By Colin Tiernan
Via Wyoming News Exchange
DOUGLAS — Rick Marler knew the boom had arrived when the bags started piling up on his doorstep.
“I’ve got people dropping off laundry at my back door at 5:30 in the morning,” Marler said. “Drop off laundry has gone nuts.”
Marler, who has owned Clay Street Laundry for 21 years, says that business started booming in May of last year. Many Converse County residents grumble about recent increases in traffic and a host of inconveniences that correspond with the increase in energy development in the county. Marler doesn’t complain about any of the pains associated with the boom.
“Every business in Douglas is realizing that things are not so stressful, and the cash fl ow is better,” Marler said. “They are good people that are here. All these people are here to work and make money.”
Converse County oil and gas activity shows no signs of slowing down. Williams, Tallgrass and Certarus presented five new compressor projects to the county commissioners just last week. Williams alone said it would be building three compressors, requiring approximately 50 to 60 workers during construction. New pipelines are going in left and right, operators continue battling for ownership rights in the Powder River Basin, the Steamboat gas plant is on the way and the Bucking Horse gas plant is doubling its capacity.
In addition to oil and gas activity, Douglas’ hotels are full, and county employment is up. In recent months, Converse County has led the state in employment increases. On top of all that, hundreds of millions of dollars in wind farm investment will begin rolling into the county this summer.
Neither the city nor the county is grumbling about the influx of workers and development, either.
Halfway through fiscal year 2019, the City of Douglas has raked in 126 percent of its annual sales tax budget. The city’s monthly average in sales tax is up nearly $400,000 per month over FY 2018, and the high-water receipts are just $250,000 below FY 2015’s benchmark figures. December brought the city $1.4 million in sales tax.
The county’s sales tax receipts haven’t climbed to the heights of the last boom, but the numbers have still been consistently high. The county has taken in 123 percent of what it budgeted for in FY 2019, and saw $1.2 million last month – the top mark for FY 2019.
“Last year the mining sector averaged $2 million per month,” Converse County Treasurer Joel Schell said “This year they average $3.1 million.”
Those figures refer to the amount of tax that the county collects, but not what the state ultimately disburses.
The mining sector accounts for 46 percent of the county’s revenue.
Oil and gas activity takes place north of town, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“It starts to cascade into other sectors and they all start to grow,” Schell said, pointing out that retail is up 60 percent over last year – a fact that isn’t lost on restaurants, hotels and retail stores.
Oil and gas activity has remained steady since the summer. Of the 22 oil rigs in Wyoming on Jan. 21, 14 were in Converse County (only one of which was east of WYO 59).
Even with the drop in the price of a barrel that began in November, Schell expects activity to remain strong. He added that the industry is incredibly difficult to predict, and operators don’t advertise their future plans during boom times.
“When things get really good they get more . . . tight-lipped about what their plans are,” he said.
Schell also explained that Converse County is diversifying somewhat, although that diversification still falls under the umbrella of energy production.
“Even if we saw a dip in one thing, we got this wind farm project that’s going to generate a lot of sales tax, so that could mask a decrease in another sector,” Schell said. “We’re lucky to be diverse in that way.”