This week, the Laramie City Council approved a 10-year economic development plan to replace the economic development section of Laramie’s 2007 comprehensive plan.
The 116-page “Thrive Laramie” plan was crafted by Fourth Economy, a national consulting firm, in collaboration with a steering committee of 25 local residents, including representatives from the city, the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance, the Wyoming Business Council, Albany County, the University of Wyoming, Laramie County Community College, Laramie Main Street Alliance, the Wyoming Legislature, and local industry.
In January 2019, the council resolved to update its economic development plan, the new version of which recommends a variety of goals for the city, including diversifying industries, boosting wages, funding the arts, growing outdoor recreation, investing in broadband, adding housing and improving the city’s infrastructure.
Each of the recommendations outlined in the plan is aimed at targeting a specific problem Laramie has, and each recommendation comes with suggested “actions” the community can take bring those recommendations to fruition.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Janine Jordan said the steering committee will now turn into an “implementation committee” to work on bringing the plan’s recommendations into fruition.
Some council-members questioned whether the $113,000 that the city paid Fourth Economy was well-spent.
“I’m not trying to minimize the amount of work that went into this, and I’m really looking forward to the implementation phase, but for $113,000, we got a lot of fluff,” council-member Jessica Stalder said. “There’s maybe five or six pages of really actionable steps, but not anything that the members of the steering committee didn’t already know.”
Council-member Bryan Shuster said the money could have been better spent on actual projects.
“This is my 18th year on council, and I’d be scared to estimate how much money we’ve spent on studies,” Shuster said. “I’m about studied out.”
However, council-member Jayne Pearce it’s useful to have outside consultants “validate what we already know.”
“You can’t be a prophet in your own land,” she said.
Council-member Brian Harrington also said he thinks “making policy on good research is a healthy practice for us.”
Council-member Paul Weaver also noted that conducting studies is a commonly criticized government expense and, yet, having comprehensive data is generally considered necessary to move forward on projects.
“Invariably, when an approach is suggested to tackle one of these problems that we have a firm grasp of, another criticism will present itself and say ‘how do we know what we know?’” Weaver said. “Yes, much of this is something that we could probably sit down and be able to put on paper ourselves. The reason it’s important to have an outside third-party tell us that is because … it provides us with material to present to people and say ‘not only do we believe this is the case, but other people who do this for other communities also agree with our assessment.’”
Mayor Joe Shumway said that members of the steering committee have told him they think the new economic development plan will be useful for the community.
“Everyone I talked to said that this really gives us the momentum we need to move forward for the next 10 years,” he said.
The new economic development plan also includes three suggested “catalysts for growth”:
• Prepare for the area’s population to grow to 50,000
• Maintain cohesive “Laramie messaging” to outsiders
• Enhance revenue to become less-reliant on state funds
That 50,000 population figure was one of the plan’s most discussed aspects in the last few weeks among members of the City Council and the Planning Commission.
“The Laramie community, if it can grow to a population of 50,000, would realize new opportunities and enhance the overall quality of life for its residents,” the plan states. “This plan would seek to realize an additional 8,000 residents above what current population models indicate during that time period.”
Jordan said that figure is meant to also include residents in the Laramie area, not just those who live within city limits.
When including those residents, Jordan said the 50,000 figure only contemplates adding about 12,000 residents to the current population.
Laramie’s steady rate of growth in recent decades indicates that the city’s population, including residents outside of city limits, will likely rise to about 42,000 by 2030.
“But if we’re only planning for natural growth, then we’re probably not planning well enough,” Jordan said. “We don’t want to be a community that’s caught off-guard by growth that exceeds our historical numbers.”
Planning Commission member Maura Hanning said in January the 50,000 figure “could be off-putting to some people in the community who don’t want to see things get that big but just want the quality to improve.”
Shuster said that increasing the population to 50,000 would encourage more retail stores — a boon for the sales tax collection.
“I heard a rumor that Chick-fil-A is coming. Nope, they won’t touch us until we hit 50,000,” Shuster said. “Lowe’s, Home Depot … they’re not going to touch us until we hit 50,000. … We need some businesses that sell retail goods in Laramie.”