In a push to break Wyoming’s reliance on an unpredictable energy sector, private industry representatives, state agencies and institutions of higher education across the state are collaborating on the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — or ENDOW — initiative.
The enabling legislation for ENDOW established an executive council to head the initiative and specifies that this council must work with the University of Wyoming and the Community College Commission for its economic diversification efforts.
But when Gov. Matt Mead’s office announced the executive council’s members in April, the list did not include representatives from either UW or any of Wyoming’s seven community colleges.
This is because the educational sector is going to be more heavily involved once the council has the chance to establish its goals, said Jim Rose, executive director of the Community College Commission.
“Until those meetings occur and they have an opportunity to develop a plan of action, the colleges — and I think perhaps to the same degree, the university — isn’t really in a position to know precisely what we’re going to be called upon to do,” Rose said.
Higher education in Wyoming was represented during the formation of the executive council and will continue to be represented in many other ways going forward, said Jerimiah Rieman, the initiative’s coordinator and the governor’s non-voting representative on the executive council.
“The university certainly has had an opportunity to help us craft the legislation,” Rieman said. “And the president has been incredibly supportive of the effort from day one.”
ENDOW’s executive council is tasked with developing a 20-year plan for economic diversification — a plan lawmakers supported in an effort to break Wyoming’s reliance on mineral extraction and attract new industries to the state.
The initiative started with a “steering group,” a body that suggested individuals for the executive council. Rose, several other community college representatives and UW President Laurie Nichols participated in that group.
In addition to her role in determining the council’s makeup, Nichols will also have a seat on another council, which will work with the executive council in as-of-yet undetermined ways. While the other members of this advisory council have not been identified yet, they will meet far less frequently and represent a wider set of stakeholders than the executive council.
“The governor is currently working to contact individuals that are thought leaders or business leaders from around the world to engage them in this conversation about economic diversification,” Rieman said.
UW and the community colleges will remain involved in the initiative for its entirety, Rieman said.
“We’ll have multiple connection points for the university throughout this whole initiative as we move forward,” he said. “Certainly, the university is a critical component to our success in the future and a number of the programs are of interest to us, whether they are in the College of Law, the College of Business, the School of Energy Resources, the Engineering Department and others.”
The university will also be connected to ENDOW by way of private sector representatives on the council with relationships to the university, either through the Office of Research and Economic Development, UW’s business incubator or other ways, said Chris Boswell, vice president for governmental and community relations.
“So, we do have connections with those folks who have gone into business and have been involved with the university through our economic development efforts,” he said.
Community colleges will have their own roles to play once diversification strategies are discussed and approved, said Mark Kitchen, vice president for college relations at Northwest College.
“Ever since the bill was introduced, we have been hoping the community colleges would play a significant role in workforce training,” he said.
The executive council has 25 members, 10 of whom are non-voting members. The council is tasked with developing its two-decade plan for diversification by Aug. 1, 2018, at which point, the plan will be presented to the governor for approval.