News Column

Wyoming Economy Moving Up, But Slowly

Aug. 6, 2013

Three economic experts anticipate slow but positive growth in Wyoming's economy during the next three to six months.

They differ, however, on the rate of economic growth in the state.

Ernie Goss, director of the Goss Institute for Economic Research, studies the economies in three states that make up the Mountain States region: Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

The overall economic index for the Mountain States in July is at a healthy place, according to a new report from Goss.

The July index of a survey of supply managers shows positive regional growth in the next three to six months.

Still, improvements could be made.

"Wyoming's pace of job growth for the first half of 2013 has been positive but well below that of Colorado and Utah," Goss wrote in July's report. The institute conducts the monthly survey for Supply Management Institutes.

Goss expects to see slower growth in the next six months than what occurred during the same time in 2012. "It is still positive, but it is slowing, and we expect it to continue," he said.

Uncertainty among some energy sectors will affect economic growth in Wyoming for the second part of the year, Goss said Monday. These include what the government will or won't do with regard to coal, he said.

Wyoming is moving into a tepid economic phase, he said. He expects lower tax collections to come from the mineral industry.

Slower growth does not mean negative growth, he said. Wyoming's economy cooled a bit faster than in Colorado and Utah, he said.

But that's because the housing sector rebounded significantly in the other two states.

Dick O'Gara, a Cheyenne economist who owns the Wyoming Center for Business and Economic Analysis, expects positive economic growth to continue the rest of the year.

Wyoming's economic growth rate might lag behind the United States growth rate simply because the recession did not hit Wyoming as hard as it did in some other states, O'Gara said. Wyoming recovered quickly from the recession compared to other parts of the country, he added.

But he is more optimistic than Goss about the future of coal and said coal sales are picking up. Utilities are switching to coal because it is cheaper than natural gas. Coal is in huge demand as a base load for power plants.

Coal "is not going away anytime soon," O'Gara said and will be in demand for at least the next 50 years.

The economy is good in Cheyenne. "We're in a mini boom," O'Gara said. Commercial construction has made a remarkable turnaround in the first and second quarters of the year, he added.

Jim Robinson, principal economist for the state's Economic Analysis Division, said he expects Wyoming to experience slow economic growth.

"It will be picking up as we proceed through the rest of the year," he said.

Robinson said he thinks the mining sector economy will improve too.

"I don't want to be overly optimistic," he said, but added that the number of oil rigs in Wyoming has increased.

"Eventually that will mean more jobs" and more income to the state, he said.

The question of how coal will be used in the future is still being played out, Robinson added.

But "crude oil is nothing but a good story for Wyoming," he added.

Goss said certainty on the energy front is needed. The current regulatory environment works against Wyoming, he added. The actions of President Barack Obama are detrimental to the state in terms of coal and anything that is not alternative energy, Goss said.

If the country is going away from coal, it's important for people to know and to determine alternatives, he said.

Source: (c)2013 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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