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In late June, Wyoming Business Council Executive Director Shawn Reese told ENDOW that the Wyoming Business Council is working to narrow its own focus to become an engine of economic diversification. Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: Information from a story published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s June 26 issue titled “Business Council looks to narrow focus” by Ramsey Scott is included in this piece.

With a more specific mission, the Wyoming Business Council will become a laser-focused engine of economic diversification, its leaders say.

In late June, Wyoming Business Council Executive Director Shawn Reese told ENDOW at an Executive Council meeting that the Wyoming Business Council is working to narrow its own focus to become an engine of economic diversification.

Reese said he sees ENDOW as the agency’s guiding star for refocusing the agency’s mission, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. ENDOW is working to narrow its own broad 20-year vision into actionable items, and the Wyoming Business Council will now do the same.

“With this revamped and focused mission, we are working with stakeholders, so we have industry representatives, economic developers and a really good cross-section of people who are evaluating our current roster of programs and services,” Reese said in an interview with the Wyoming Business Report.

Those stakeholders will be evaluating, first, how well existing programs and services are aligned to a more targeted approach to economic development, and will also solicit market research into topics like startups, recruitment and access to capital in rural development.

“We are getting an inventory on what is aligned and what is not,” Reese explained.

Over the next few months, the Business Council will look to move away from being a group completely centered around programmatic services to one that caters to the needs of new and growing businesses, Reese said.

“Previously, our mission was one of economic development, which is generally about increasing wealth and prosperity. While that is important, where we’re looking now is a more specific subset of that broader mission,” Reese said in the report from the WTE. “How Wyoming’s economy is comprised, what comprises it and how resilient it is. In focusing our mission, we will be in a better position to not be everything for everyone, which is really the position we’re in with a broader mission.”

Gov. Mark Gordon said the Business Council’s narrowing of focus, and ENDOW working to turn its broad economic vision into actionable items, is part of trying to create lasting improvements to the state’s economy.

“At my request, the Business Council has refined their approach with better definitions and clearer measurements,” Gordon said in an email exchange with the WTE. “This new strategy seeks to build on the good work of the ENDOW Executive Council and is informed by industry leaders.”

Additionally, the Business Council is gathering feedback from the people it serves on how effective the agency’s programs are.

“Some of our programs may be well aligned, but they need work,” Reese explained. “We are doing all of that research right now, and we are asking (for input) to help fill in gaps, to find what new services we can be building for innovation, market development and recruitment.”

The change will be largely driven by the people who use Business Council programs and services, Reese said.

“These are people who know what we can do to improve our processes,” Reese said. “In the process, I imagine we will be getting rid of some things that we have done in the past that don’t have the alignment that we are looking for.”

The work is in the beginning stages, but it is likely to shape the Business Council’s 2020 legislative budget request, he said.

Sarah Fitz-Gerald, a chief strategy officer for the Business Council, said the agency has already learned from stakeholders.

“What we have heard from our stakeholders so far – and this is something we have recognized before – is that we see a gap in how we are specifically meeting the needs of rural communities when it comes to accessing community development,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We want to make sure that our services are tailored for who they are serving, and that is really specific to who we are serving.”

As the Business Council shifts toward a targeted goal of economic diversification only, the agency will need a laser focus on specific industries.

“We need to develop more industry expertise and partnerships within these communities to make sure we are in lockstep with the industry we are collaborating with,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We want to really know our stuff when it comes to (specific) industries.”

There has been a lot of conversation since ENDOW’s creation by former Gov. Matt Mead about how it and the Business Council would work together, or if the two bodies were both needed, according to the WTE. During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers put a footnote in the supplemental budget that withheld several hundred thousand dollars in funding to the Business Council until a report, due by November, on economic development efforts was submitted to the Legislature.

Gordon eventually vetoed that footnote from the budget as legislative overreach. But Reese said the Business Council is very aware of the political landscape, and it is imperative it listen to what lawmakers and policymakers are saying when it comes to the direction they want to see the Business Council go in.

“The Legislature has been very supportive. But I think they also have an expectation we can’t continue to do the same thing and expect different results,” Reese said. “So we need to match their willingness to invest in economic development and economic diversification with some new and fresh approaches that are grounded in these conversations that we’ve had with industry, policymakers and ENDOW.”

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