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CHEYENNE – There’s no way to overstate how different Wyoming’s current economic downturn is from those in the past, according to University of Wyoming economist Anne Alexander.

“Things might have leveled out, but it’s pretty clear as far as this downturn goes – things can always change – but this is, for the most part, the new normal,” she said.

For about the last two years, a drop in energy prices has resulted in slashing state budgets, deep deficits in public education and populations fleeing from many parts of the state. The latest revenue forecast suggests Wyoming will be ahead of where most people expected at the start of 2017, but economists say a robust energy sector recovery that would lead to an economic boom is unlikely.

That is why Alexander said she hopes panelists at the Southeast Economic Forecast Luncheon challenge Wyomingites to work together to help the state recover.

“It’s not going to get better unless we make it better,” she said. “It’s up to us to fix it. Nobody is coming – there’s no cavalry on the way. We’re the cavalry, and we’re here, so it’s time for a meeting.”

The luncheon is a partnership between the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and the Wyoming Business Report as part of the chamber’s Business Week, which kicks off Wednesday. The panel – taking place at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Little America Hotel and Resort, 2800 W. Lincolnway – features experts from a variety of backgrounds. Alexander, the moderator, will ask the panelists to weigh in on what economic diversification looks like, where it starts, what that implies for the state’s tax structure and more.

The four panelists are: Cindy DeLancey, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance; Buck McVeigh, executive director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association; Matt Micheli, partner with law firm Holland and Hart; and Dale Steenbergen, president and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.

It’s an impressive lineup that should have plenty of insight for attendees, Alexander said.

“If you look at that list, you have folks that work with people every day who are making the economy go,” she said. “You’re talking with people who interact with small and large businesses across the state, interacting with the state and counties and municipalities on a regular basis. This group has the heartbeat of the state business community, and they’re going to have some great insight, I think.”

Her question for the panel about the challenge to residents to play a role in recovery is so critical because people are the economy, Alexander said.

“The economy is not a bunch of job reports that materialize at the beginning of the month, it’s not (gross domestic product), it’s not graphs,” Alexander said. “It’s people – we’re the economy. What I’m doing every day, what you’re doing every day, that’s the economy. Those numbers are just a snapshot of a point in time, but the economy is us. So in this (panel discussion), I’ll take every chance I get to make sure people understand this.”

How Wyoming gets to a point where its economy is diversified so it doesn’t sink or swim on the whims of energy markets is the big question no one has answered yet. In an effort to find solutions, 2017 saw the beginning of Gov. Matt Mead’s initiative known as ENDOW, or Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming. Its executive council, made up of business and community leaders from around the state, as well as representation from state lawmakers, is tasked with developing a plan to diversify the economy during the next 10 years.

And while Wyoming has its challenges in recruiting new businesses and a workforce, Alexander said it has a lot of advantages. She said she hopes the panelists are able to help generate enthusiasm among the influential figures she expects to be in the room listening.

“We need to play to our strengths,” she said. “We have some real economic strengths, workforce strengths and quality-of-life strengths, all depending on one industry or another. Those skills or talents of people in particular sectors are often transferable to another sector. … And we can’t just play to them, but we have to capitalize on them. We can’t be all Wyoming humble and act like everyone is going to notice these things without us bragging from the rooftops about the assets we have.”

The Southeast Economic Forecast Luncheon is scheduled to wrap up promptly at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 and are available at www.wyomingbusinessreport.com. A limited number of $55 tickets will be available at the door on the day of the event. There are also events Wednesday and Friday. Details can be found at the Wyoming Business Report website.

Joel Funk is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at jfunk@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @jmacfunk.

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