so what I'm asking is and what I think is important there are people that don't want folks to come here, and there are people that believe that Wyoming should grow. How do you manage that tension? - Well, and that's one of the things that, you know, it's really in our purpose is to create new opportunities in which in most cases means some level of growth.
I think it's hard to say we're gonna stay steady and that's the goal. So from our perspective, it really is about finding those opportunities. And there are some communities that have rallied around that and, you know, talking a little bit more about specific, how do we help communities that wanna grow, grow? - And you talk about a community-based recruiting approach? And let's go there right now, what really does that mean? Because Jackson's might be different than Cheyenne's might be different from Camera's as to their community? Is that right? - That is 100% correct.
And in the Wyoming Business Council's view we wanna be able to provide tools for each of those different communities because they all vary. So there are different communities with different goals. We have communities that wanna grow quickly in a certain area, and they have a lot of energy and focus on that, we wanna be able to support that. But we also know that there are some communities who are saying, "We're not sure what we are yet, but we wanna plan for the future, we wanna develop that." And so we look at it as communities say, "We know what we wanna be when we grow up, or we're figuring that out", we wanna support them. The idea of the state coming in and saying, "You will be this type of a community", is just not gonna work, right? The folks on the ground have to buy into it.
Economic development is such a long-term game that it can't be, it has to have that level of community support. So we wanna provide, you know, tools for planning, we wanna provide tools for the infrastructure required. - And there's been a lot of effort for infrastructure in Wyoming over the last decade or so? - There has and the Business Ready Communities program or BRC as it's known in the state has been very, very successful at helping develop that infrastructure that communities can use to attract businesses, to help businesses expand, retain businesses, and that has been a great program. Now, the exciting part about that is as we continue, as certain communities continue to grow, their needs can change, right? So maybe now they don't need the business park, they may need services, training, industries might need, "Hey, I wanna gobble up more of this value chain, how do I do that?" Well, we're looking at our programs to say how do we help fund that expansion? And it not be, you know, business parks or sidewalks or sewer or something like that, right? - When you recruit businesses or when you're involved in that process or assisting communities in recruiting businesses, the term thriving community comes up often.
What does that mean to people that are looking to come to Wyoming? - Well, I think it comes down to economic stability. You know, if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who's either an individual looking to move here, or a business looking to move here, or even somebody to expand, it has to do with economic stability. So if I'm afraid of what's gonna happen in the future and the risk is higher, I'm less likely to make those moves or I'm more likely to look for other places where there's less risk.
And so I think that the idea of thriving comes back to the ability to have options, and that comes with economic stability. Let me give you a quick example, as someone who's recruited software developers from, you know, outside of the state and inside of the state, one of the challenges in small communities is the idea that this is my one job. And if this job doesn't work out, I'm gonna move my family into a town and maybe not have other options.
And so I believe that thriving comes when you have a critical mass of companies or an economic base that gives people security. If this job doesn't work out, I know I can go and stay in this wonderful town into another career. - Josh, the worry to me about that discussion is that that bodes well for maybe Casper and Cheyenne or larger communities, it doesn't bode well for smaller communities to have that, I guess, resiliency or flexibility for folks. - Yeah, and, you know, it may just be different for different size of communities. One of the things that we're hearing in small communities is that a big component of resilience for them is ownership transition. As businesses, you know, let's say a business is in your town for a number of years in auto mechanic or something like that.
They're in your town for a number of years, well, as that proprietor approaches retirement, that could be devastating to a town because if someone's not there to buy that, or if someone's not there to be able to transition into that and keep that business going, it goes away. And so while in a town like Cheyenne or Casper, that gap might be filled, whereas in a smaller community that gap may never be filled. And so we're looking at ways to help with the transition of those businesses and really look at how do we help young people step into those roles and take over a business that will keep that town vibrant. - Thriving community may also to me mean ancillary things in the community, rec trails, restaurants, a music scene, an art scene. Is that also important to folks that are looking to move to Wyoming? - It is important, it is important.
And one of the, maybe it's a chicken and egg discussion that happens in the amount of development. And as I'm learning about this, you start to see it happen. Sometimes it depends on the evolution of a community, right? In some communities they've gotten to a spot where those kinds of things actually are a good economic development driver. So a trail system, the restaurant scene, because they've reached a level of critical mass. And in others, it might be those primary businesses.
And as the Business Council, we look at that and we try to find those primary businesses that we can help expand, retain, and bring in, so that that scene can happen. So it's almost like here's the seed crystal, and then let that reaction occur, is the ultimate goal. Now, in some cases, you need to invest in those amenities - Lots to look forward to.
- Absolutely. - Through your eyes, Josh. And I think that some in Wyoming are very hopeful and others are somewhat reserved in their hope, but I think the work that Wyoming Economic Development Agency does, will certainly drive this data into it's future.
So we really appreciate your time today with us on Wyoming Chronicle. - Yeah, my pleasure Craig, thank you. (lively music) - [Narrator] This program was funded in part by a grant for Newman's Own Foundation, working to Nourish the common good by donating all profits from Newman's Own Food and Beverage products to charitable organizations that seek to make the world a better place. More information is available at newmansownfoundation.org. Funding for this program is made possible in part by the Wyoming Humanities Council, helping Wyoming take a closer look at life through the humanities, thinkwhy.org,
And by the members of the WyomingPBS foundation, thank you for your support.