If state government and private industry invested fully in carbon technology, Wyoming could use coal to support an average of 2,600 jobs over the next 17 years, according to a report from the American Jobs Project.
The nonprofit began work on the report in February, soliciting the help of the UW College of Business and UW energy economics professor Robert Godby.
Kate Ringness, co-president of the American Jobs Project, said her organization focused in on Wyoming’s carbon tech potential after noticing the significant levels of research and development already being backed in the state — like the Wyoming Integrated Test Center in Gillette and Ramaco’s carbon project in Sheridan.
“We are ahead of the curve here with carbon tech,” she said.
The estimate of 2,600 jobs was a based on projected growth for the carbon tech industry over the next two decades and Ringness said her group was “very conservative in estimating how much of that market share” Wyoming can capture.
The nonprofit’s jobs estimate purposefully ignores jobs related to enhanced oil recovery and carbon sequestration, Ringness said.
Carbon tech refers to products and chemical feedstock made from coal, natural gas, oil and captured carbon dioxide.
Because carbon tech is a “very nascent industry,” Ringness said it’s hard to predict when all needed technology would be ready for commercialization and the state industry could scale up to 2,600 jobs.
While the state’s coal reserves and planned research and development position Wyoming to be a leader in carbon tech, the state doesn’t have a strong ability to attract workers.
“You have to think about what attracts high-level individuals,” Ringness said.
That means providing young people with the amenities to make them want to live in Wyoming.
“The great thing is that you are looking at that with the ENDOW initiative,” Ringness said. “While I see a lot of barriers there, I see a lot of initiative to overcome those barriers.”
The American Jobs Project published its 55-page carbon tech report Monday at www.americanjobsproject.us. The nonprofit was started in 2015 by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
The report suggests the state could advance needed technologies by having UW better commercialize its research, developing a “statewide mentorship network” and fostering high tech start-ups.
The report also stresses the importance of workforce development, access to new capital and driving demand for carbon-tech products.
Godby said that while the report doesn’t really offer “anything new and original,” it does project a good summary of economic benefits the state could see if there was enough political will.
“There’s opportunity, and then there’s political willingness,” he said. “We’re going to have to invest in ourselves and some of that is going to mean making some bets on ourselves.”
Like Ringness, Godby also sees a number of obstacles to advancing the carbon tech industry in Wyoming.
The state struggles with economic development, he said, in part because other regional players — like Colorado’s Front Range, the Salt Lake Basin and parts of Montana — are all so economically strong.