◆ Economist see positive numbers amidst pandemic.
Lincoln County did not follow the trend in dipping sales tax revenues in the final quarter of 2020. In fact, the exact opposite is true with Lincoln leading the state with an increase of 56 percent, according to a recent economic summary released by the Wyoming Department of Administration & Information. That percentage more than doubled Teton County, which increased a second best 20.8 percent in the fourth quarter when compared to the final quarter of 2019. Interestingly enough, neighboring Sublette county saw a drop of 49.9 percent in taxable sales, the second largest decrease in the state only to Niobrara county’s 70 percent decrease.
Wenlin Liu, Chief Economist of Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division, told SVI News that the 56 percent increase may be misleading due to a $1.2 million refund, or negative distribution in the utilities industry which occurs occasionally for various reasons such as an audit. However, Liu said that even without the refund, taxable sales in Lincoln County still increased about 16% in the fourth quarter compared to a year earlier.
Liu continued to expound on the Lincoln County numbers, saying that in spite of the 51% decline in the mining industry, most other sectors experienced growth, led by 24.3% in retail trade (Wyoming was 2.7%) and 40.7% (Wyoming was 3.8%) in automobile sales. Even leisure & hospitality (mostly restaurant & lodging) grew 19.1% compared to the 4.0% decline in Wyoming average. It appeared that the economy in Lincoln County was barely affected by the pandemic in the fourth quarter, according to Liu.
Another factor to consider is Lincoln County is on the route to Yellowstone National Park, which reached 412,664 visitors in the fourth quarter of 2020, up 94.2 percent from the previous year. Grand Teton National Park showed a visitation increase of 67.1. The report from the Wyoming Department of Administration & Information credited the increase in taxable sales to a boost in outdoor activities.
The economic summary report states that total taxable sales statewide shrunk 9.3 percent to $4.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020, in a year-over-year comparison. Decreases occurred in most economic sectors, with the mining industry contracting substantially at -63.1 percent, one of the largest year-over-year drops in Wyoming’s history, according to the report. This drop is credited to the declining sales of equipment, supplies, and services from energy exploration and production activity.
The wholesale trade industry and other services experienced year-over-year growth of 17.6 and 19.1 percent, respectively, mostly as a result of robust activities in wind power projects.