Wyoming has been the country’s top net energy supplier for over two decades and is home to approximately one-third of the coal reserves in the United States. Despite these abundant natural resources, Wyoming faces an urgent need to diversify its economy as the demand for coal decreases and its residents seek opportunities in neighboring states. With an economic development strategy that equips its residents with critical workforce-ready skills while prioritizing industries that have long-term economic potential, Wyoming can catalyze local economic growth to create good-paying job opportunities while maintaining its unique character and strong traditions.
Extensive research and over 40 interviews with stakeholders and experts in Wyoming have identified the carbon tech industry as a promising job creator and economic driver in the state. The global market for carbon tech products is in the billions and is expected to continue to grow substantially over the next decade. Wyoming is well positioned to tap into market growth in this industry due to its vast coal and carbon resources, extraordinary R&D assets, favorable tax environment, high quality of life, and commitment to economic diversification.
Through the carbon tech industry, Wyoming can leverage its numerous strengths to take advantage of expanding opportunities, such as:
- High demand for carbon tech. The U.S. market for carbon tech products totaled nearly $3 billion in recent years.
- Innovative research and development investments. Wyoming’s visionary public and private investments in cutting-edge R&D centers give it a key competitive advantage to study, test, and prototype the next generation of carbon tech products and processes.
- Vast supply of key raw materials. The state has enormous natural resource deposits and is a world leader in producing the building blocks of the carbon tech industry.
- High quality of life. Wyoming residents enjoy incredible outdoor recreation opportunities, a favorable business climate, and high-quality educational resources—all powerful tools to recruit top talent.
- Strong support for a diverse economy. State leaders are committed to diversifying Wyoming’s economy by providing funding, proposing legislation, and crafting solutions to help it grow while maintaining its unique character.
- Policy tailwind. Recently passed state and federal incentives encourage carbon capture and utilization, creating lucrative new market opportunities.
- Win-win chance to grow other local industries. Two of the largest potential downstream users of Wyoming carbon tech products are Wyoming wind and transmission line developers, providing an opportunity to supply these in-state businesses.
- Opportunity to support critically needed job growth. With forward-thinking solutions, carbon tech could support an average of 2,600 Wyoming jobs annually through 2035, representing over 25 percent of the state’s current manufacturing workforce.
To realize these opportunities, state and local leaders can pursue strategies that create a strong foundation for industry growth in carbon tech and help Wyoming businesses grow, innovate, and outperform regional, national, and global competitors. In today’s competitive, globalized economy, businesses are more likely to thrive in cities and states that offer a rich innovation ecosystem, provide fertile ground for capital investment, boast a highly skilled workforce, maintain a robust value chain, and offer clear policy signals. By having a close network of partners and suppliers, Wyoming companies can reap the benefits of increased productivity and operational efficiency, amplifying local job creation and economic growth. Creating a prosperous industry cluster will also require a tax structure that empowers Wyoming to provide key infrastructure such as roads, water and wastewater, airports, and schools. State leaders will need to determine how to fund the critical infrastructure its new and growing businesses and workers will require.
Capitalizing on this opportunity offers real benefits for the state economy and Wyoming residents. Annually through 2035, carbon tech can support an average of 2,600 direct jobs from manufacturing, indirect jobs from suppliers, and induced jobs from spending in the local economy, representing over 25 percent of the state’s current manufacturing workforce. This industry offers a diverse array of good-paying jobs that cater to various education and experience levels, including chemical engineers, computer-controlled machine tool operators, material scientists, and mechanics. Policymakers can support these jobs by taking advantage of increasing global demand and overcoming barriers to industry growth.
Summary of Recommendations
The analysis presented in this report culminates in recommendations for Wyoming’s leaders based on best practices in the United States and abroad. Each recommendation identifies strategies to address barriers to industry growth or capitalize on untapped opportunities in the carbon tech industry. Specifically, Wyoming could target challenges in each foundational building block: the innovation ecosystem, access to capital, workforce development, value chain build-out, and local market growth for carbon tech. While the recommendations are intended to be complementary and would be more powerful if adopted as a package, each can also be viewed as a stand-alone option and serve to stimulate discussion on long-term strategies.
Foster a Commercialization Culture at the University of Wyoming
Although the University of Wyoming’s Technology Transfer and Research Products Center is instrumental in taking carbon tech products and processes from the lab to market, the university’s faculty could be better supported in their commercialization efforts. In order to improve industry relations, generate positive publicity, and discover new funding opportunities, the University of Wyoming could increase services, incentives, and support for faculty who want to develop their cutting-edge research and bring it to market. Potential measures include recognizing patents as creative scholarship in tenure policies, establishing startup support programs, and supporting entrepreneurial leaves of absence for faculty.
Develop a Statewide Mentorship Network
Wyoming’s budding entrepreneurs, especially those in rural areas, struggle to find support and resources to help them navigate the lengthy and complex commercialization process. To ensure emerging carbon tech entrepreneurs get the help they need, Wyoming’s leaders could spearhead a venture catalyst model statewide. Each venture catalyst could facilitate vital connections between local would-be entrepreneurs and the training, information, and funding opportunities they need to achieve market viability.
Create a Wyoming-Driven Innovation Engine
The high-tech innovation culture in Wyoming needs strengthening: Residents do not often consider starting high-tech businesses, which can lead to a lower number and quality of high-tech startups and low utilization of existing resources. There is a great opportunity to harness the state’s innate sense of self-reliance to support new entrepreneurial endeavors by reenvisioning its resources for startups. To support new entrepreneurial endeavors, the state could bolster Wyoming’s three incubators by expanding their mandates and providing a wider range of services to improve deal flow.
Access to Capital
Simplify Access to Sources of Capital
Wyoming’s budding entrepreneurs must search high and low to find the capital they need to start and scale their businesses. This takes time and energy and distracts them from growing their carbon tech ventures. Wyoming’s leaders could create a simple, online capital locator tool to help entrepreneurs identify the type of capital that is appropriate for their company based on maturity and industry type. By leveraging this one-stop shop, Wyoming’s entrepreneurs will have more time for their ventures.
Establish a Technology Maturation Loan Fund to Fill Financing Gaps
Early-stage technology, such as carbon tech, needs maturation before it can be commercialized, however venture capital firms and angel investors shy away from investing in technology that has not matured or is still commercially unproven. Wyoming does not fund any programs addressing this gap, and therefore, may not reap the economic benefits of homegrown innovations. The state should consider establishing a technology maturation loan fund to increase the number of promising carbon tech innovations that reach the commercial development stage.
Appoint a Foundation Liaison to Increase Funding for Business Competitions
Business plan competitions are a powerful tool for increasing innovation, creating jobs, and incentivizing budding entrepreneurs to take the risk and bring their ideas to reality. Yet in Wyoming, few business plan competitions are held, the prize money is not sufficient to entice the biggest, boldest carbon tech ventures to compete, and some of those that are available are only open to a small segment of the population. Wyoming could appoint a foundation liaison to connect with, and broker support from, philanthropic foundations to increase funding for business plan competitions.
Establish a Fund of Funds
Wyoming lacks a range of capital resources, especially venture capital, to grow its new businesses, many of which are not eligible for traditional forms of financing, such as bank loans. This challenge is pronounced for new carbon tech ventures that are creating technology that is costly to develop and requires a longer commercialization period. Wyoming’s leaders could establish a fund of funds and encourage top investors to commit funds to companies in Wyoming, thereby increasing access to capital for in-state businesses to grow and scale.
Increase Apprenticeships for High School Students
Apprenticeships are a tried and tested training model for guiding young people into promising career tracks. However, Wyoming ranks forty-fourth nationwide in the number of apprenticeships per capita. To ensure the competitiveness of its workforce for the carbon tech jobs of the future, Wyoming could increase the number of apprenticeships by offering incentives to businesses who provide these opportunities.
Retain Wyoming’s Brightest Students
Wyoming is experiencing a brain drain: Its best and brightest students, workers, and future leaders are leaving the state for economic opportunities elsewhere. Wyoming could retain this talent by converting its pre-eminent Hathaway Scholarship program to a loan forgiveness program. By tying the education funds to working in the state after graduation, Wyoming will provide a powerful incentive for young people to leverage their education to advance Wyoming’s economy.
Improve Soft Skills Training for High School Students
Soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, and teamwork are critical for success in almost any workplace, yet less than fifty percent of Wyoming employers are satisfied with new hires’ work skills. Wyoming could implement a statewide simulated workplace program to help its high school students gain professional skills and prepare for real-world job expectations.
Formalize Industry-Led Job Training Programs for Carbon Tech
Wyoming could design training programs to ensure that in-state workers are ready for jobs in the carbon tech industry. To build this talent pipeline, Wyoming could establish an industry-led job training council that identifies right-fit skills and facilitates training partnerships.
Build a Comprehensive Carbon Tech Cluster Partnership
Despite the visionary investments Wyoming has made in carbon tech research centers, the state currently lacks a comprehensive strategy to develop the industry. Across the country and the world, the most successful clusters are driven by an intentional, overarching plan to attract companies, pass enabling policies, and hit key metrics. Wyoming could benefit greatly from the creation of a formal public-private partnership with industry, research centers, NGOs, and government leaders to strategically grow the state’s nascent carbon tech cluster.
Broadcast Wyoming’s Business Assets
From its abundance of land and business-friendly environment to its spirit of self-reliance and incredible recreational resources, Wyoming has much to offer carbon tech firms considering expansion or relocation. The state can highlight these resources with a marketing strategy that showcases its favorable business climate.
Leverage the High-Speed Internet Opportunity in Local Communities
Wyoming showed tremendous leadership by instituting a statewide broadband funding program in 2018. To maximize its impact, the state could increase incentives for competitive applications from municipalities who want to take advantage of this funding. By expanding access to internet services across local communities, Wyoming can position itself to foster a robust carbon tech value chain that supplies businesses with a pipeline of innovative R&D efforts and skilled technical workers.
Build a Strong Foundation for Future Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign direct investment (FDI) can be of particular value to Wyoming’s carbon tech industry since many innovative companies are based outside of the United States. Wyoming could build its reputation as a global leader in carbon tech by establishing more formal relationships with potential international trade partners, which could generate future investment in the state.
Create Incentives to Drive Demand for Wyoming’s Carbon Tech Products
Wyoming has an opportunity to update its infrastructure, particularly roads, bridges, and dams, with locally made carbon tech products. To leverage this opportunity, Wyoming could institute a set of procurement policies for public contracts to stimulate purchases of carbon tech products manufactured in-state. Setting up a competitive process that notifies and rewards bidders on state contracts for purchasing Wyoming-made carbon tech products—such as carbon tech concrete for road repair—will drive demand and open up key business opportunities to grow the industry.
Unleash Wyoming’s Wind Market
Wyoming carbon tech manufacturers could benefit from selling their products to the manufacturers of wind turbine components and transmission lines to be used for in-state wind projects. To fully harness this potential, Wyoming could foster its wind industry by providing dedicated leadership, policy stability, and tailored tax incentives.