RAWLINS – Most would say Carbon County is home to a respectable amount of economic foundations.
Its persistent high winds have attracted multibillion-dollar wind farms such as Ekola and TB Flats. Its natural minerals support thousands of workers and their families. Its expansive spaces pose some of the finest grazing lands for livestock and wildlife.
That said, with talks of “diversifying Wyoming’s economy” pervading many campaign platforms in this year’s election, U.S. Senatorial candidate for Wyoming Dave Dodson (R-Cheyenne) aims to veer a bit off this beaten path.
“I have a slightly different approach to the economy,” he said on Friday.
Stopping in Rawlins last week – him and his wife, Wendy, have been campaigning throughout the Cowboy State via recreation vehicle – Dodson explained how.
“If you think about diversification – wool, cattle, trona, uranium, coal, gas, wind,” Dodson said, “we’re already diversified. What we need to do is build upon that preexisting diversification.”
Dodson, 57, who’s currently leading Sen. John Barrasso in the race, according to the latest poll released by the Casper Star-Tribune, says too many times does Wyoming walk away from its natural endowments.
In Toyko, for instance, a juicy steak – which came from cattle originally raised in Wyoming – goes for $150. For that same steak, the Wyoming rancher made “about a dollar,” said Dodson.
Hence, the senatorial candidate, who once worked in a slaughterhouse, advocates for more USDA-certified beef production facilities to be installed within the state. For Carbon County, this could mean attracting “good, middle class jobs” with a beef plant right along U.S. Interstate 80.
But that’s not all the candidate looks to bring to the table.
The sheep industry has always maintained a viable economic status in this area. In fact, records show that the state of Wyoming is one the largest sheep producers in the country, and their quality is unmatched nationwide.
If Dodson were to become incumbent, he says, instead of exporting wool to states like North Carolina, where they render it into cloth, which is then likely sold to the U.S. Military, he’d advocate for the state of Wyoming annexing the bifurcating wool industries so as the benefits are reaped locally.
If all takes off, Dodson proposed that Rawlins erect a wool mill.
This economic idea also relates to Carbon County’s booming windfarm industry. With about three major projects in the works – which, combined, would cost more than $10 billion – Dodson looks to cash in locally.
“One of the advantages of being in a small state – we’ve got to have big asks,” Dodson said. “How do you propose those windfarms to be serviced? Why don’t you open up a facility here in Rawlins?”
In other words, as senator, Dodson’s saying he’d advocate to enforce stipulations in which would require companies attached to windfarm production to create and maintain ancillary businesses locally, as opposed to being outsourced to other states.
And when the influx of additional employees arrives in the area, they’ll be thirsty.
A high-point issue that Dodson has been highlighting throughout his campaign involves invigorating the state’s distillery industry.
According to Dodson, an archaic, Prohibition-era law enacted in 1929 has posed a giant hurdle in Wyoming distilleries exporting their products. Instead, the state’s six distilleries are competing for “the same bar in Cheyenne.”
Dodson looks to make Congress more conscious of the spirits of Rural America.
“That 1929 law – which was never intended to penalize a rural state – is crushing our spirit industry,” said Dodson. “Our craft distillery business will never thrive unless Congress does something.”
Through this economic plan, Carbon County would see a wool mill, craft distilleries, a USDA beef plant and additional training/service facilities related with local windfarm projects, Dodson said.
However, this issue isn’t everything.
Many potential constituents in this area express concerns over public land rights. So does Dodson.
He says he opposes any proposal to transfer federally protected lands to the state.
“It’s a dumb idea, for a whole bunch of reasons,” he said.
First, if lands are transferred, the state doesn’t have sufficient funds to defray costs related to combating wildfires and invasive species. In addition, Dodson, who grew up fishing and hunting in Northern Colorado (and later developing a habit with Red Man tobacco), said locally overseen lands could be exploited.
If some corrupt legislator sells off the land and someone’s hunting for some antelope within the county, said Dodson, “All of a sudden there’s a fence and there’s a padlock.”
Expanding off that, Dodson, was asked what he loves most about the state.
“It’s easy,” he responded. “I have such a deep love for the open space. Wendy and I have all these memories of driving down the highway as the sun’s setting or the sun’s rising, and the most wonderful thing happens – we lose our cellphone signal. This means we have to put our phones down, we start looking out the window and we start talking to each other. Those are the most magical moments of the campaign.”
Plus, said Dodson, “Nobody’s been rude to me this entire campaign. Everyone is so nice here.”
Dodson is a Stanford University graduate. There, he helped create the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.