Gateway to Opportunity

Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition (SEDC)
Written by Josh Carmody

Nestled into the southern region of Wyoming is Sweetwater County, with its many points of interest, such as the start of the historical John Wesley Powell Expedition of the Green River that runs through Wyoming before joining the Colorado River system. The two largest cities in Sweetwater County, Rock Springs and Green River, host tens of thousands of people annually who have come from all over to take in the natural splendor of Sweetwater County – but there are also those who arrive to make this diverse and community-driven county their home and potentially, their place of business.

While the county is a place for tourists, it also boasts a diverse economy that continues to grow. There is a staggering amount of natural resources extracted there. With two coal plants, phosphate and ammonia plants, five trona mines, and a large oil and gas industry presence, Sweetwater County has made it abundantly clear that mineral extraction is the life blood of the communities. Mining trona, a mineral that is the main source of sodium carbonate, alone accounts for a huge piece of the county’s economy. This versatile substance is found in glass, baking soda, and even toothpaste, and the mining companies of Sweetwater County sit on the world’s largest known natural bed of trona in the world, and to this day, only one percent of it has been mined.

Certainly, this is a business-friendly county that is abundant in both tourism and job opportunities. Historically, the area was a front of the growing American railway, and Sweetwater County is still a transportation hub with interstate 80, air service, and well-established rail service. Sweetwater County is also home to renewable energy with a new solar farm, spanning 640 forty acres near Green River. The renewable energy push is complemented with the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which extends beyond the borders of Sweetwater County and will be the largest wind farm in the world at its completion. With the economy so heavily involved in natural resource collection, it only makes sense that the county plans to increase these ventures as well as finding new businesses that will complement the already massive investment.

One such venture is the Middle Baxter Road project, sponsored by the county in conjunction with the cities and the SEDC (Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition). Having applied for a grant from the Wyoming Business Council, which was approved in March of this year, Sweetwater County has been following through on the development of fifteen thousand acres near the airport along Middle Baxter Road. Currently, it is researching the costs of infrastructure and the types of markets it wants to attract, this going hand-in-hand with businesses that complement the coal and trona industries. Sweetwater County has taken the state’s ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) initiatives and mission and focused it to their own needs. The size and foresight of the project stands to increase the economy greatly.

With the types of opportunities that Sweetwater County has for resource industries, it should be known that there are top-ranking educational programs for just such work located in the county. The Western Wyoming Community College is ranked nationally among the top schools, and the college works closely with local industry to identify the current needs and trends. Being able to craft programs specifically to provide the workforce with new and necessary skills for the work ahead has resulted in one hundred percent job placement. Having such a close connection with the local industries has given the college advanced on-site training facilities – including an oil wellhead on campus grounds – that provide real life teaching scenarios.

Sweetwater County is confidently moving along, with diversification at the forefront of everything it does. Local plants continue to expand and update their facilities. Increased efforts in recruitment and job placement are helping to prepare for what happens when the workforce loses baby boomers to retirement. The county is intent on keeping the new talent produced by its education system or welcoming these professionals back after they have moved away to gain knowledge and new skills.

It is not just good paying jobs that keep residents in Sweetwater County, but also the natural beauty of its outdoors and recreational opportunities it offers. Sweetwater County is a young county where the average age is thirty-four, and organized events are everywhere, especially during the summer. Festivals, from the 69-year-old Flaming Gorge Days with its parade, games, and concerts, to International Days, the Mansface Mountain Music Festival, the county fair – called Wyoming’s Big Show – and multiple major prize fishing competitions are just a small sampling of things to do here. The county has invested millions into its events complex that rarely sees a day go by without playing host to local and national events. Activities from pro and amateur rodeos such as the National High Schools Finals Rodeo to stock car races, motocross races, car shows, concerts and horse racing make Sweetwater County literally eventful and mean there’s never a dull moment.

Other major draws to these vast open spaces include the Killpecker Sand Dunes, which offer over 11,000 acres of beautiful soft dunes to explore and ATV. Sights range from buttes and spires like the 400 foot tall Boar’s Tusk to the famous petroglyphs and rare desert elk. It is the gateway to Yellowstone National Park as well as the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Historical Expedition Island, where Major John Wesley Powell started his famous journeys into the West, along the river system, is now a destination for tourists and families where they can take part in numerous water-based activities in the surrounding river system.

As Sweetwater County looks ahead, it aims, as always, to bring in more businesses, working with the various towns and cities to ensure each is growing. It has big plans for taking the lead on unique economic development as well as working on more infrastructure and quality of life projects. By bringing support to the local main streets and developing natural assets such as the riverfronts, which host many popular activities, the county plans to give the cities and towns of Sweetwater the means to provide for them years from now. As the county brings in new businesses that young people want to support, supports and retains current business, and recognizes that quality of life is a necessity that means many things, businesses and the people who live here have a bright future.

Between blue ribbon fishing, wild horse loop tours, the number one single trail bike track system in the state of Wyoming, and the benefit of sitting atop a plateau with ample view of mountains on nearly every side, it is no surprise that people want to be a part of Sweetwater County.

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