Business council defends practices

Oct 2, 2015 The Associated Press

The current downturn in the state's energy industry underscores the need for using taxpayer funds to recruit and grow businesses in Wyoming, an economic development official said.

"With the economic circumstances that we face, economic development is as important as it has ever been," Wyoming Business Council CEO Shawn Reese told the Legislature's Economic Development Subcommittee on Wednesday. "And I think this is the time when we redouble our efforts."

The seven-member committee is in its second year of a review of the state's role in providing assistance for economic development programs.

The Business Ready Community Program, which takes up more than half of the Business Council's total standard budget, is under the most scrutiny.

The program provides loans and grants for infrastructure projects, such as water and sewer hookups or helping set up a business park, that are used to lure companies to relocate here or expand their existing operations.

Since the program was created in 2004, the state has awarded about $318 million to 315 projects throughout the state.

Reese told the lawmakers that these projects have directly created or are projected to create at least 4,288 jobs.

Most lawmakers have generally been supportive of the Business Ready Community Program and have consistently approved requests to add funds to the program. But there have been some concerns through the years about its effectiveness and fairness.

Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, who co-chairs the subcommittee, said he's not sure if the Business Council's work is living up its original goal of diversifying the state's economy.