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Wyoming governor candidates debate technology development

June 11, 2018

Former Wyoming Attorney General Gay Woodhouse, left, moderates a Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce gubernatorial candidate forum in Cheyenne on Monday, June 11, 2018, with, left to right, Republican candidates Bill Dahlin, Foster Friess, Sam Galeotos, Harriet Hageman and Taylor Haynes, and Democratic candidate Mary Throne. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Candidates for Wyoming governor disagreed Monday on whether the state is doing enough to boost internet speeds and other technology to help businesses compete and thrive.

Businesses large and small struggle with slow internet, Democrat Mary Throne said at a Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce candidate forum. Wyoming could do more to boost internet broadband like it has with small-business grants that she supported during 10 years as a state representative, she said.

“Across the state, I see a lot of entrepreneurial spirit. But the leaders in Cheyenne are behind the times in supporting that spirit. You know, technology and bandwidth are essential to all of our rural communities,” said Throne, an attorney.

Wyoming has focused on technology, shot back Republican Sam Galeotos, executive chairman of data storage firm Green House Data. Galeotos downplayed whether Wyoming needs faster internet, saying his company is creating 100 new jobs in Cheyenne.

“Guess what our biggest concern is? Being able to fill those jobs with the right kind of people. We need workers in this state,” Galeotos said. “We have a great technology industry in this state, and we need to expand it.”

Republican Foster Friess compared internet access in rural Wyoming to the South getting air conditioning generations ago, saying it’s equally important.

“You could work on your desk out here on your farm and communicate with Singapore,” said Friess, an investor from Jackson Hole who is known as a major donor to Republican candidates and causes nationwide.

The federal Rural Electrification Administration, created during the Great Depression, helped bring electricity — and ultimately air conditioning — to the rural South, Throne pointed out.

“Electricity was essential to rural communities surviving. Technology is essential to bolstering not only Cheyenne but rural communities throughout the state,” Throne said.

Other candidates were skeptical that technology stands to help Wyoming’s fossil-fuel-based economy in a significant way. Allowing industrial hemp could help Wyoming farmers profit from $1 billion worth of products imported to the U.S., said Bill Dahlin, a Republican businessman from Sheridan.

The coal, natural gas and oil industries generate 50 times more revenue for Wyoming than technology, said Republican attorney Harriet Hageman of Cheyenne.

No candidate got on board when the chamber asked if they would join in supporting commuter rail and highway development between Cheyenne and the Colorado Front Range corridor.

Entrepreneurs, not government, need to make projects like that happen, said Taylor Haynes, a physician and rancher from Laramie.

“Taxpayer money for something in Colorado is something I have no interest in,” Haynes said.

Republican State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Democratic businessman Ken Casner, who didn’t attend the forum, also are running to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Matt Mead.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver .

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