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Civil Engineering Perspective: 2018 to be Stable but Not Booming for Central Wyoming

It’s no secret that the economic climate in Casper and throughout Wyoming has been very difficult for the past several years. The economic downturn resulted primarily from drastically reduced oil prices, continued low gas prices, and the push for cleaner energy greatly impacting the demand for coal. As a result, nearly every individual and every sector of Wyoming has been impacted and Wyoming has experienced population migration from the state. Specifically, education and municipality funding have been hit hard and had to reduce budgets substantially. As we move forward in 2018, there are positive influencers and markers of note.

Sales tax revenues for cities and towns are growing. While this is great news, capital improvement projects will likely be slower to get back in the que. As these entities recover and work through their budget process, they will be conservative prioritizing the highest necessity items and projects. Capital improvements will remain on the back burner until they are confident the recovery is well underway.

During the economic downturn in Wyoming, the conversation surrounding diversification also became a priority on the state stage. Likely one of the biggest efforts and wins toward diversification was the progress of the ENDOW Initiative. The ENDOW Initiative coordinates and expands ongoing efforts throughout Wyoming, and produces measurable results, in providing a comprehensive approach to diversifying the state’s economy. Among many other important priorities and recommendations, ENDOW has identified Focus on Infrastructure as a top recommendation. More specifically this includes improving and expanding Wyoming’s commercial air service and improving access to broadband and technology. The ENDOW Initiative is made up of smart, powerful state players, and we expect to see positive activity and progress generated by this group and effort.

As we look to diversify our state, wind projects are back on the table in Wyoming. WLC anticipates Wyoming’s appetite for wind will grow as more local and state officials and residents see the value. According to the Wyoming Wind Coalition web site, based on the major wind developments currently planned, more than 1,400 operations and maintenance jobs (excluding construction jobs) may be created in the next 20 years and nearly $1.8 billion in tax revenue will be generated. The same web site states, there are currently 1,489 megawatts of renewable energy in Wyoming. Adding to the potential of the developments mentioned above, Wyoming will reach 7,743 megawatts of renewable energy. However, this is a small percentage of the overall potential. It will be important to remember the value of these projects even as the traditional mineral extraction sectors improve and return to a reasonable revenue generating level.

Even with wind top of mind, there will always be a place for the mineral extraction industry as it has been the primary economic driver for the State of Wyoming. This industry does, however, lend itself to numerous boom and bust cycles as it has throughout history. WLC is no stranger to this occurrence as our company has persevered through numerous boom and bust cycles in our 70-year history. We believe this success can be attributed to our geographic and service diversification. Typically, certain geographic areas will feel a bust less than another which has allowed our locations to support and supplement each other. Secondly, offering multiple services to a wide array of clients enables us to navigate downturns by redirecting and adapting our focus both temporarily and permanently.

With this positive activity, we will likely see the return of increased residential and commercial development. In WLC’s experience, as the economy improves both of these sectors follow. While improvements in these sectors may be slow, we’ll be surprised if some strides aren’t made.

Overall, WLC is prepared for a stable but not booming economy in 2018. There is progress underway that can be aided and pushed forward by remaining steadfast and keeping sight of important efforts and initiatives underway that will support diversification and widespread growth. WLC is looking forward to a positive 2018 and continued growth into the next several years.

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