The words were on the lips of every political leader, news reporter and business maven in Wyoming last winter: economic diversification.
Another slowdown in the energy sector had hit, elevating the urgency to find a new approach, one less dependent on the mood of the commodities markets.
Wyoming’s economy is stabilizing as the calendar turns to 2018. However, the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, has used the momentum of that conversation to retool the way it helps create an environment where industries are strong, diverse and expanding and the well-being of communities is a top priority.
With the help of the Business Council, economic powerhouses throughout the state announced major expansion plans this year. An advanced manufacturer opened for business. Business Council staff created new programs to bolster the state’s agriculture producers and pave the way for companies interested in exporting.
The Business Council also partnered with organizations like the University of Wyoming’s Business Resource Network, national nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, Gov. Matt Mead’s Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) and a number of community development, housing and industry experts and business executives to launch key projects in 2017 with an eye toward 2037.
Recruitment and Expansion
Only the resilient thrive in Wyoming. That’s why the Business Council is turning its focus toward helping existing businesses expand. Using the agency’s Business Ready Community grant and loan program, cities and towns throughout Wyoming are seeing local economic stalwarts bursting at the seams add new square footage and new employees.
In Cody, Wyoming Authentic Products is designing a 3,500 square-foot expansion to add more preparation and smoker space. The company continues to expand its market, now reaching 40 states and Canada. The Business Council contributed $750,000 toward the project.
David Fales, found of Wyoming Authentic Products, expects to hire 10 more employees, nearly doubling his staff, once the project is complete.
Cody Laboratories is poised to add another 57 employees thanks in part to a $23 million Economic Development Large Project loan from the Business Council. The pharmaceutical manufacturer currently employs 117 people. Company officials expect to more than double production to 11 metric tons per year.
On the other side of the Big Horn Mountains, advanced manufacturer Vacutech anticipates employing another 76 people once it completes its 40,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Sheridan. The Business Council provided a $4.2 million grant and loan package toward the project.
The vacuum technology company moved from Colorado to Wyoming in 2012. The firm has thrived, growing more than six-fold to a workforce of 130 employees. It now counts Boeing among its clients
In the southern half of the state, Laramie broke ground on a $3.2 million grocery cooperative in a lot left vacant by a fire. The project will provide new jobs, an expanded selection of food for downtown residents and a better market for local agriculturalists. Not far from downtown, an expansion to HiViz Sights is under construction. The $3.7 million project comes on the heels of a 2013 relocation from Colorado, with the assistance of a $2.9 million Business Council grant and loan package.
Since moving to Laramie, HiViz has grown to 42 employees. The new expansion will allow the company to add another 62 workers.
Neighboring Bright Agrotech’s new headquarters is almost complete. The homegrown startup anticipates 40 new workers in the coming years, directly thanks to the $3.6 million BRC project.
The Business Council’s emphasis on helping existing businesses expand does not mean the agency’s recruitment efforts have waned. In November, Laramie’s newest advanced manufacturer, Tungsten Parts Wyoming, announced a second expansion. The San Diego-based parent company, Tungsten Heavy Powder and Parts, just opened its new Laramie facility in 2016. Since then, the firm has privately purchased a neighboring warehouse and is now constructing a 9,000 square-foot expansion. Tungsten Parts Wyoming expected to hire 25 workers in the first three years, but its workforce already stands at 32 employees, with more to come.
Meanwhile, in-state entrepreneurs opened Wyoming Malting this year, a creative way to develop a new market for agriculturalists and provide local products to distilleries and brewers around Wyoming.
The Business Council provided $2.9 million toward the project.
The Business Council, Manufacturing-Works, the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, the Alliance for Wyoming Manufacturers and local economic development organizations celebrated manufacturers like these in October during National Manufacturing Day. The agency helped coordinate a week of open houses and tours around the state. One manufacturer, Puma Steel, in Cheyenne, created a welding competition and awarded scholarships to Laramie County Community College to the winners.
The Business Council explored new markets for Wyoming products in 2017. The agency received a federal grant to implement the State Trade Export Program. Participants in the program benefited from trade missions to Canada and Mexico, along with workshops, mentoring and webinars designed to get companies exporting.
Backwards Distilling Company, a Mills manufacturer, served as a case study for the Business Council's strategy to put business at the center of the conversation. Backwards Distilling participated in a Business Council survey of the Wyoming craft distilling market designed to understand the challenges and needs of the industry. The survey identified a need to help some distillers expand beyond Wyoming's borders.
The survey led to a relationship between the Business Council and Backwards Distilling which, in turn, encouraged Backwards to participate in the STEP program and progressed to the company attending the trade mission to Canada.
Backwards Distilling received critical training and consulting to put them on the path toward exporting soon.
Small business owners don’t have to look outside Wyoming’s borders to find new markets. When it comes to food, there is a lot of untapped potential, and a new Business Council program called Grown in Wyoming is intent on connecting growers with buyers.
Grown in Wyoming focuses on getting locally grown food in the hands of consumers, whether that means directly or by selling to restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, schools and more. As the local food movement gains momentum, this program will provide expanded markets for growers and add value for retailers.
The Business Council is also helping retailers through its Wyoming Main Street program.
Wyoming Main Street provides financial assistance, consulting work and technical expertise to nearly two dozen National Main Street Center organizations in the state.
Downtowns in Main Street districts added 33 net new businesses and 228 net new jobs in 2017. Volunteers donated $682,000 worth of time and the private sector invested $25 for every dollar of public money spent.
In the face of smaller budgets, Wyoming Main Street is helping downtowns make big differences in their communities through a technique called placemaking. Wyoming Main Street hosted a free workshop to teach communities how to use cheap, fast, temporary projects to make public spaces into gathering places that can spur new investment and breathe life into a commercial district.
Wyoming Main Street now has small grants available for communities to try these fast, cheap, temporary projects in their towns.
The Business Council welcomed many partners to the economic development table this year. Retrofitting an entire economy is a daunting task that requires many hands to share the work. Chief among the agency’s new partners has been ENDOW, an initiative by the state Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead to assess where the state stands today and what it needs to do to shape a better tomorrow in the coming decades.
ENDOW comprises titans of Wyoming industry, many with expertise in technology and all with heavy financial and personal investment in the state’s future. The committee met monthly all summer and fall in different locations around Wyoming. At each stop, they toured local businesses that could point the way to a stronger economy and learned about the barriers to doing business in the state.
The initiative’s final report to the governor is due in August 2018.
Gov. Mead didn’t stop at ENDOW in his efforts to build a more resilient economy. He also created task forces to study ways to better incorporate bicycling, walking and other nonmotorized transport into Wyoming communities, and how to market the state’s existing assets – like multiple trails that crisscross the nation by way of Wyoming - to the rest of the world.
The task force’s mission dovetails well with the Business Council, which has community enhancement grants available to improve cycling and walking infrastructure. Making towns more accessible by foot and bike is also important to Wyoming Main Street.
In line with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force was the Outdoor Recreation Task Force, which sought new ways to encourage the outdoor industry in Wyoming.
The Business Council contributed to the effort through surveys of outdoor manufacturers and other industry players to understand what barriers the agency can help knock down and what opportunities it can help boost.
The surveys represent the Business Council’s efforts to put industry at the center of conversation.
One of the concerns raised by businesses repeatedly in the survey was the need for safe housing options at more affordable rates.
To that end, the Business Council launched a comprehensive housing study. The study looked individually at all 23 counties and the factors that may be affecting housing prices in each region. The study also broke down the categories where housing needs are greatest in each county.
Housing experts will use this information to put together a statewide housing plan.
The Business Council continues to adapt as new challenges in economic development surface. As projects like the housing plan, placemaking, Grown in Wyoming and STEP flourish in 2018, the agency will be on the lookout for new ways to increase prosperity in Wyoming.