Wyoming Looks To Do More Than Transport Minerals

Mar 21, 2014

Governor Matt Mead and a handful of Wyoming legislators are excited about an idea that they hope will create more jobs in the state and finally do something locally with the minerals and other sources of energy that the state harvests.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.

BOB BECK:  Value added is defined as a product whose value has been increased by manufacturing, marketing, or processing.  To put it simply…maybe you make something locally from trona instead of just shipping it out as a raw commodity as Wyoming currently does.   For many years politicians have talked about creating jobs and diversifying the economy in this way, but getting companies to Wyoming who can do that is always tricky.  Last year Governor Matt Mead took a trip and saw a facility in Canada that made him think Wyoming might finally be able to develop value added products. 

MATT MEAD:  An industrial type park that would add value to our value to our minerals, to our ag, oil, gas, trona and certainly have places in the state of Wyoming that provide a great opportunity to add value, to create jobs. 

BECK:  Laramie Representative Kermit Brown is the House Majority Floor Leader.  He says another product that could benefit from such a facility is rare earth minerals. 

KERMIT BROWN:  And rare earth is used in the production of …everybody in here has something that has rare earth in it, mostly in the electronics industry.  So perhaps there might be a way that we start with an anchor tenant that’s a rare earth extraction facility or the first raw processor, then we work it through, work it through, and work it through.

He says Wyoming needs to find a way to go beyond extracting minerals.

BROWN:  Someday when this place is mined out we don’t just want a mined out smoking hole in the ground and Wyoming is gone.  So how do we replace that wealth?

BECK:  The legislature has funded a study of what they call an energy mega campus.  After visiting the Canadian facility called The Industrial Heartland Complex, they came back excited that a similar endeavor could work in Wyoming.  In that facility companies have flocked to the site to use the natural resources there to develop new products, other on-site companies can use those products to develop even more products, leading to a manufacturing center.  Brown says that’s better than just shipping raw materials.

BROWN:  The products that we extract from the land don’t immediately leave.  They don’t leave on the first rail car going west or going east, but rather we have value added processes.  So when you come back to the mega campus that’s what you have.  It generates jobs, it generates economic activity and I’ve always thought that activity breads activity.

BECK:  In other words, companies in the mega campus will attract other companies.  At the Heartland facility 40 companies currently exist and workers make an average of $150,000 a year.  But before you start applying, Wyoming has a lot of work to do. 

Governor Mead’s Policy Advisor Shawn Reese says they need to identify and solve transportation challenges; they need to study and resolve land use issues, potential regulatory hurdles, and infrastructure needs.

SHAWN REESE:  Create an environment where businesses are going to want to come to Wyoming.  Proximity to minerals, the low tax base, all of the conditions are here so I think it could be a magnet.

BECK:  Reese says the state might be best served to consider a regional approach to developing a campus.  Companies could use Wyoming’s oil and gas in one part of the state and hard rock minerals somewhere else.  

BECK:   Could you really get businesses to come to places like Sundance or Rock Springs to do this?  Those in the energy industry aren’t so sure.  The biggest reason is that nobody really understands the state’s plan, because nobody has consulted with them.

REESE: Well those are the conversations we need to have.

BECK:  Everyone in industry WPR contacted for this story said that they didn’t know enough about the idea to comfortably comment on tape, but most were skeptical.  One noted that if a glass plant wanted to come to Rock Springs, it would have already come.  Still, Reese says he believes that if it’s done right companies will come.

REESE:  You need to make a proposition that shows that it makes financial sense and it makes business sense for them to be here and again if you can pull together all of those pieces to give them a full picture of the infrastructure, the taxes, the workforce, long term commitment, I think that could be influential in a location decision.

Beck:  Reese says it will take some study and perhaps some time, but ultimately it’s what Wyoming needs. For Wyoming Public Radio I’m Bob Beck.