For many students at the University of Wyoming, this weekend will be a milestone for the rest of their lives, as they graduate and step out into the vast world to take on new challenges in work, further education, volunteerism and more.
This year, the joyous moment also can’t help but feel somewhat melancholy as UW plans to lay off 37 staff employees next week. That’s on top of 332 positions that have already been cut at UW through early retirement or attrition.
Combined with a $2 million reduction to academic affairs, a $1 million reduction in athletics and additional cuts to the president’s office, UW Foundation and government and community affairs, the layoffs are expected to reduce UW’s budget by nearly $6 million.
It won’t be known who will be laid off until next week, but we have no doubt the move will hit the Laramie community especially hard. After all, many of our neighbors, friends and family members work at the university. We hope those who are laid off next quickly find other work in Albany County and are able to continue to live in our community. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
The move also further highlights the need for our elected officials, business leaders and residents in Wyoming to make more progress on growing the state’s economy. No matter who the president is, coal extraction is very unlikely to rise to the boom levels our state was blessed with not less than five years ago.
We might not ever see the state’s coffers be as flush with cash as they were then, but we can help mitigate those effects — and help make sure our neighbors and friends can continue to live and work in the Cowboy State — by growing other industries statewide.
Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW — which stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — Executive Council is a step in the right direction. While we wish the group had been funded and formed sooner, their first meetings this week in Cheyenne could help point Wyoming toward a better future.
Decreasing the state’s reliance on energy extraction revenues — which currently accounts for 70 percent of state funding — would be a good first step. That’s not to say we don’t think energy extraction is important to or good for Wyoming’s economy. But the roller-coaster nature of energy markets mean Wyoming suffers from a boom-and-bust whiplash.
ENDOW could go a long way toward helping provide Wyoming communities a guiding framework for economic diversification. It won’t be easy and, like any major change, will be met with resistance and suspicion by some. But a concerted effort to inform residents on the very real nature of the problems we face will hopefully drive the efforts forward and help convince lawmakers of the necessity of action.
Doing so won’t mitigate the pain of next week’s layoffs for many in Albany County — or for those who were laid off previously in Campbell, Natrona, Laramie and other counties around the state. But it could go a long way toward alleviating their pain, and making sure our friends and neighbors can continue to live, work and call Wyoming home.