- Associated Press - Thursday, May 11, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming launched its latest effort Thursday to diversify its economy, this time with a committee that will look for new opportunities beyond the state’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

Gov. Matt Mead gave a pep talk to kick off the first meeting of the ENDOW Executive Council tasked with producing two recommendation reports by year’s end. The name stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming.

The 25-person panel, which also plans to meet Friday, follows in the footsteps of several not-too-successful economic diversification efforts. The last was in the late 1990s, when Gov. Jim Geringer first suggested the internet could be an economic lifeline for Wyoming, the least-populated state.

Other efforts as far back as the 1960s involved Mead’s grandfather, Gov. Clifford Hansen. One in the 1970s looked at manufacturing Barbie dolls.

“Thank goodness we didn’t jump on that wagon. But the point is, the idea of diversity is not new in Wyoming,” Mead told the committee.

“One of the reasons we fail to diversify the way we want to, we tend to look at it in a two-year, four-year, eight-year term that goes with election cycles,” he said “We need a much broader view. We need a 20-year plan to diversify our economy.”

Coal, oil and natural gas extraction provide 70 percent of Wyoming’s state revenue. All three industries are in a slump right now, requiring major spending cuts by the Legislature.

Public education spending alone is up against a $350 million shortfall. That doesn’t count school construction funds that have nearly dried up amid federal coal leasing that has ground to a halt.

The ups and downs in state revenues makes planning difficult, Mead said.

But an even bigger reason to diversify the economy, he said, is to encourage young people to remain. Sixty percent of Wyomingites between 18 and 25 leave the state.

“If we don’t reverse that trend, we’re not going to be all that Wyoming can be and should be. And it’s not just what they bring in terms of their ideas and enthusiasm. Those are our kids and our grandkids and our great-grandkids,” Mead said.

Committee co-chairman Greg Hill, CEO of Hess Corp., said he left Wyoming as a young man and spent 25 years trying to find a way to move back. He now lives in Wilson.

While previous economic diversification initiatives came from out-of-state consultants, this one will involve people who live in Wyoming, Hillm pointed out.

“I do believe it’s going to be different this time,” Hill said.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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