CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Candidates for governor had no shortage of ideas for boosting the economy when asked by a pro-business group Wednesday, most of them centered on building up Wyoming’s existing strengths in energy extraction, tourism and agriculture rather than striking off in bold, new directions.
The Wyoming Business Alliance asked five Republican candidates and one Democratic candidate how they would diversify the economy. The group also asked how they would give a boost to Wyoming’s existing, natural-resources-based industries and fix declining state revenue.
“I worry so much that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out that great big thing that is going to cost the state a lot to do. And sometimes that works out and sometimes that doesn’t,” said State Treasurer Mark Gordon, who is seeking the Republican nomination to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Matt Mead.
Each candidate had half an hour to introduce themselves and answer the same pre-submitted questions.
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Besides Gordon, two other Republicans — Jackson investor Foster Friess and Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman — called for first and foremost building on Wyoming’s strengths, including the coal, oil and natural gas extraction that supply about 70 percent of state revenue.
But Republican Sam Galeotos, a Cheyenne businessman, focused much more on technology as the answer to helping all areas of Wyoming’s economy.
“Technology is not only the great equalizer in this world, it’s the great enabler,” Galeotos said. “As far as diversification goes in my mind, technology is everything in the state of Wyoming.”
Hageman, who spoke after Galeotos, was skeptical that new tech business would significantly offset the industries that have supported Wyoming’s economy for decades.
“You still have to recognize that minerals generate 50 times more revenue to the state of Wyoming in terms of meeting the state’s spending obligations than tech does,” Hageman said.
Wyoming needs to be more aggressive about selling itself as an attractive place to live, said Cheyenne attorney Mary Throne, a Democrat and former state legislator.
Throne was the only candidate to mention finding new ways to generate revenue, hinting that she might support new forms of taxation. Throne didn’t get into specifics, however, saying she would solicit ideas after becoming elected.
“We need to build a tax structure that will support the economy of the future, not the economy of the past,” Throne said. “To me, it’s a very fundamentally conservative principle to talk about how you’re going to pay your bills.”
Education, especially in technology, will go furthest to help the economy over the long run, said Laramie-area physician and rancher Taylor Haynes.
“If you build it, they will come. But what do you build? You build a diverse, highly skilled workforce,” said Haynes, a Republican candidate.
The most recent candidate to enter the race, Friess, is much better known nationwide as a major Republican donor than a force in Wyoming politics. He spoke in spiritual terms in describing his motivation to get involved as a candidate.
“It would be an ultimate example of complete lack of gratitude. A complete lack of gratitude like, ‘OK God, thanks for the good things, now I’m going to have a good time.’ So I’m compelled,” Friess said.
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