Wyoming residents find themselves staring down the barrel of budget cuts and shortfalls, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health policies put in place to fight it.
Local government entities — in the midst of budget planning for the next fiscal year — have already made cuts. Now, more than ever, leaders in both the public and private sector have to slash revenue expectations and plan based on assumptions of the worst case scenario.
Earlier this year, Better City, a consultant firm hired to assess the effectiveness of Sheridan’s economic development ecosystem, met with stakeholders from various organizations in our community.
The visit came as part of a project kicked off in 2019, when Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, Forward Sheridan and the Wyoming Technology Business Center agreed to partner on the assessment aimed at seeking efficiencies in our economic development efforts.
The request for proposals for the project sought answers to the following questions:
• Is there a reasonable return on time and monetary investments, and how should the return be measured?
• How could economic development groups be organized and managed, and what are the best ways to break down communication barriers?
• How should economic development activities be funded?
• Is there a long-term strategic plan that will channel efforts, participation and investment into the activities that achieve the highest return and benefit?
While most involved understood not only the potential savings that could be realized based on the study’s results, they also recognized the political and economic implications of any potential merger.
Groups and leaders passionate about their missions often become territorial and sometimes blinded by their proximity to an issue.
Sheridan County and the city of Sheridan have allocated — via Optional One-Cent Sales Tax funding — more than $950,000 annually to economic development causes including Critical Air Service, Sheridan Business Incubator, Northern Wyoming Community College District, North East Wyoming Growth Alliance, Downtown Sheridan Association, North Main Association, Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, Forward Sheridan and Habitat for Humanity of the Eastern Bighorns. It will take great political and community will to combine missions, staff and priorities of at least some of the various organizations.
But now, more than ever, when experts predict sharp declines in tax revenue, the need for consolidation of organizations competing for taxpayer dollars — and business membership and sponsorship support — is critical.
This may have, in part, already begun. When COVID-19 made its way to Wyoming and local businesses started feeling the effect, Forward Sheridan announced it would, at least temporarily, cease operations.
That decision may be a harbinger of things to come as efficacy and expediency take on an importance higher than ever before.