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SHERIDAN — Preserving Sheridan’s high quality, small town life and diversifying and growing the economy is not an either/or situation, Mayor Dave Kinskey told members of the Rotary Club on Friday in his annual “State of the City” address.
“It’s a both/and situation,” Kinskey said. “We can have good jobs and a high quality of life.”
More than 100 Rotary members and guests gathered for the lunch meeting at the Best Western Sheridan Center.
Kinskey started his address with a few lighthearted jokes with serious undertones about challenges facing the city in coming months and years, including how to bring reliable air service to Sheridan. He then addressed the bad, the good and the ways to make the good even better.
• Sluggish recovery: Sheridan County is fourth from the bottom out of 23 counties in terms of recovery from the recession, according to Wyoming Business Council statistics.
“It’s distressing to be in the bottom four out of 23 counties,” Kinskey said following the meeting. “It’s good that we are recovering, but it would be nice to recover more quickly because underneath all that it reflects pain for a lot of people. To lose a job and try to support a family is devastating. We’ve got to get people back to work. We’ve got to do everything we can to encourage good jobs in Sheridan.”
Kinskey said ways to address the sluggish recovery from the recession include making City Hall more efficient, saying “yes” to opportunities, maintaining strong educational systems, building high school and college education programs to get traditional and nontraditional students trained in needed skills and continued diversification of the economy.
• Empty spaces: Kinskey noted that Main Street currently has 11 empty storefronts, which is a tenuous situation for economic stability.
• Flighty flights: As new data and light manufacturing businesses come to Sheridan, the demand for reliable air service will only increase, Kinskey said. He highlighted a recent conversation with a business owner who expressed frustration at not being able to consistently bring in potential customers and business contacts.
• More baskets: Sheridan is slowly putting its eggs in more than one basket as it tries to diversify its economy.
“We have three baskets — ag, tourism and energy — but I would like to see six or seven baskets,” Kinskey said.
Strengthening the creative economy, health care industry, and data and light manufacturing will help Sheridan avoid the detriments of boom and bust, Kinskey said.
• Fiber optic growth: Kinskey announced that he, Ptolemy Data Systems CEO Ryan Mulholland and telecommunications consultant Joe Sharkey have started Rocky Mountain Fiber with hopes of installing fiber optic cable from Billings, Mont., to Denver, Colo., and providing high-powered Internet to Wyoming communities along the way.
“We want to make a super highway connection between other super highways and then connect all the Wyoming communities along the way, including and especially Sheridan,” Kinskey said.
Originally it was believed that government money could be used to build out fiber in the state, but officials in Cheyenne then said that it would be best done through the private sector, Kinskey said.
Kinskey did clarify that he will recuse himself from all votes on City Council regarding fiber optics.
• Education expansion: Kinskey said there are discussions regarding a vocational-technical center at Sheridan College for high school students to receive a diploma and specific skills training simultaneously. He also noted the expansion of tech programs at the college.
“We are at the early stages of design, but I find it to be a compelling vision,” Kinskey said.
• Healthy health care: The Sheridan Veterans Affairs Medical Center created 200 jobs in the last six years, Kinskey said, and Sheridan Memorial Hospital continues to grow and offer more services.
• Efficient government: Kinskey quoted one of his favorite Will Rogers sayings — “Be glad you don’t get all the government you pay for” — before listing ways the city of Sheridan has tried to eliminate duplication and streamline processes. He noted the hiring of a private company for ambulance service, having a fire review expert on staff with the Public Works Department and administrative approval for development in entryway corridors as examples of improved efficiency. He said the city is looking at how to improve its municipal court system, as well.
Kinskey hinted that his budget address at Monday’s City Council meeting will positively highlight goals to replace depleted reserve accounts, give back to the community and boost employee pay.
The mayor closed his address by mentioning his desire to have a city administrator, a position that was narrowly voted down in 2007.
“The data shows, nationally, that communities that have a professional administrator working with the Council and mayor tend to be more efficiently managed so that in the long run you save money and deliver better service,” Kinskey said.