Correction: The original version of this story said the office opening Friday in Casper was "the state's first-ever census office." There have been offices in Wyoming for previous census counts. The mistake was due to reporter error. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle regrets the error.

CHEYENNE – With the state’s first and only 2020 census office set to open Friday in Casper, the initial steps in the process that help decide how much federal funding Wyoming gets each year have already begun.

The 2020 U.S. census will be the first to offer an online option. After the 2010 census saw lower participation in several western states, including Wyoming, the hope is the new option will encourage more participation, U.S. Census Bureau spokeswoman Jennifer Hillmann said.

“People are online practically all the time, or on their phones or on laptops,” she said. “If they’re sitting at their computer, they can do it. We also have a mobile-friendly online option.”

Census efforts in Wyoming will also be boosted by the state’s new office in Casper, which will have a grand opening Friday. Hillmann said the Census Bureau uses data to determine where to set up new offices.

“They look at projected workload, what were low-response areas, physical geography of locations,” Hillmann said from her Denver office. “We want to make sure each state has an area Census office that has at least one major city in it, so in Wyoming, it was determined Casper was a great, centrally located major city where we can base the state’s office.”

From its Casper office, which will be the only one in Wyoming, the bureau will be able to monitor operations throughout the state, Hillmann said. About 300 jobs will be available in Natrona County, while the bureau is aiming to hire about 2,000 temporary employees to work statewide by the end of this year.

“We’re going to be continuing to hire throughout the end of this year and the beginning of 2020 to make sure we have enough staff in place in every state to have the most accurate and complete count we can,” Hillmann said.

The bureau aims to hire local workers who know their communities best, Hillmann said.

Census participation in Wyoming dropped from 75% in 2000 to 69% in 2010, bucking the national trend that saw a rise in responses over the same period.

“If there were areas that were consistently low responses in both of the last two censuses, those are going to be areas of focus for us in 2020. But we really want to have people spread across the state so that we have local folks working with local communities,” Hillmann said.

The information gathered by the bureau will be used for redistricting and appropriating about $675 billion in annual federal funds for roads, schools, hospitals and many other projects.

“It will literally have an effect on every Wyoming resident and every resident in the United States in some way,” Hillmann said.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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