Looking ahead to 2018, a glance back at 2017

By Bill Sniffin

When you have been writing about Wyoming for almost 48 years, you become very good at predicting the economy. Right? Well, maybe not so hot some times.

Frankly, I have compiled a pretty good record of predicting the future of Wyoming – except for four years ago. My headline for that column was Wyoming’s “future is so bright, we have to wear shades.”

Boy was I wrong. Here is what I wrote:

“Wyoming’s economy heading into 2014 is a prosperous and optimistic job-creating colossus. The state is changing the face of its economy and altering its future forever. The curse of the predictable boom-bust cycle, which rears its ugly head every quarter century or so, will not visit our state in the foreseeable future.”

Wow. What a swing and a miss! Air ball. A fumble.

As we all know, energy prices collapsed that year and we have been struggling ever since.

So here we are, four years into this bust, and some folks can see some small lights at the end of the long economic tunnel ahead.

But rather than think we are currently in a bust, I prefer to call this “normal,” and I remind folks that we need to adjust our lives and our economic expectation to the current climate.

My best years in business were 1995 to 1999, when Wyoming was still in economic doldrums. We proved that you could have business success if you work hard enough and smart enough. We all need that attitude today.

When I look back on 2017, it seems that some Wyoming people need to face a true reality check.

Instead of considering our economic conditions booms or busts, we need to identify these kinds of cycles, which are predictable, and consider them the norm. This is what 2017 was like and how 2018 will continue to be.

To business owners and managers, 2018 will be a time when they all need to maintain strict discipline when it comes to expenses. Since a huge part of Wyoming’s economy is government-based, agency leaders need to run local, state and federal government entities in a businesslike manner, too.

My theory is that we need to make sure our “yearnings do not exceed our earnings.” To many people that is not as important a consideration as in the past. But based on today’s economic realities, it should be our most important guideline.

In some places living within your means is not considered a normal way of operating. We see countries and even businesses adopting what has been called the European model, where everyone gets an income, whether they are productive or not. And even if an individual does not have a job, he or she is able to get enough income from the government to live a decent life.

To many old-timers, this is a foreign concept. The concept of receiving an income without working does not compute when we look back on our own experience.

During my 55 years in the workforce, I was always told if one was honest and put out a quality product, things would turn out okay. Today, in many places and ways, this playbook has been discarded.

We live in an age of acceleration where jobs described as “medium skill, high paying” just do not exist any more. For decades those kinds of jobs propelled the middle class.

Some of the highlights of the upcoming year will be:

• The Legislature will be trying to find money to cover our state expenses while not raising any taxes. Biggest fight might be over a statewide lodging tax versus a statewide tourism-specific tax. Supporters of both plans are lined up and digging in.

Education will again be a target of where expenses can be cut but any efforts to inflict big cuts seem to be losing momentum.

• Some fellas named Murray, Gordon, Forslund, Dahlin, Downing and Harshman plus some gals named Throne and Hageman will be busy in 2018 along with some others yet to surface, wanting to occupy the Governor’s office.

It will be an interesting political year with Sen. John Barrasso and U. S Rep. Liz Cheney possibly facing some serious challenges.

Back in 2017, my favorite event was the eclipse, which brought what seemed like a million people to our state. Not sure what is coming this year but our future is sound. Perhaps it is not bright enough to cause us to wear shades full-time, but we should get through this year in fine shape.