The formation of the Wyoming Business Council in 1998 dramatically changed Wyoming's approach to economic development. The state of Wyoming created the Wyoming Business Council to focus public and private efforts to build a strong job creation base. Starting in 1996, business leaders, community representatives and state officials conducted a series of meetings to discuss the diversification of Wyoming's economy beyond agriculture, mining, and tourism, thereby creating more jobs and retaining the state's youth.
In 1997, public and private sector representatives created a nine-member Steering Committee for Business Development to study Wyoming's economy and recommend ways to improve it. Later that year, they presented their findings, which called for bold, innovative action to stimulate growth. Their report became the basis for a bill that changed Wyoming's economic development paradigm by consolidating several state agencies within the Wyoming Business Council. Governor Jim Geringer signed the bill into law on March 6, 1998 and appointed 15 business leaders to the Business Council's first Board of Directors.
On July 1, 1998, the state arranged 25 programs from seven state agencies under the organizational umbrella of the Wyoming Business Council. Besides working to expand the inherited programs, the Business Council also worked to develop a strong structure to provide communities with the necessary tools to expand existing businesses; attract new businesses to their area; and develop infrastructure.
In August 1999, the Wyoming Business Council opened regional offices in Powell, Riverton, Rock Springs, Gillette, Casper, and Cheyenne. The regional offices became the first points of contact for six regions of Wyoming.
In the early years, the Wyoming Business Council followed the classic economic development strategy, spending a lot of resources on recruiting. The Business Council touted the facts that Wyoming had no personal income tax, no corporate income tax, relatively low utility rates, favorable worker compensation and unemployment insurance rates, good schools, low crime rates, great recreation areas - all things that should have enticed companies to relocate to the Cowboy State.
However, all Wyoming’s positive attributes could not compensate for the lack of shovel-ready sites where businesses could make their products within a few short months of their decision to move. The Business Council found this deficit in large and small communities throughout the state.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal agreed with this assessment and pushed for the creation of the Business Ready Community Grant and Loan Program, which the Wyoming Legislature authorized and funded in 2003. Two years later, Governor Freudenthal supported funding options where the state helped renovate existing buildings into community centers. The Legislature responded by creating the Community Facilities Grant and Loan Program in 2005.
Today the Business Council is working with communities to build community-owned infrastructure that makes them business ready and improves their quality of life. As the infrastructure problems are corrected within communities, the Business Council will turn its focus more on recruitment and the ultimate goal of diversity.