CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The coal industry in Wyoming has started to rebound but companies are hesitant to hire many workers because of lingering uncertainty, a state economist said.

"We are starting to see production come back up, but we are not seeing those jobs show up yet with that," Jim Robinson, principal economist with the state's Economic Analysis Division, said.

Over the last couple of years, three major coal companies operating in the state went into bankruptcy because of low prices, competition from natural gas and federal regulations targeting fossil fuel emissions.

Wyoming coal mines lost nearly 1,000 workers between 2015 and 2016, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services annual coal report.

Those numbers have improved modestly, drawing back some of the miners who lost their jobs to the season of layoffs, said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

"We brought back about a third of those jobs that we lost," he told the Casper Star-Tribune ( "And there are still some companies out there looking to hire right now."

But Deti does not expect employment numbers to continue to rise because companies have reorganized and become leaner.

"It's a pretty good snapshot of where we are going to be going forward," Deti said. "The industry has tightened its belt, it's downsized. They are doing a lot more with less; they're becoming more efficient and watching their pennies."

Given the lessons learned in the recent bust, if Wyoming coal production does rise in the next few years, the potential uptick may not translate to significant job growth.

"There are some hopeful projections on the horizon. If it starts looking like that's going to be the reality . you'll probably see a little ramp up in employment," Deti said. "But I really think right about now, give or take 100 jobs . are where you are going to be."

The story is similar across Wyoming's fossil fuel industries. The sectors have changed over the last two years, Robinson said. Oil and gas firms are dealing with lower prices and coal with lower demand.

"Going forward, we really don't know what is going to happen. We know that these companies are trying to be really efficient," Robinson said. "How does a coal company remain viable now with this new environment?"


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune,