Education and Economic Development Go Hand in Hand
By Wyoming House Speaker Pro Tempore Rosie Berger and House Majority Whip Tim Stubson
Wyoming’s greatest export should never be its children. Too often, Wyoming’s best and brightest are forced to leave our state to pursue a career or even just to make ends meet. This is a continual threat to our economy, our families and our way of life.
However, this doesn’t need to be a daily reality faced by Wyoming families. Wyoming can lay the foundation today to ensure this generation and those to come have the opportunity for meaningful careers and good paying jobs right here in our state. Young people who want to stay in Wyoming should have that opportunity, and our communities and families will be all the stronger for it.
We can accomplish this by strengthening our private sector and providing citizens with the education they need to fill the jobs we build for. Education and economic development go hand in hand and Wyoming is poised to bolster both of these in the Fiscal Year 2015/2016 Budget.
Be it providing a world class primary education, or the opportunity for vocational and technical training, Wyoming must arm our citizens with the education and experience they need to be successful in today’s workplace. The Legislature is doing just that by making strategic investments in Wyoming’s education system, from pre-school through college. A strong educational foundation opens doors for our citizens, adds value to our local economies and enriches our communities.
Wyoming is working to create one of the best education systems in the country – and we’re putting our money where our mouth is. Over the next two years, Wyoming’s K-12 schools will see an influx of $250 million for new school construction and major maintenance to give Wyoming kids the best environment and tools to achieve success. We’re making targeted investments in early childhood education. We’re also protecting education for the future by creating a new fund, the School Foundation Reserve Account, to shield school funding from a projected loss of mineral revenue.
The University of Wyoming (UW) and community colleges across the state play a critical role in providing the advanced knowledge and technical training Wyoming citizens need to compete for high-wage jobs. To provide access to more Wyoming students and expand learning opportunities, the Legislature has designated significant funding for colleges across the state. The budget includes $102 million for new construction and major maintenance at Wyoming’s community colleges and UW. To help more Wyoming students afford the opportunity for a college degree, the budget also expands the Hathaway Scholarship Program – the first increase for the awards since the program’s start in 2005. The Legislature also budgeted an additional 14 million dollars to address enrollment growth and a 7.5 million dollar endowment program in order to leverage local resources.
Additional college investments include a top tier science program at UW, the Flex Tech Building at LCCC, a tech center at EWC, the Student Success Center at Central Wyoming College and specialized centers at Northern Wyoming Community College District in Sheridan and Gillette.
However, it’s not enough to just educate and prepare Wyoming citizens for competitive jobs. We need to bring these jobs right here to Wyoming. This starts by putting in place world class infrastructure that entices the private sector to set up shop in Wyoming. The budget provides over $175 million in funding for cities, towns and counties. We also increased funding for local capital projects from $54 million to $70 million, providing additional dollars to invest in key projects, which are sure to yield long-term results.
Tapping into Wyoming’s rich natural resources, the Legislature is making targeted investments in energy projects that will help to ensure a role for Wyoming minerals in the future and create valuable jobs in state. This session we’re moving forward legislation that helps safeguard the future of Wyoming coal, including a bill that would allow our state to take an active role in establishing export terminals capable of exporting our coal to new and existing markets. Another project is a “bolted-on-site” laboratory that incentivizes real world solutions for processing power plant emissions in value added processes.
The budget also institutes the study of an energy mega-campus designed to be a one-stop shop for commercial scale industries in Wyoming. The project is inspired by Alberta’s Industrial Heartland in Canada, the country’s largest hydrocarbon processing region, not to be confused with the oil sands development. Canada successfully leveraged its natural resources to create a region that is now home to over 40 companies with over $25 billion in investments. With that kind of boom to the economy, it’s a model worth studying.
Wyoming’s best resource has always been its people. And the greatest thing we can do to protect and grow that resource is to invest in the education, resources and infrastructure necessary to Wyoming jobs and careers worthy of their talents. By prioritizing Wyoming’s infrastructure and education, we are laying the foundation for economic growth that will present new and exciting job opportunities for Wyoming citizens today and into the future.
Posted in the following categories: Economic & Business Development