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ARCHIVED  January 1, 1997

Wyoming lags rest of region

CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s economy has lagged behind other Rocky Mountain States during the past decade, and now there are signs that even its modest growth is slipping.

Nonetheless, business leaders in Cheyenne and Laramie generally are optimistic that southeastern Wyoming’s economy will withstand any downturns during 1997 and continue to grow slowly but steadily.

As a result, the crystal ball for Cheyenne and Laramie in 1997 is somewhat hazy.

Wyoming’s economy has shown some signs of slippage in recent months. Unemployment remains low at 4 percent statewide (2.8 percent in southeastern Wyoming), but state Employment Department statistics show a slow but steady decline in the overall labor force since 1995.

The Employment Department says Wyoming’s labor force declined by more than 8,000 workers from the second quarter of 1995 to the second quarter of 1996.

The decrease from October 1995 to October 1996 was only 400 workers in a work force of 257,526, or 0.2 percent, but Tom Gallagher, manager of the Research and Planning Division, cites it as further evidence of a “slower, insidious version” of the Energy Bust that devastated the state in the mid-1980s.

Wyoming’s growth in personal income during the second quarter of 1996 was only 0.6 percent — the lowest rate of growth of any state — and Wyoming continues to have one of the lowest family incomes in the nation.

Personal bankruptcies in Wyoming increased by more than 41 percent in the year ending Sept. 30, 1996, compared with a 25 percent increase nationally, according to Federal Bankruptcy Court records and the American Bankruptcy Institute. There were 1,662 bankruptcy filings during the year ending Sept. 30, and 93 percent were personal filings.

On the other hand, state sales-tax receipts continue to be up from a year ago, and Cheyenne and Laramie tend to be more stable than the state’s economy generally.

In Cheyenne, a stable government-based work force and a continuing strong retail economy are spawning optimism for the coming year.

“I think our members are relatively bullish,´ said Larry Atwell, president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce. He noted that 52 percent of chamber members surveyed believe that Cheyenne’s economy will improve during the coming year, as opposed to only 32 percent who believe the state’s economy will grow.

“Cheyenne should be as strong if not stronger than the rest of the state,” Atwell said. “We haven’t had the real peaks that the rest of the state has had, but we also haven’t had the valleys.”

Jack Crews, president of Cheyenne LEADS, notes that both VAE Nortrak and EchoStar are doubling in size and “we anticipate two other construction projects in the LEADs Business Parkway.”

“I’m optimistic about what we’ll see in 1997,” Crews said, adding that LEADs has some 20 prospects – its largest active list ever – and is planning a major marketing campaign looking to attract new prospects.

One sector of Cheyenne’s economy that is especially strong is retailing, and it should get even better this coming year with the opening of the new Dillard’s Department Store, according to Atwell and Ethan Levine, manager of Cheyenne’s Frontier Mall.

Levine and Atwell say Dillard’s has helped persuade other national and regional chains to look at Cheyenne, and they believe it could help entice nonretail firms to Cheyenne.

Still, some of the storm clouds that appear on Wyoming’s economic horizons also loom above Cheyenne.

Dick O’Gara, director of the Center for Economic and Business Data at Laramie County Community College, has been warning for some time that Cheyenne is in what he calls a “growth recession.” The community’s economy is growing, but by only 1 percent or 1.5 percent a year — too slow, he says, to provide the job growth needed to provide meaningful job opportunities for young people.

“Hold on – the road is getting slippery,” O’Gara warns in his latest “Economic Indicators for Greater Cheyenne” (December, 1996, based on third-quarter statistics). “This quarter’s data leaves us with genuine concern for where our local economy is headed.”

O’Gara’s concerns are based on such factors as increasing supply of housing, falling housing prices, credit-union delinquencies, manpower agency projects, new-car registrations and even declining help-wanted ads. Now third-quarter data suggests that Greater Cheyenne’s labor force declined by almost 1 percent from a year ago and employment was down about 0.5 percent.

“One quarter doesn’t make for a trend,” he told The Northern Colorado Business Report, “but there are some other signals out there that are not particularly encouraging. So all in all, it’s not the rosy outlook we have been seeing. The big question now is whether this is going to continue and how big is it apt to get, if it is a true downturn.”

On the other hand, O’Gara sees some strengths in Cheyenne’s economy, including a dramatic turnaround in commercial construction with more than $8 million for Dillard’s, VAE Nortrak, Office Max and a new WYHY Credit Union.

“I’m not worried at this point,” he added, noting that “even when we do turn down, it’s not a deep turn, and it doesn’t tend to last particularly long, because government is the foundation and keeps us relatively stable.”

In Laramie, business leaders are hoping to ride the successes of 1996 into 1997, with continued diversity in the economy and continued growth in the retail, high-tech and manufacturing sectors.

“We’ve had a good year in 1996, and I think that’s going to continue,´ said Rolinda Sample, executive director of the Laramie Area Chamber of Commerce, noting the addition of new restaurants such as Applebee’s and a new Village Inn and growth in some of the high-tech environmental and computer companies.

A major success of 1996 was the opening of the Laramie River Business Park, and expansion already is planned in 1997, said Bob Boysen, head of the Laramie Economic Development Corp.

All but three lots in the park are sold, and Boysen said construction is scheduled this spring on a second phase of River Bend Park, a multitenant facility within the business park. Construction of a greenway also is planned this spring.

Tim Rubald, director of Laramie’s Downtown Development Authority, is a little worried because of a slow start in the holiday retail season but is buoyed by the fact that ground-floor, retail occupancy continues to be strong — more than 95 percent.

“I’m not looking for a big increase,” he said of 1997 retail sales projections. “I’d probably have to say any increase we get would be a plus. I don’t look for it to decline. I think it’s going to be fairly flat.”

CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s economy has lagged behind other Rocky Mountain States during the past decade, and now there are signs that even its modest growth is slipping.

Nonetheless, business leaders in Cheyenne and Laramie generally are optimistic that southeastern Wyoming’s economy will withstand any downturns during 1997 and continue to grow slowly but steadily.

As a result, the crystal ball for Cheyenne and Laramie in 1997 is somewhat hazy.

Wyoming’s economy has shown some signs of slippage in recent months. Unemployment remains low at 4 percent statewide (2.8 percent in southeastern Wyoming), but state Employment Department statistics show a slow but steady…

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