Khale Lenhart (2021, color)

Khale Lenhart

I recently spent some time thinking about what Wyoming will be like in 2030. How will it change? How will it stay the same? What trends are we seeing now that will shape its future?

The next 10 years will shape the future for Wyoming. We will see changes to our state’s demographic makeup, to its tax system, and, if we are wise, to how we approach the opportunities in front of us.

I believe certain demographic changes are likely underway that will occur regardless of what any of us think or do. I believe we will continue to see population growth concentrated in the southeast corner of our state. Laramie County grew to over 105,000 people as of the 2020 census. By the 2030 census, I believe there is a strong possibility that Laramie County grows to over 150,000 people. I would not be surprised if it reached 200,000.

When you look at population trends in nearby and similarly situated communities – Greeley and the rest of Weld County, Colorado, specifically come to mind – it is clear that rapid population growth in Cheyenne and Laramie County is possible, if not inevitable. If Laramie County grows like I expect it to, I would also anticipate significant population growth in neighboring Albany County, as well.

By the time the next census comes around, I would not be surprised if Laramie County itself contained over a quarter of our state’s population, and it is possible that Laramie and Albany counties combined could be near 40% of total state population. That would have a massive impact on the concentration of power in state legislative affairs and overall state governance.

Along with increased population in the southeast corner, I also expect that Wyoming in 2030 will likely see a continuation of the trend toward urbanization. Just as we saw in the last 10 years, our smaller communities are likely to lose population to larger communities. I also would not be surprised if some of Wyoming’s “hidden gem” communities – like Sheridan, Lander, Cody and certain others – see modest population booms as remote work allows more people to move to desirable locations from outside of the state.

By the time 2030 rolls around, I also expect to see an entirely different state revenue system. Sometime in the next 10 years, the Legislature will have to address state revenue. Either their hand will be forced by an inability to fund state government with the current system, or they will address the looming crisis before it reaches catastrophic levels. Either way, the fact of the matter is that Wyoming cannot fund its government by relying primarily on mineral royalties for much longer.

By 2030, I expect we will have a higher property tax rate, a higher sales tax rate, some sort of corporate income tax or tax on capital gains earnings, or – most likely – some combination of the above. Ideally, whatever system is put in place will be able to capture additional revenue as populations grow. Without such a provision, the state would have a backward incentive to discourage growth because we do not have the ability to pay for necessary government operations as our population increases. Encouraging people to leave the state because we can’t afford them is a fast method for Wyoming to become a failed state.

Taking these expected circumstances into account, I also have a vision for what I hope to see in Wyoming in 2030. I hope to see a Wyoming that has invested in infrastructure to allow business growth across the state. I hope that a business starting in Thermopolis has access to the same resources as a business starting in Casper, Cheyenne or Jackson. If we are ever going to stop or slow the decline of small communities, it will be by providing business opportunities in those communities that induce our homegrown talent to stay and new talent to move in.

I also hope to see a Wyoming that is forward-facing and focused on creating opportunity. We must resist the temptation to spend our time looking at the way things were or trying to resist change. Instead, we must be focused on figuring out how to apply what makes Wyoming great to the changes and challenges that we face.

There is no way for us to stop or control broad-based economic market changes. However, we have absolute control over whether we take advantage of new opportunities.

My hope is that Wyoming in 2030 will have come to terms with the fact that we can still thrive, but we can only do so if we seize new opportunities. If Wyoming does so, Wyoming in 2030 may be the best version of Wyoming yet. If it does not, our future may not be as bright.

Khale Lenhart is an attorney in Cheyenne. He is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. Email: khale.lenhart@gmail.com.

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