Laramie’s 10-year economic development plan is getting a refresher this fall after the City Council contracted with Pittsburgh-based consulting firm, The Fourth Economy.
During a work session July 23, council members heard their first update on the plan from the firm, including some initial data as well as a framework for how the plan will be compiled.
While the updated data is appreciated, the main priority for many of the council members was to ensure the plan includes more than just data, but also action.
Mayor Joe Shumway said although he understands Laramie needs things like higher-paying jobs and affordable housing, “in the end, we can’t force all of this to happen.”
“What I want to hear in the end is what are the strategies that are working elsewhere? What are the best practices that keep people in the community?” Shumway asked during the work session. “Because that’s what we want to have, we want to have a viable, growing, energetic, fun place to live.”
Councilman Paul Weaver agreed, saying “actionable things that municipal government policy can impact is what we’re going to be interested in.” He added he wanted to see suggestions that are more than just blanket statements, like encouraging business development.
Wanting to create a community-wide vision, Fourth Economy CEO and President Rich Overymoyer said the plan will help “to define really what that vision is” by creating “very actionable strategies to actually achieve that vision and the goals that we’ll set with that.”
Looking to “build momentum,” Overmoyer said the plan will take just a few months to build and create; the firm is hoping to submit it to the council by early 2020.
Fourth Economy has already made a lot of headway in its first month, collecting data on commuting populations, median personal incomes, housing prices and more. While still in the process of compiling and exploring the data and potential factors that could be skewing it, Overmoyer and Nicole Muise-Kielkucki, Fourth Economy’s director of economic innovation, presented initial findings to council last week.
One of the primary objectives includes looking at ways to retain graduates from the University of Wyoming, both by encouraging entrepreneurship as well as seeing where a disconnect may be in terms of popular degrees vs. job offerings in Laramie.
The presentation also touched on initial data showing where the city has its challenges. Overmoyer said Laramie’s housing prices are a concern, with values that “look a lot more like Fort Collins than the rest of Wyoming.”
Affordable housing becomes even more important considering the low median income and high poverty rate in Laramie. Although the unemployment rate is low, Muise-Kielkucki said the majority of residents are employed at low- or median-income jobs. Additionally, according to a 2017 American Community survey, Laramie’s poverty level is at 23% vs. the nationwide average of 13.4%, with the largest demographic being those 18-24 years old.
Overmoyer noted the college student population can skew the data and demographics — median income or poverty rate, for example — but ultimately doesn’t completely explain away all of Laramie’s issues.
Because hard data doesn’t always show the whole story, the firm is also hoping to interview at least 36 “community leaders” around Laramie to ensure the firm “can see what’s happening, what that context is,” Muise-Kielkucki said.
“It’s helpful to get their unique viewpoint,” she added. “It gives some color and some context for a lot of the data and prior planning that we’re seeing.”
Local elected officials, business leaders, area nonprofits and more are included as potential interviewees, and Fourth Economy also plans to involve the rest of the community in a listening session this fall.