By Bill Sniffin
It’s been reported in this column before that often Wyoming’s economy reacts to the national economy much like a teeter-totter. When Wyoming is booming up, the country is struggling down. When the country is booming, Wyoming struggles.
During the energy booms and busts of the last 50 years, this teeter-totter symbolism made sense. Today, I am not so sure.
But I do know one thing for sure – elections count. Whoever is president really does make a difference for a state like Wyoming, whose economy is so dependent on a single feature like fossil fuel energy.
Had Al Gore won the 2000 election, I am convinced that the subsequent boom that drove Wyoming would have been muted. Gore and Clinton-era Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had fossil fuels in their sights heading into that presidential election two decades ago.
Instead, we got George W. Bush for eight years with our own Dick Cheney at his side as Vice President. With Bush from oil-rich Texas and Cheney from energy-rich Wyoming, the floodgates were opened for amazing energy development and massive job creation. Wyoming never had a boom like that before and may never have another one again.
The previous year in 1999, our state was so broke state leaders were seriously considering a personal income tax. From that, we saw ourselves salting away billions of severance tax dollars in various funds that have helped keep the state afloat these days and into the future.
If Joe Biden gets sworn in as president we will finally see what that Gore-Babbitt model would have looked like. We will be living that reality here in Wyoming for the next four years, at least.
The reason for that teeter-totter analogy is energy prices. When they are high, Wyoming booms and the country suffers. When they are low, Wyoming suffers and the country prospers.
Right now, energy prices are low and much of the country is faring well, despite the COVID-19 epidemic. The stock market just hit 30,000. Now that is amazing.
But with Biden in there, will my teeter-totter theory hold up?
He will kill energy development on public lands, which will diminish the Wyoming energy economy. And when those jobs go away, they probably are not coming back. Could this mean the flight of 50,000 people from the state?
I think our real estate market is attractive enough to urban folks fleeing the big cities, that we will see lots of lone eagles coming to Wyoming. These are folks who work from home. They can live anywhere they want. So fortunately, we will not have a housing slump.
Whole neighborhoods will change. Where today a house has dad, mom, three kids, and a dog in it. In the future it will probably have dad, mom, and a dog.
Even here in Wyoming, I had a lot of friends who could not wait to get rid of President Donald Trump. Well, they got their wish. This is much to the dismay of a whole bunch of hard-working Wyoming families. These folks will put the Cowboy State in their rear-view mirrors as they leave the state seeking opportunities in other places.
Some of these same friends also contend that it is time for Wyoming to wake up and realize that the days of fossil fuels are over and it’s time to embrace a new reality of renewable energy.
I actually like wind energy and I don’t even mind windmills in most places on our high plateau country. But job creation? Not sure what Joe Biden is talking about when he says he plans to create 50,000 “high paying union jobs” in the renewable energy sector.
Wyoming is the windiest state. In most places, the wind dies down when it is needed the most to create energy – in the afternoon. Here, it is often the opposite. We have high winds in the afternoon, which makes our wind energy potential among the best in the nation.
The last big bust in Wyoming ran from 1982 to 2002 – 20 years. It ran so long that most of us began to think this is “normal.” You had to figure out how to survive and perhaps even prosper during lean times.
Chuck Guschewsky, CEO of the Fremont Motors auto dealership network, told an economic group 20 years ago that “you learn how to run your business in the good times by how you ran it during the bad times.” Pretty good advice. To many folks here, bad times are coming. Brace yourself, the Biden Bust is on Wyoming’s horizon.