Volume 103, Number 21 - January 25, 2007
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County analyst reports on boom’s effects
At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Sublette County Commission, socioeconomic analyst Jeffrey Jacquet presented his recent findings on the oil and gas boom’s impact on the county’s population, businesses and housing needs.
The high cost of living, Jacquet claimed, made it difficult for the county to retain resident workers. At the same time, the boom has helped increase Sublette County’s permanent population by 20 percent between 2000 and 2005. According to a census of local realtors, the population increase has outpaced housing growth by 50 percent, Jacquet’s report stated.
The report also stated that the average family in Sublette County has a yearly income of $59,000 and can afford a home costing $225,000. The cost of housing in Sublette County is 35 percent higher than the state average (Teton County, the county with the highest cost of living nation-wide, was excluded from the comparison).
Sublette County’s workforce shortage remains severe, according to the report. The county has an unemployment rate of 1.5 percent, the lowest in the nation. Over 3,000 workers, about 40 percent of the population, live outside the county. The absence of permanent workers makes it difficult to establish small businesses.
The rest of the state has experienced similar, if less dramatic effects of the energy boom. Retail and entertainment businesses throughout Wyoming have reported a decrease in their number of employees.
Commissioner Joel Bousman pressed Jacquet for further information about housing needs. While the average family could afford a $225,000 home, roughly 25 percent of the population could not afford anything more than a $116,000 house, Jacquet replied. Bousman pointed out that while highly paid gas field workers could afford pricey homes, middle-class residents such as teachers, sheriff’s deputies and health care workers may find homes in Sublette County prohibitively expensive. Bousman indicated those kinds of workers were desirable because they would comprise a stable, diverse economic base.
Commission chairman Bill Cramer said he wished someone would propose building a trailer park in the county. Mobile homes typically cost less than $100,000. If the trailers were rented to tenants, the owner could ensure the property was neat and well-cared for, eliminating the perceived danger the park could become “trashy,” Cramer said. Mobile homes might also be attractive to senior citizens who spend part of the year outside of Sublette County and do not wish to invest in an expensive home, Cramer argued.
Bousman suggested the county help the towns provide infrastructure needs for future affordable housing developments in exchange for a promise that middle-class permanent workers, like deputies and teachers would be given priority for the homes. Jacquet said the affordable housing propsal made by Stewart Land Group at Monday’s Pinedale Town Council meeting, aimed to provide affordable housing to low-income families, but questioned the legality of giving individuals employed in certain occupations first pick of housing units.
Commissioner John Linn asked Jacquet to research cities in Wyoming containing apartment buildings to find out about their housing incentive programs.
Linn also directed Jacquet to investigate the new challenges facing Sublette County’s agricultural community.
“We know about the wolves, the bears, the sage chicken,” Linn said, adding brucellosis and the costs and restrictions to grazing on public lands to the list of modern agricultural headaches.
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