Downturn Will Impact State, But Efforts Will Buffer the Blow

by Jay Stender
Executive Director
Forward Sheridan (Sheridan’s economic development organization)

[This article originally appeared as a “Community Perspectives” column in The Sheridan Press, March 26, 2016.]

The state of Wyoming continues to receive harsh economic news and projection around the energy industry. The impacts of the extractive industry downturn – both coal and oil/gas industries – have layoffs of employees and indirect impacts via retail sales, school populations, and increased social burdens. Clearly the coal and oil/gas production has been a good 40-plus year economic engine for the state of Wyoming.

In 2015, the majority (80%) of U.S. coal-fired power plants were shut down due to pending air emission standards. In the U.S., the percentage of electricity generated by coal is now less than 40% versus 57% in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration. That is a tough metric for coal-producing states.

This downturn translates to diminished commodity transports by rail. This means real and possible job loss at local surface coal mines, reduced incentive to develop coal resources within any reasonable time frame, and the significant reduction of income to the state of Wyoming.

Sheridan is and will be impacted. But due to our economic diversity that has occurred since the early 1990s, we are relatively buffered. Twenty-five years ago it would have been severe for Sheridan County. Current real estate and building is strong, unemployment is about 5%, with jobs in health care, communications, and niche manufacturing. Tourism demand is just beginning to show its hiring pressures as well. Thus Sheridan still remains as a strong place to live and work.

Here are some noteworthy events:

  • Forward Sheridan has and is an advocate for cyber security. Forward Sheridan has been invited by FBI InfraGard to host cyber protection training. The event will be held on May 5, and more details are forthcoming. (This is especially appropriate for Forward Sheridan, as our website was just compromised.)
  • Sheridan’s air service continues to provide reliable service. Our community is exploring the concept and benefits of “tagging” flights with Riverton. Our goal is to maintain air service, and this opportunity has some attractive options. The opportunity for more fliers in the airplane reduces our revenue obligations (cash) and, most importantly, this arrangement may enable another eight months of reliable air service.
  • Downtown Sheridan Association and the city of Sheridan building staff hit a home run with their permit strategy to enable downtown businesses to upgrade their facilities by reducing internal permit costs. This innovative thought is already showing impact via new efforts on several buildings and another reason why our community continues to maintain and survive.
  • Within the next two to three weeks, businesses and landowners in Sheridan and Johnson counties will be receiving a research survey asking questions about the residual impact of coal-bed methane development. The intention is to seek grassroots level options on how to leverage the benefit of extractive developments long after the play is played out. This is very relevant data if you consider the immediate impacts we see today. The survey will come from the Survey Research Center at Pennsylvania State University and has academic investigators from the University of Wyoming (Roger Coupal) and Montana State University (Julia Haggerty). Forward Sheridan has been collaborating with the preliminary research by convening meetings with government officals, landowners, and regulatory staff. More information regarding the survey is forthcoming.

We welcome your input.

Jay Stender
Forward Sheridan
224 S. Main St., Room 107
Sheridan, WY 82801
(307) 673-8004




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