Future of business Mead opens Wyoming Business Forum with accomplishments, future challenges
Cheyenne – The 36th Annual Wyoming Governor’s Business Forum welcomed over 600 attendees to Little America in Cheyenne for two days of networking and information sharing, starting with an address by Gov. Matt Mead, who reflected on his last eight years as governor.
“Compared to where we were eight years ago, we have smaller government, fewer positions in state government and fewer rules and regulations,” Mead stated, noting about 700 fewer personnel are employed by the state and regulations have been reduced by approximately 30 percent across each agency. “The rainy day fund has also grown about $900 million to between $1.8 and $1.9 billion.”
In addition, Mead touted improvements in the private sector, infrastructure and in broadband.
“When I came into office, some of our schools had internet that was the equivalent of a slow telegraph, and now, Education Superhighway recognizes us as one of the best in terms of both speed and capacity in our schools,” Mead said, further noting that 10 gigabyte service has been announced in communities across Wyoming. “Those in broadband have put not hundreds but thousands of miles of fiber in the state.”
He added, “We recognize the advantages broadband provides, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Local governments have also built infrastructure, and the state has the best school buildings in the country, said Mead.
Mead continued that Wyoming’s seven community colleges are “critical to provide the workforce to young adults and for those who have changed careers,” and he sees the University of Wyoming (UW) as a leader in research.
“The High Bay facility is doing research that no one else in the world is doing. We couldn’t be prouder of UW and what they have accomplished,” Mead said. “UW has been, are and will continue to be critical into the future.”
Wyoming’s top three industries – minerals, tourism and agriculture – continue to be strongly supported.
“Wyoming is a leader in mineral production – trona, uranium, bentonite and of course oil and gas,” Mead said. “We are now in the process of building the nation’s largest wind farm, which means a great deal not only for revenue but in terms of jobs.”
The state has pursued two energy strategies under Mead’s leadership, which proactively plan energy processes.
“We in Wyoming have continued to find the balance between energy development and our environment. We understand that, long-term, we can’t have energy development if we don’t take care of Wyoming. We understand the value of clean air, clean water and wildlife,” he noted.
“I think Wyoming should be a leader not just in production but a leader in innovation,” Mead continued, citing the work of the Integrated Test Center and a competition that seeks to find the best way to use CO2 as an asset for the state. “That could be a game changer to coal, which is important to the state.”
In the tourism sector, Wyoming has worked to draw visitors to the state through a variety of innovative competitions and events.
“The Cowboy Tough Adventure Race has turned into an international competition that highlights recreation,” Mead said. “We started the Governor’s Cup, and we had 27 of the 50 best shooters in the world in Cheyenne, including Olympians.”
“We have seen tourism increase in amazing ways. Visitor spending has increased by 36 percent in the last eight years, and direct and indirect taxes have increased by 72 percent,” he described, noting the Great American Eclipse only added to the benefits from tourism.
Mead continued, “Of course, agriculture, which is near and dear to my heart, has been and always will be, important to the state. It provides so much to both tourism and energy.”
Mead emphasized the importance of the Wyoming State Fair, noting the agriculture industry must remain strong.
As he has focused on issues like the Endangered Species Act through his Chairman’s Initiative with the Western Governors’ Association, Mead said he has seen progress in a variety of ways, including when the sage grouse was not listed.
Mead also focused on water, implementing a water strategy to protect one of the state’s most valuable resources.
“Without water, we can’t do anything. We need to make sure we always protect and utilize our water in the best way possible,” he said. “Our water strategy helps every citizen, every industry and every community in a big way.”
“We can’t have a bucking horse on our license plate and not take care of ag,” he joked. “If that’s not a rule, it should be.”
Looking to Governor-elect Mark Gordon, Mead commented, “I didn’t leave your time as governor fruitless. I left you challenges.”
With budgets, healthcare and education all facing serious trials, Mead laid out a series of concerns he sees in the future.
“It’s not that these aren’t issues we haven’t worked on or previous governors haven’t worked on. They are just challenging issues,” he said.
Education is surrounded by a myriad of questions, including topics such as teacher salaries and what future funding looks like.
“As we have debates about education, I think it’s a fair debate to have,” Mead explained. “We must never lose the fact the education is critical. This is a problem Wyoming needs to solve because there is no great future if we don’t have great education.”
The challenges surrounding healthcare are also abundant, since Wyoming has the highest healthcare costs in the country.
“If we want to expand the economy, we need to address healthcare. It doesn’t have to be in the Washington way, but in a Wyoming way that recognizes we have holes in healthcare,” Mead said. “The state needs to have an informed discussion and a real debate on healthcare.”
“If we believe in Wyoming and want to encourage companies to stay and come, we need to invest in ourselves,” Mead commented. “As we reflect on where we have been and chart a new course, I have been motived by our businessmen and women, our heroes, our homeless, our military and my family. I’m motivated by all types of citizens.”
He continued, “If it is true – and I believe it is so – that the world needs more cowboys, this is the time, this is the place, and we are the people to provide our country and our world with more cowboys. Let’s saddle up, Wyoming, and keep moving Wyoming forward.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.