On Nov. 13, I’ll travel to Cody for the annual Wyoming Hospitality & Tourism Fall Summit. This year’s event will focus on elevating local advocacy and will provide industry partners with tools and knowledge to make a positive impact on the travel and tourism industry in their community.

I’m looking forward to this year’s event for a number of reasons. First off, the summit is being facilitated by Trever Cartwright and the Corragio Group, an organizational change management firm with years of experience in strategic planning. Trever is positioned well to work with statewide industry leaders to provide a fresh, new approach to tourism industry challenges and opportunities.

Another reason that I’m excited about the Fall Summit is that I’ve been asked to participate in the leadership and legislative panel discussion; I’m known, of course, for my legendary ability to tell jokes that even crickets don’t find amusing. But why I’ve really been asked to join the panel is based on our community’s ability to positively affect industry-wide change. Sheridan County has a reputation across the state as a travel and tourism leader, a place not afraid to take chances on tentpole events (see, WYO Winter Rodeo), embrace arts and craft culture, and advocate successfully at the local, regional and statewide level for policy that positively impacts the community.

Sheridan is also known as a place that has successfully tethered the power of travel and tourism to economic development; we know full well that an individual looking to uproot their company or plant a seed for a new venture has to first embrace the Wyoming way of life before they can consider doing business here.

This leads us back to the purpose of this summit — how to positively affect change. It’s no secret that Wyoming’s current economic position is a precarious one. It does surprise some people when they learn that the travel and tourism industry is Wyoming’s second largest, and that it injects $3.8 billion into the state’s economy each year. Some of the numbers you’ve heard, certainly: 4 million annual visitors to Yellowstone, and a total of 8.9 million overnight visitors to the state; 45,000 travel and tourism-supported jobs; leisure and hospitality is the largest employer among all private industries in Wyoming. And it’s not just Jackson and Yellowstone doing big business; Sheridan County’s travel-generated spending is more than $115 million each year.

What does all this mean?

It means that economic diversity is already here. Our county’s incredible assets — the Bighorn Mountains, frontier history, arts and craft culture, the finest downtown in the American West — have us positioned well to weather potential economic storms, but there are always things we can do together to grow, expand and benefit the industry. In doing so, we can expand and diversify our local economy, effectively recruit and retain business and continue to bolster the lifestyle that keeps us calling Sheridan County home.

We don’t have to do it with big crowds, kitschy attractions or unchecked growth. If we plan accordingly, we can grow on our terms, in a way that benefits the residents of this beautiful place. That’s why advocacy is so important, and why I’m looking forward to being a part of this discussion now and in the future.

Shawn Parker is executive director of Sheridan Travel and Tourism.