From investing in air service to laying down fiber-optic cable, candidates who, if elected, would sit on the State Loan and Investment Board said smaller communities could diversify and economically expand with some help.
SLIB is made up of Wyoming’s top five elected officials: the governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor and superintendent of public instruction.
Sixteen incumbents and challengers from the Republican, Democratic and Constitution parties are running for one of the top five offices.
SLIB can approve a variety of grants and loans that can help Wyoming communities through programs administered by Wyoming Business Council staff members.
The WBC provides assistance that ranges from funding grants to help communities and their economic development organizations create a plan to attract businesses in the first place, to financing publicly owned infrastructure to serve the needs of business or attract companies.
It also has a program to help communities preserve old schoolhouses and government facilities to become community centers, said Ron Gullberg, spokesman for the business council.
Examples of funding include public infrastructure such as water, sewer, streets and roads; airports; rights of way; telecommunications; land; spec buildings; amenities in a business park, industrial park, industrial site or business district; landscaping; recreation and educational facilities; and other physical projects in support of primary economic and educational development, he said.
But the money isn’t magically endowed on a community. Communities and their economic development associations must approach business council staff members, work on applications for projects and apply for the money before the entire business council.
The business council can recommend grants and loans to cities, towns, counties, joint powers boards and tribes but not directly to companies, Gullberg said.
Business council recommendations are forwarded to SLIB, but SLIB doesn’t always rubber-stamp them. At the last SLIB meeting, for instance, it rejected the business council’s recommendation for partial funding for a project in Afton, instead funding it in full.
Candidates in competitive races shared their views on how they could and couldn’t help smaller communities achieve economic expansion and diversity.
Jennifer Young, Constitution Party candidate for secretary of state, and Sheryl Lain, Republican state superintendent candidate, said they would forward answers to the Star-Tribune but did not.
Gubernatorial candidate Cindy Hill recommended that people read her "Red Book 2" document on her website to understand her ideas.
Gov. Matt Mead, seeking re-election as a Republican: Mead’s spokesman, Renny MacKay, said there has been expansion and diversification under the governor’s leadership and Mead will continue to support that.
The technology sector is expanding, “for example, Ptolemy in Sheridan, UL in Laramie, Silver Star in Afton, Eleutian in Cody, Square 1 in Jackson and Mountain West Technology Networks in Casper,” MacKay said in an email. “There has been growth in manufacturing in Gillette, Laramie, Sheridan, Riverton, Cody, Powell, Evanston, Cheyenne and other communities. Examples include High Country Fabrication in Gillette, HiViz in Laramie, VacuTech in Sheridan, Legacy Molding in Riverton, and North Star in Evanston.
"All of these have meant more jobs and more opportunities in new sectors and growing sectors for people across Wyoming.”
Taylor Haynes, Republican, governor: “I think working on modern infrastructure, not just road and bridges but complete infrastructure, so a city and town can attract the industries. A key is information technology or fiber. I think we should run fiber through all of our cities and towns, and then the opportunity for various companies to connect would be there.”
Pete Gosar, Democrat, governor: “I think SLIB could help with infrastructure. I think some of these small communities have real infrastructure needs. Maybe they can take a look at finding a way to get those local business that are already producing goods and services, give them some opportunity to promote or market their product on a regional or national level (through the University of Wyoming Market Research Center).
Small businesses are the real job creators in Wyoming and in the United States. So we should support that wherever we can with the SLIB board, business council, Market Research (Center) and all those things that can help small businesses be successful.”
Ed Buchanan, Republican, secretary of state: "I think each geographic area seeks to attract certain businesses based on their unique niche in the marketplace. For Goshen County, we have an agricultural-based economy and seek to utilize our resources based on the raw products available for our area.
We have promoted the use of things like grain and straw to promote the construction and expansion of an ethanol plant, as well as a company that produced a lumber-like material out of straw and plastic. ... As secretary of state, I would strive to become educated regarding a rural community's niche products and market strengths so that I could fairly and objectively evaluate their funding requests."
Pete Illoway, Republican, secretary of state: "If I were secretary of state, I'd like to see us to be able to see these outlying counties. (For instance) Big Horn, if they're asking for a certain amount of money and they have a hard time spending the money to come down to Cheyenne, is to do closed-circuit (television) or Skype."
Ed Murray, Republican, secretary of state: "Let me point out my 11,000 miles I've spent so far has been about a listening campaign to understand and respond to the local towns and communities and their needs. ... It doesn't matter where we are in the state -- it can be north, south, east or west -- there's a strong concern in our smaller communities that they're being ignored by the state in their needs for funding and the predictability of funding.
So as a member of the SLIB, I will be a strong voice and advocate for investment in our local communities that will help or improve infrastructure development, workforce development and quality of life, all of which are the building blocks for economic growth and diversification and business."
Clark Stith, Republican, secretary of state: "In general, I think it’s the proper role of government to make investments where the market would not otherwise adequately invest (such as old main streets.) ... There's an appropriate role for the State Loan and Investment Board to play for investing in infrastructure projects that benefit cities and towns.
So I strongly support those types of projects that are designed to make communities business-ready, but what I'm against is corporate welfare. I'm against picking winners and losers. You don't pass an old friend to make a new one."
Mark Gordon, Republican incumbent, treasurer: “From the point of view of the SLIB, what we do is lots of infrastructure projects and so on to help them, and I think we’ll continue doing that.
You know, the business council has a number of programs that they try to foster economic development in small communities, but you know, what’s really going to make a difference there is helping entrepreneurs get started. ... A lot of it is just trying to foster good entrepreneurs to try to provide them with good tools and support (such as teaching small business owners how to write business plans).
One of the biggest issues we have in Wyoming for economic development, which is going to be a big challenge, is good air service. That’s one area where the state may have to spend a little more effort on.”
Ron Redo, Republican, treasurer: “I would basically say that (money) should be fairly distributed on a basis of population, partly. I realize some communities have unusual problems and might need more help. I would have to say (grants) would have to be evaluated pretty carefully how it’s done."
Jillian Balow, Republican, superintendent of public instruction: “As state superintendent and SLIB member, I will be in communities talking about infrastructure, project needs and desires, etc. Communities with infrastructure to support and desire to have can vie for projects.
This takes planning and coordination at the local level and with the state. SLIB members have a responsibility to know what communities want large projects and work with them on infrastructure so they can vie for larger or new projects.”
Mike Ceballos, Democrat, superintendent of public instruction: “If (communities or economic development boards) are sitting down to say, ‘We’ve got a business that we’d like to come here’ or ‘We’d like to attract this type of business; we need to develop a business park,’ then ... I think as a state elected official, you would be trying to help them, directing them to the right places. Share your expertise.
The blessing is I’ve done that. ... I was on the LEADS board from (the late 1990s) through 2011. I was state president for Qwest. (Qwest) would assist any community and had assisted Casper in the past, if they could call in for information they needed.
Most often if a community is trying to recruit a business, then they need help in (telecommunications) infrastructure.”
Bill Winney, Republican, superintendent of public instruction: “I look at small communities, and my take on that is first you need to look for grants, just because they don’t have a tax base (for loans). Then you look at, well, what kind of industries or businesses you could put in there. Certainly the Internet would be part of that.”
Reach political reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.