© 2021 Wyoming Business Council
Wyoming state leaders and lawmakers have long recognized the need to create and nurture a welcoming and supportive business environment across Wyoming, and level the playing field in its smaller communities.
In 2003, the Wyoming Legislature created the Business Ready Community (BRC) grant and loan program in response to industry feedback that Wyoming lacked the infrastructure necessary for business recruitment and existing business expansion. The program was originally designed to help build infrastructure communities lacked – roads, sewer, water, business parks, airport enhancement, etc. – to entice companies to stay in or relocate to Wyoming. And it did its job. Since then, projects have included more than 116 miles of roads, 150 miles of water and sewer lines and 1.7 million square feet of business-ready buildings.
The program has also funded quality-of-life projects like downtown plazas and arts centers that make it easier to attract and retain a workforce in Wyoming.
Through June of this year, 5,020 jobs have been created by businesses that benefited from the BRC program, with another 572 projected by current projects. Every $1 of public BRC funds invested returns $3.53 of private capital investment to Wyoming communities. In total, more than $1.45 billion of private capital investments have been or are anticipated to be made.
“The State of Wyoming can credit the BRC program with much of its economic growth and diversification over the last 20 years,” said Julie Kozlowski, the community development director at the Wyoming Business Council, who oversees the program. “The program has made it possible for both small companies in small towns and big companies in bigger towns to relocate or continue to thrive here.”
The program’s rules require funding to be awarded to towns, cities, counties, joint powers boards and the two Native American tribes, which can then partner with private businesses to lease buildings or complete projects. The rules also require a five-year reporting period.
Other notable projects include the Cheyenne Regional Airport’s new terminal, which received a $3 million BRC grant in 2015. That project was recently awarded Engineering News-Record’s award for Best Airport/Transit project in the mountain states region. Projects were judged on design and construction quality, contribution to the community and the industry, and how they overcame unusual challenges through teamwork and innovation.
The revival of downtown Casper was also initiated by public investment. A few BRC projects, including partial funding of the David Street Station Plaza in 2015 and 2017, kicked off momentum in private investments downtown. With increased foot traffic in the area, several private businesses have since opened or remodeled downtown. A large state office building is under construction there as well, which will bring 350 to 400 state employees downtown.
In 2007, a Johnson County economic development board received $1.48 million to purchase and partition a 25,000 square-foot building in Buffalo. Mountain Meadow Wool, which was a new startup at the time, leased 12,000 square-feet in the building for its fiber manufacturing business.
Since then, the company has continued to thrive. It won a regional exporter award, was profiled by a national magazine and showcased its products at the White House for the Made in America Product Showcase.
Microsoft’s Cheyenne Data Center was also made possible by $9.3 million in grant funds from the Governor’s Data Center Recruitment fund, and a total of $5.2 million in BRC Data Center Cost Reduction grant funding. Microsoft has since become an important philanthropic member of the Cheyenne and Wyoming communities, having partnered with the University of Wyoming, Laramie County Community College, the Array School of Technology and Design, Meals on Wheels, the Wyoming Department of Education and more.
Microsoft has invested more than $2.5 million in the past year around the state in grants and in-kind efforts, said Dennis Ellis, the TeckSpark manager for Microsoft Corporation. The data center itself surpassed $3 billion in total investment and became Laramie County’s top property taxpayer in 2017.
“Our goal is to partner closely with leaders and communities to learn about local challenges and to implement and learn from digital initiatives to help accelerate growth in three key areas: employability, rural connectivity and digital transformation,” said Ellis said. “We hope that others will see Cheyenne as we do – a connected city with great amenities, a focus on digital skills and a desire to make sure its workforce is future ready. That is what is driving Cheyenne’s economic growth and will attract even more public and private investment now and in the future.”
Ellis said Microsoft intends to share what it learns through its Cheyenne partnerships with other rural areas as well, providing a playbook for small cities to make progress in their communities.
Visit wyomingbusiness.org/brc to learn more about the BRC program.