(Sheridan, Wyo) The ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) Executive Council held a working meeting today at the Mars Agriculture Center at Sheridan College. The council has been holding its monthly meetings in different communities and touring local businesses and developments along the way. They are preparing a report to be delivered to the legislature at the end of the month.
Gregory P. Hill, chair of the council introduced a panel discussion featuring Shawn Parker from Sheridan Travel and Tourism, Dixie Johnson from the Chamber of Commerce, Steve Maier, Chair of the Sheridan County Commission, Norleen Healy, Chair of the Northern Wyoming Community College District Board of Trustees, and Ron Kensey, Board Member of the Wyoming Business Council and owner of Kennon Products Inc.
Parker said that he focuses on the three pillars of local tourism: history and culture, lifestyle and heritage, and outdoor recreation. Johnson highlighted workforce retention and affordable housing as areas that need work, but praised Sheridan’s highly educated workforce, business opportunities such as the incubator and startup challenge, and strong philanthropic mindset.
Healy said the college has spent ten years focusing on building partnerships with economic developers, and over that decade seen 50% growth and job placement of 100%. She added that they are working with UW to keep students in Wyoming and help them move through school faster. Kensey explained that his company works closely with the college, often employing interns. “I’ve made one million dollars in mistakes.” He became a SCORE mentor in order, “…to make use of my experience to give my million dollars worth of advice.”
Maier explained that the county commissioner’s budget hasn’t changed since 2006. He said that managing growth drives all of their planning and land use development. He identified “Sheridan values” as open space, views, clean water and air, the downtown district, the distinct outlying communities, and agriculture. He stressed to the council the importance of diversifying Wyoming’s tax base. “Relying on minerals causes uncertainty, problems, and stress. Having some regularity with taxes is something the legislature needs to address,” he urged.
The council was particularly interested in the Denver Air Service. Three of the panel members sit on the Critical Air Service Team board. They described how they borrowed the model from Park County: a non-profit managing a charter airline. They were proud that they haven’t cancelled a flight in 16 months and have reliable, consistent service. Maier remarked, ” I flew with Great Lakes and it took me three days to get back from Denver.” Johnson said that it was the, “…way of the future for all rural communities. Air service is going to need to be subsidized.”
Gregory listed some threads that he has seen in every community on their tour: the importance of post secondary education, entrepreneurship, community pride, and amenities, “If you step back in time 10-15 years (in most Wyoming communities) it doesn’t take long to realize that there has been extraordinary progress. A lot of that has come because we’ve had ample resources from minerals.”
At the end of the panel discussion, the floor was opened to members of the audience.
Peter Clark, mayor of Ranchester, said, “Don’t forget the smaller communities. You can’t eat the scenery.” He described the difficulties his town had installing the natural gas infrastructure that should be online in a year and a half. The mayor of Dayton, Norm Anderson added “We’ve only been working on it for 8 years.” Clark worries that, “Natural resources are not getting to the people who live here.”
Clearmont Mayor Chris Schock can see his town as a bedroom community for Sheridan, but they need affordable housing for young families.
Richard Garber thinks that Sheridan could have an airline flight training school. “Runway 33 is the most important highway in Sheridan.”
Butch Jellis described how he partnered with Neltje to buy the Wrench Ranch. He believes that travelers will see the new interchange and want to come to Sheridan. “Don’t you think Northern Wyoming will be the most beautiful entrance?” he asked the council.