Representatives from Wyoming’s key industries say they need a skilled workforce, and that Wyoming workers need training.

To address both needs, lawmakers have laid the groundwork for the Wyoming’s Tomorrow scholarship program, which experts say could have a positive impact on economic development in Wyoming for years to come. An endowment created by the Legislature has not yet been fully funded to a necessary $50 million for scholarship awards to be made, though the framework for the scholarship has been written into state law. The Wyoming Community College Commission will work on implementation plans for the rest of the year.

Sandra Caldwell, executive director of the WCCC, said in an interview that taking that first critical step to create the program was huge.

“The structure had to be created,” she said. “We know people support this program, and we had to get the mechanics right. That is why it took so many years.”

Wyoming’s Tomorrow has been funded with an initial $10 million allocation to an endowment fund. Before any money will reach Wyoming students, the endowment must grow to $50 million. The scholarships would be awarded to nontraditional students looking to go to college after age 24, with up to $7,200 throughout four full-time terms.

Caldwell said that the WCCC has been tasked with the rules writing process for the newly created scholarship program, which was to have begun at an April 21 meeting of the Community College Commission taking place at Western Wyoming Community College. Because the endowment is not yet fully funded, the commission will not have to implement emergency rules, and it will ensure that “when the funding is available, if they were to fully fund it in the next legislative session, we’re ready to roll with scholarships that very next academic year,” Caldwell said.

Since 2012, agencies from the Wyoming Business Council to the Department of Workforce Services and from the state’s soon-to-be eight community college districts to the University of Wyoming and others have been working on plans for the scholarship program. The rulemaking process will also include stakeholders, Caldwell said.

“We will have a substantial team of experts, so that we can potentially have rules by the next legislative session,” Caldwell said.

Business assist

It's not just students that would be helped by a new scholarship.

Ron Gullberg, strategic partnerships director for the Wyoming Business Council, said an available and skilled workforce has been a real issue in Wyoming, from keeping businesses here and their expansion efforts to recruiting new employers. The scholarship program could help with that, he said.

“From an economic development perspective, the Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship program is another tool in providing opportunities not just for Wyomingites, but business and industry growth,” Gullberg wrote in an email to the Wyoming Business Report.

The effect on Wyoming workers could be personal, with additional training leading to higher-paying jobs, as well as career advancement. Data shows that having an industry-recognized credential, whether a certification, a credit, a credential or an associates degree, can lead to high-paying skilled jobs that are often hard to fill, Caldwell said.

On a larger scale, it is at the bachelor’s degree level that experts see the ability for growth in a skilled workforce, she continued.

“That is how we grow our own, and the other thing we know is that at the bachelor’s level is where new industry is created,” Caldwell said.

Cindy DeLancey, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, said the scholarship could have statewide impacts for years to come.

“This is so far-reaching and can have so many generational impacts,” DeLancey said. “There are so many layers of value here.”

The goal, she said, is to get Wyoming people in good-paying jobs.

“We want people to stay in Wyoming. We want our 24-year-olds, we want our youth. Wyoming should have a place for everyone, and having a place where we have the ability to train … and improve our skill set, through higher education, that is really that path forward as we evolve and work on economic diversification,” DeLancey said.

Mining

Executive Director Travis Deti of the Wyoming Mining Association said that his organization also supports the scholarship program, and will continue to advocate for its full funding.

“Wyoming’s workforce is changing, and we are going into some uncharted territory,” Deti said. “We think that this, once it is fully funded and available, it will help some of our older workers make a career transition, and to stay in the state and continue to fill jobs we are going to need.”

The mining industry is the largest taxpayer in the state, Deti said, and is heavily vested in economic diversification and workforce training across the state.

“Wyoming’s economy and our extraction industries are intricately dependent on each other,” Deti said. “As the Wyoming extraction industry goes, so goes Wyoming, so anything we can do at the state level to help create and maintain that workforce for our extraction industries, and for our key industries and our taxpayers, it is a good thing.”

Lawmakers have said they will continue to advocate for full funding before the Legislature meets again.

Reserve funds

Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, said he will be watching revenue streams into the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, which could set an all-time record of $2 billion.

“I am committed to working to use some of the record revenue to the LSRA account for funding the Wyoming’s Tomorrow endowment,” he said.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said the ultimate goal would be to have $100 million in the endowment, and that $50 million would provide investment earnings to retrain approximately 175 people per year.

“$100 million would be double that,” Harshman said in an email to WBR.

“We are off to a great start. The inviolate endowment is established,” he said.

Harshman has compared the program to Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship, established in 2006 to provide myriad scholarship opportunities for traditional students at UW and community colleges.

“It will be a game changer for our citizens and our state as our economy continues to change,” Harshman said. “Wyoming has a proven track record and has become an expert in using our boom and investing it for the future. This is about our descendants, and our future.

“I am confident, given our current mineral price and production, that we will enter a significant boom, and it will be important that we invest a portion of this in permanent savings, where the investment income will benefit our precious state and her people in perpetuity,” he said.

DeLancey said that supportive partners in establishing the scholarship range from the agricultural community to health care workers, to truckers and contractors and the energy sector. Creating programs like Wyoming’s Tomorrow, she said, are “the kinds of decisions that are going to be essential for Wyoming to stay competitive and relevant.”

“In a time when the world has been so uncertain, to know that we were willing to make that investment in ourselves and our future generation of workers is just incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Carrie Haderlie is a longtime freelance reporter from Saratoga who, among other subjects, is covering this year's legislative session for the WTE. She can be reached by email to news@wyomingnews.com.

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