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New West Roundup for April 24, 2017

Today in New West news: making Native America a destination, Trump to order review of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, expert discusses coal’s decline at University of Wyoming, and the Front Range’s hot, hot tech scene.

Tourism, undoubtedly, is a huge contributor to Western economies. Indeed, in states like Montana, Wyoming and Utah, it’s especially crucial as they continue to diversify beyond the extractive industries that powered them in years past, placing emphasis instead on their states’ respective natural splendor and cultural history. But not everyone is feeling the love.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana lawmakers are exploring ways to channel some of the interest in places like Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks into other corners of the state. Namely, Native America—places like the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which sits just adjacent to Glacier. From the Chronicle:

While Montana might be known internationally for recreational jewels such as Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, Native Americans say the state needs to do more to develop and promote its vast tribal lands as tourist destinations.

Some lawmakers want the state to invest more into drawing visitors to places of historical and cultural importance to the state’s Indian tribes — not only to spark entrepreneurship but also help outsiders better understand Native Americans.

“Folks want to come, and they want to see Native American people, and see our culture, and learn about our history. I think that’s going to create income when they come flying in,” said Democratic state Sen. Lea Whitford, who represents Browning and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. “It’s just going to increase the flow of dollars into the state.”

Tourism is one of the Montana’s most important and lucrative industries, generating more than $4 billion annually from 12.3 million visitors and supporting nearly 55,000 jobs. Little of that money or jobs go to the state’s tribal members.

Whitford and other members of the Legislature’s Native American caucus want improved representation on the state’s tourism advisory council, which she said might not be aware of the potential for cultural tourism. They also want a sliver of money generated by lodging facility taxes to go toward tribal economic development.

To be sure, many of Montana’s Native American communities lack the infrastructure — like hotels, restaurants and well-developed attractions and amenities — to begin marketing themselves as tourist attractions. But tribes haven’t received much help to identify and develop opportunities, said Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Democrat from the Crow Indian Reservation.

Keeping with tourism, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, President Trump will sign an executive order this week ordering the Interior Department to review recent national monument designations in the Beehive State. Well, “recent.” The order will include a review of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument—signed into being by President Bill Clinton in September 1996, a move that’s stuck in the craw of Utah Republicans ever since. From the Tribune:

The order is not expected to change the designations immediately but has a short time frame for the Interior Department to report back on the designating of monuments back to Jan. 1, 1996. Clinton had named the nearly 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase in September 1996.

Many of Utah’s top federal and state officials have called for a rescission — or at least a resizing — of the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears monuments.

While no president has attempted to withdraw a monument named by a predecessor, there have been those who have scaled back those designations.

For his part, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has pressed Trump for action on the Bears Ears declaration and visited the area last week.

“For years, I have fought every step of the way to ensure that our lands are managed by the Utahns [who] know them best and cherish them deeply,” Hatch said in a statement Sunday night. “That’s why I’m committed to rolling back the egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests. As part of this commitment, I have leveraged all of my influence — from private meetings in the Oval Office in the president’s first week in office to my latest trip to Bears Ears this week — to ensure that this issue is a priority on the president’s agenda.”

Environmental groups quickly raised concerns that Trump was acting without looking at the reasons that Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to preserve the 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears as well as the now 20-year-old Grand Staircase.

“Utah’s national monuments are our first line of defense against the very real specter of climate change, providing resiliency to not only the species within them, but also to nearby communities,” said Jen Ujifusa, legislative director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “President Trump and the Utah delegation should focus their energies on solving America’s challenges, rather than unraveling the solutions that are already working.”

Josh Ewing, executive director of the Friends of Cedar Mesa, said he welcomes the review, “as long as it is a serious one where they spend time on the ground and look at the resources and look at the data.”

Over in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Business Report, Trevor Houser, a prominent economic researcher from the Rhodium Group gave a talk at the University of Wyoming Friday. The topic of his talk? Coal’s future in both the Cowboy State and elsewhere—and it ain’t pretty. From the WBR:

Rhodium Group conducts economic research with a focus on China and India, how those countries affect international energy markets and the effects of policy decisions and climate change on those markets.

Houser came to UW to preview results from a research project conducted in partnership with Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Houser said the coal industry has been hurt by the rising preference and demand for alternative energy sources, such as nuclear, renewable and natural gas.

“Natural gas has played the largest exclusive role,” he said.

Throughout the timeframe of this decline, the Obama administration implemented or proposed a number of environmental regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In theory, these regulations make coal costlier to produce and therefore less able to compete with natural gas or other energy sources.

But Houser’s research found damage wrought by these regulations on the coal industry were a drop in the bucket compared to damage done by market forces.

“Our estimate is that, at most, those regulations reduced coal consumption by about 4 percent,” he said.

“So, we’ve had a 30 percent decline, maybe 4 percent of that was due to regulations.”


Bleak as his outlook was, Houser said the situation with coal presented an opportunity for Wyoming. He said Wyomingites find it difficult to discuss the future of coal because those discussions are always politically charged. He said any talk of diversification is like waving a “white flag” in the war on coal.

“The war on coal is now officially over,” Houser said. “So, it opens up space for people to have a real conversation about the outlook (for coal) and … sustainable economic development strategy in Wyoming and coal-producing communities around the country.”

Houser added this diversification can only happen if Wyoming acts soon, taking advantage of a presidential administration that emphasizes infrastructure while also encouraging tech and manufacturing firms to set up shop in Wyoming.

Finally, over in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, the tech scene in Denver and Boulder, hot for years, has gotten even hotter—if the flow of venture capital and talent is any indication:

Creating a technology ecosystem where startups grow into much larger companies has been a dream of local leaders for years, long before Colorado had four cities in the nation’s top-10 startup cities in 2013. Today, the Denver region sees regular interest from out-of-state investors, a growing population of new workers and a record number of new business filings.

“In 2012, we had nine tech and startup Meetups a month. Today, there are over 100 in the same city,” said Erik Mitisek, the state’s chief technology officer, who previously served as the Colorado Technology Association’s CEO. “There are just a lot more resources, like the Commons (on Champa, a Denver facility for local entrepreneurs) and BuiltIn (a tech job portal). You’re starting to see a lot more mature aspects of an innovation economy that are not only allowing startups to grow, but are attracting the energy of outsiders as well.”


In the latest roundup of venture capital deals, the state ranked fourth-highest nationwide for the amount invested in local companies in the first quarter of the year, according to the MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and CB Insights. Typically, Colorado is barely in the top 10 or not at all because dollar amounts are much less than deals made in Silicon Valley or New York. PwC analyst Rob Ward attributed the solid quarter to the region’s overall business environment growth, organic growth of startups, companies moving to the state and the support of local universities and government.

“We have seen Colorado be in and out of the top 10 both in the number of deals and the number of dollars (total funding) for the past couple years,” Ward said. “This was a great quarter for Colorado.”

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