Independence Day has come and gone, along with Wyoming's 127th birthday, but summer continues, which means tourists for the state and potential customers for local businesses. With natural sights like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and authentic western experiences like Cheyenne Frontier Days, tourists are being attracted to Wyoming's open spaces and mountains. And with this comes great opportunities for local businesses – opportunities that may lie untapped.
Much of Wyoming’s economy thrives on energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, if Wyoming were a country, it would be the third-largest energy exporter and the tenth-largest energy producer in the world, highlighting just how crucial these industries are to our state. But our economy doesn’t stop there. Wyoming provides another venue: outdoor recreation, road trips and exploration.
Tourism is a vital player in Wyoming's economy. To give you an idea of just how important, 10.5 million people travelled to Wyoming in 2015, spending $3.4 billion and adding $175 million in local and tax revenues. That’s 86 percent more than in 2005. Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are known worldwide, but these national parks are just the beginning. Home to the nation’s first national monument, Devils Tower, along with 25 historic landmarks, there is so much more to do and see. (And, come winter, there are areas for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.)
This year offers Wyoming a special opportunity. Because of our generally clear skies and fewer lights, Wyoming is a major destination for the much-anticipated Total Solar Eclipse on August 21. It will draw many visitors our way and cause hotels to turn on their “no vacancy” signs. It is estimated that up to 192,000 people will visit Wyoming on the day of the eclipse alone.
Small businesses can greatly benefit from this increase in tourism. They can address the visitors’ needs and promise an unforgettable experience. Car rental and taxi services, hotels, restaurants, bars, guides and outfitters will be in high demand. Publicize your business, highlight what distinguishes it and what unique quality it brings to the community. Social media provides an excellent platform for this. Visitors will turn to local newspapers and media for ideas about places to go and things to do, so you can advertise in your town’s media which will, in turn, support another local business.
With tourism comes a domino effect. The growth of visitors and attractions results in the growth of businesses and communities; the success of one local business can help the whole community flourish. The importance of small businesses cannot be overlooked. Here in Wyoming, we are pioneers in the business world as well as of the West; there are more than 60,000 small businesses in our state, and 97 percent of employers are small businesses.
So this August, when hundreds of thousands of new visitors show up in Wyoming, what are you going to do to take advantage of it? Visitors will likely find interactions with businesses to be more personal and authentic in the Cowboy State. They may even find themselves inspired with an entrepreneurial desire and see the endless opportunities to start a business of their own here. After all, the Kauffman Foundation ranked Wyoming third among all 50 states for new business startups. As Brook Kreder, CEO of Visit Casper, said in the magazine Dossier, “Everything starts with a visit; you don’t relocate your business to an area without visiting first.”
I am confident that visitors will find themselves leaving with more than they expected, whether that’s an awe and appreciation for Wyoming’s natural wonders or the inspiration to be part of our pioneering spirit in the business community.