State House Candidate Responses: What are your thoughts on economic development and diversification activities?
As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for this year’s elections, in the lead-up to the primaries, we sent out unique questions for candidates in state, county, and city elections, to let you better know your candidates.
To avoid overwhelming people with information, we skipped races that were uncontested. After the primaries, challengers to the incumbent stepped forward in House districts 31 and 32. This week we’ll be posting responses from the Republican incumbents and their independent challengers.
We also reached out to the candidates in District 40, but we did not receive responses from either candidate.
Previous answers can be found here:
The general election is Nov. 6.
What are your thoughts on economic development and diversification activities? Do you think they are necessary, why or why not? Do you have a vision for Campbell County and the State of Wyoming? How would you go about getting there? How would you go about funding it? Do you think government should be involved in economic development? Is it better to keep government out of economic development, or is some level of government involvement good and/or necessary? If government isn’t involved, who should be? How does it get funded? Does government have a responsibility to help an economy diversify? (limit 750 words)
Scott Clem (Republican-District 31)
I don’t think a government program can fix economic diversification in the private sector, but I do think it can give us knowledge & guidance on how to foster a productive climate for potential growth. Two years ago the legislature passed the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) bill. The ENDOW council was intended to be separate and distinct from the Wyoming Business Council, although the lines at times seem to be blurred. ENDOW recently came out with a report regarding a 20-year diversity plan for Wyoming. The plan is ambitious, and at least give us something to aim for.
Let me address where I think ENDOW is right. The 2018 August report states, “We start from the premise that it is businesses and their actions in the marketplace that will define success, spur economic growth and create jobs. The government’s role is not to interfere with that process… We want to remove the perception that government will be responsible for achieving the plans’ objectives.” This is good. What they say here is the right approach.
On the very same page ENDOW gives three immediate actions, including creating more government by adding a “Chief Economic Diversification Officer and a Commission for Economic Diversification” and “Developing action plans for business development and innovation zones, including staffing, resources, funding and statutory changes.” This is where I feel things go wrong.
This last legislative session we had several recommendations from ENDOW. I supported three of these, the series of blockchain bills that cost $0 and removed burdensome government regulations, and the commercial airline bill that I view as aiding in infrastructure. I also supported replacing one of our k-12 core subjects (or basket of goods) with computer science to prepare kids for future jobs. All of the other ENDOW bills involved spending taxpayer money to “aid” the private sector. Sounds a lot like the Obama stimulus.
Going forward we know we have shortage of trade jobs and workforce numbers. We also have barriers in skilled labor and high healthcare costs. ENDOW can and should assist in helping to address these problems. It can do so by identifying defunct laws, burdensome regulations and niche opportunities, while advocating for business friendly changes. It can focus on our legacy industries, like agriculture and our most abundant resources, fossil fuels. It can monitor how to make a waste by-product, like CO2, into a sought after commodity. This is the key to product diversification and value added products. ENDOW can help us identify where to wisely spend research dollars at the University of Wyoming, how to help Community Colleges quickly adapt to meet workforce education needs, and identify how to assist the next big R&D project, like the Integrated Test Center.
With regard to the barrier of healthcare, Wyoming has the 2nd highest health insurance costs in the US.
These costs not only inhibit job growth and creation, it also affects the state’s budget in a huge way. There are about 70,400 state, local and school district employees in the state. The state provides funding for health insurance for about 31,000 employees. Lowering the cost of the health insurance will lower state & local government costs, as well as lower school district and private industry costs. How do we do this?
Under the affordable care act, states are allowed to apply for 1332 waiver. It allows the state to be innovative in how to handle costs in the individual market. Eight states, including Alaska, have applied for such waivers. In Alaska’s case, they were able to bring down costs by 25%. Even better, the states who have done this also see a decrease in insurance prices in the private market. It’s a win-win. More money in the private market means more money for them to spend, expand and diversify.
Going forward we have to be very careful that government’s role in “economic development” doesn’t become gov’t interference in the market place, gov’t picking winners and losers, or gov’t taxing and spending other people’s money to “boost” the private market. All of these are left-leaning, socialistic, Obama-style antics that have no place in a free-market and capitalist society.
David Hardesty (Independent-District 31)
I recently spoke with Phil Christopherson, Chief Executive Officer, Energy Capital Economic Development. Phil and I discussed long term strategies, 20 year plans, and the the building blocks of sound businesses. His team offers guidance and advice for innovative and motivated people seeking to become entrepreneurs. Entering the business arena can be discouraging when someone is trying to navigate, tax codes, building regulations, manage payrolls, securing loans, all while maintaining a passion of their dream goal. Without his team I fear people may try to Google search for help in their endeavours and I believe they would fail from being overwhelmed. Energy Capital Economic Development, has a “business incubator”, FUEL, to help new business get started. They are working with the University of Wyoming to bring ideas and discoveries from the lab to the market with Advanced Carbon Products Innovation Center, or ICE PICK. As a representative I would support economic development by supporting the visions and plans of Energy Capital Economic Development.
There are many other teams across the state similar to Energy Capital Economic development, and ENDOW initiatives, and I am ready to listen to those groups and help them however I can. It’s not about government picking winners and losers, it’s about supporting prospective entrepreneurs in their navigation of complicated systems.
Tim Hallinan (Republican-District 32)
Many questions, I have a few answers. I think that economic development is best left to the private sector. I believe that the role of government is to establish a strong infrastructure and that is the place for government funding. Infrastructure includes education of the workforce so that companies can come here and find an able supply of workers with which to staff the businesses that they are setting up.
On occasion, it is appropriate to provide funding for new business. This must be done with due caution as government is not known for careful investment that yields a profit. I believe that economic diversity happens when the private sector sees the possibility of profit. Again I see the role of government to be making investment in infrastructure that makes profit more likely to occur.
Chad Trebby (Independent-District 32)
I do believe economic development and diversification efforts are worth investing in. This has been a topic that has come up time and time again in this election and I have heard all candidates agree that we need diversification in our economic structure. What is disputed is how should diversification be approached. I believe the government does need to have a role in establishing diversification efforts and growth for our communities. Some have argued that having the government playing any role is letting the government pick winners and loser in private business. I don’t quite see it that way. I see the government’s role as creating favorable economic conditions for businesses to flourish and possibly adding incentive where necessary for the businesses who chose to take the risk of starting up here. When we look at what favorable conditions should be we have to look at things like a skilled and educated workforce, proper infrastructure, favorable tax structure, utilities, etc.
Additionally, some government involvement is necessary in economic development in the promotion growth. Private business doesn’t always have the vested interest in economic growth that a community wants to see. To illustrate this point lets look at a simple example. For years we have heard people taking about wanting more shopping opportunities in Gillette. The two big companies I hear most often talked about would be Target and Sam’s Club. I agree, either of those companies coming to Gillette would be a great addition to the community. For the purposes of further discussion lets focus on Target. Gillette is not a secret to the Target Corporation, they may even already own property here, ready to build when the time is right. Target will only come here when it makes economic sense for them to do so. I would imagine they are pretty reluctant to come here when they look at what Wal-Mart is paying employees and how difficult of a time they have maintaining staffing levels. While we all may want Target to come to Gillette, suggesting that a private business like Wal-Mart has a vested interest in developing the economic environment to support a competitive business like Target, emphasizes the point that we need a governmental entity of some kind supporting, and working towards, the needs or desires of the people.
The largest issue with economic diversification efforts is that it is a long term strategy without an immediate return on investment. People expect to put a dollar into economic development and see two dollars come back the next year, it doesn’t work quite that fast or simply. This is one of the reasons I support ENDOW. It provides a the long term vision we need to be effective in our diversification efforts, as well as shorter term action-plans that provide the flexibility we need as circumstances change. Also critical, is the fact that it incorporates education and private industries as well as funding to advance these combined efforts. If the new Governor plans to dismantle ENDOW they need to come with an improved plan and the support it needs to be implemented on the first day in office. We have to develop a long term strategy now.