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ARCHIVED  March 1, 1996

Wyoming governor urges diversification

Gov. Jim Geringer is urging Wyoming legislators to develop policies that encourage continued diversification and quality growth in the state’s economy and reflect “faith in the future.”
The governor opened the Legislature’s 20-day Budget Session Feb. 19 with a generally positive report on Wyoming’s economy, but with a challenge to improve in key areas such as commercializing research and providing help in financing new ventures through new economic-development initiatives.
“Our economy is growing in Wyoming,” he said in his annual State of the State message. “It’s growing more slowly than our surrounding states, but I don’t consider that to be a negative result.”
Geringer noted in his town meetings last fall that Wyoming citizens consistently expressed a desire for economic growth, but not more people, “so we’ll keep our emphasis on quality growth, not just any growth.”
Growth in Wyoming’s economy is reflected in a rise in bank deposits and loans, growth in personal income, and a drop in the unemployment rate from 5.8 percent last January to a current 4.3 percent. The state had 294,000 jobs last year, up 9 percent from 1990, the state’s centennial year, and up 5 percent from 1985, the last of the energy boom years.
“Overall, our economy is strong, but the foundation is changing, and that’s good,” he said. “We need to become more diversified.”
Energy, tourism and agriculture still dominate Wyoming’s economy, but the bulk of jobs are provided by the rapidly growing services sector (24 percent), government (21 percent) and retail trade (18 percent). Energy and agriculture each account for only 6 percent of the jobs, he noted.
Geringer expressed alarm at Wyoming’s low percentage of college graduates, a reflection that two-thirds of new college graduates leave the state to find jobs. But equally alarming to the “brain drain” is the fact that Wyoming ranks “dead last” in commercialization of research and small-business innovation financing, he said.
Two of Geringer’s economic-development initiatives would address those problems.
The governor touted the state’s Science, Technology and Energy Authority as a means of commercializing research and making better use of the state’s natural resources. He has recommended $2.5 million in one-time funds for STEA this coming biennium, and he urged support from legislators, who sometimes have questioned the authority’s effectiveness.
Geringer said STEA could be especially effective in developing value-added products from the state’s abundant natural resources and in promoting growth of small businesses, which have provided more than 50 percent of new jobs recently.
The governor also is seeking to resurrect state economic-development funding by involving local governments or development groups.
The vehicle is called the “Community Challenge Loan Program,” and it would make $4 million in state money available to local communities on a one-to-one match to aid private business ventures.
“Local economic-development investment pools can be successful,” Geringer said, adding that local business people know their own needs and know their neighbors and can guide and monitor new or expanding businesses.Tort reform measure dies
Almost 200 bills and resolutions were introduced in the Wyoming Legislature’s Budget Session, including a number of issues affecting business, but one of the biggest issues for business failed to muster the two-thirds margin needed for introduction of nonbudget bills.
A tort reform measure with heavy business backing died on a 36-to-24 vote, four votes short of the needed margin. It proposed a state constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in civil lawsuits.
The proposed amendment was pushed by a coalition of 23 business, industrial, agricultural and health groups with almost 30,000 Wyoming members that have been working for tort reform.
Tom Jones of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Wyoming said a recent survey of the federation’s more than 3,000 Wyoming members showed 98 percent support for tort reform. It also revealed that more than 40 percent of the businesses either had been sued or threatened with a lawsuit.
“To me, that’s an indication of a tort system that’s just out of control,” Jones said.”

Gov. Jim Geringer is urging Wyoming legislators to develop policies that encourage continued diversification and quality growth in the state’s economy and reflect “faith in the future.”
The governor opened the Legislature’s 20-day Budget Session Feb. 19 with a generally positive report on Wyoming’s economy, but with a challenge to improve in key areas such as commercializing research and providing help in financing new ventures through new economic-development initiatives.
“Our economy is growing in Wyoming,” he said in his annual State of the State message. “It’s growing more slowly than our surrounding states, but I don’t consider that to be…

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