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Office of Economic Transformation director: Campbell County must be proactive to protect economy

While there's a lot of uncertainty regarding Campbell County's economy, there's still time to diversify and prepare, Office of Economic Transformation Director Rusty Bell said at a recent forum.

Office of Economic Transformation Director Rusty Bell addresses those who attended the Feb. 16 forum. (Mary Stroka/County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — While there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding Campbell County’s economy, there’s still time to diversify and prepare, Office of Economic Transformation Director Rusty Bell said at a recent forum.

The key is to be proactive, Bell said at the forum, which took place Feb. 16 at Gillette College.

He said being proactive involves promoting diversification of the use of coal and the businesses that call Campbell County home.

Coal can still be a resource, regardless of the end product, keeping the mining sector and related industries alive. While the market and policymakers are shifting away from coal as a power source, there’s still

“Even if you’re mining that coal at a lower amount, then you still have that sector,” Bell said. “We mine and we reclaim better than anywhere in the world.”

Bell said that none of the many miners he’s spoken with said they have a stance on how the coal they extract ends up getting used.

The area’s existing infrastructure and assets will also be helpful, he said. Those resources include the interstate, rail, commercial air service and Gillette College.

Campbell County businesses can help each other by buying from other businesses in the county, he said. Bell said he’s heard time and time again that there’s no housing in Campbell County, and that’s something the office will be working on too.

Campbell County Transformation and Implementation Plan

The office will use federal funding to pay for services for a Campbell County Transformation and Implementation Plan for the sustainability of the Office of Economic Transformation. Proposals are due at 4 p.m. March 10. By April 17, the office will select a final project that will help guide governments, educational institutions and development organizations to prepare for the economic transformation, based on the service provider’s review of past and existing diversification efforts for northeast Wyoming, which include the following:

  • Campbell County Comprehensive plan (2013)
  • Campbell County Higher Education Market Study (2017)
  • Carbon Valley, Wyoming ScaleUp Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (2020)
  • City of Gillette Citizen’s Survey (Annual)
  • Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) (2018)
  • Energy Capital Economic Development (ECED) Strategic Plan
  • Higher Education market Analysis Healthcare Occupations (2020)
  • Northeast Wyoming Economic Development Coalition (Economic
    Development District)
  • Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS)
  • State of Wyoming Economic Development Strategy (2019)
  • Vison 2020 and 2040
  • Wright Community Review (2018)

The project will take nine months, the Feb. 9 request for proposals said.

How local citizens can help

Local officials said there are plenty of things that local citizens can do to bolster the economy.

Bell said that shopping local is essential.

“When your city council or your county commission makes investment in infrastructure, you support that effort, because it makes it easier to build a house, it makes it easier to have an industry or another commercial entity either expand or come in,” he said.

He said it’s also a great idea to get engaged in community decisions, ask officials about their ideas and support remedies to challenges.

Gordon said residents should get involved and stay positive.

“Wyoming has tremendous opportunities,” he said.

He said Wyoming’s economy is at a record level of diversification. Industries in the state include tourism, financial services and manufacturing.

Gillette City Council Member Tricia Simonson said residents should be in contact with their legislators and elected officials and remain aware of what’s going on locally and at the state level.

Campbell County Office of the County Commissioners Executive Director Denton Knapp said residents should get involved in the Vision 2040 planning.

About 50 people attended the town hall.