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Wyoming manufacturers, state diversifying to stay ahead of curve

Industry officials agree Wyoming offers a number of natural advantages to manufacturing companies.

The state is centrally located, said Jim Jackson, sales manager for High Country Fabrication in Casper. It has a developed highway and rail infrastructure. Taxes are low and the quality of life is high.

“Wyoming is good for the manufacturing industry,” Jackson said.

The numbers back his claims.

Wyoming’s manufacturing industry currently employs 9,900 people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a 13.8 percent increase since 2010.

“Thirteen years ago, we didn’t have much competition in the areas we supply,” said Kodi Majors, owner of Major Metal Service. “Now it’s a lot different, there’s a lot more competition. Our service speaks for itself, though, and that means a lot to people in Wyoming.”

Majors is constantly working to expand her business. The Gillette-based company is diversifying its product line and trying to move into new areas, both in what it manufactures and where it markets. Major Metal Service is also placing a greater emphasis on repairs as maintenance crews in the energy industry see budgets slashed.

Jackson at High Country Fabrication is also proactively finding new ways to bolster revenue.

“We need to travel more to the clients and generate more work,” Jackson said. “We are trying to stay ahead of the curve.”

Private business isn’t alone in trying to diversify. State officials are working to widen Wyoming’s manufacturing base. Manufacturing contributes $2.3 billion to the state economy. Nearly half of that comes from the petroleum and coal sector, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

To even out the dips and climbs in energy prices, Wyoming has sought manufacturers serving different industries.

“We’ve had a lot of companies come up from Colorado,” said Matthew Melinkovich, field engineer for Manufacturing-Works.

The Wyoming Business Council and local economic development organizations in Laramie and Cheyenne worked together to bring Colorado gun accessories makers HiViz Shooting Systems and Magpul Industries to southern Wyoming in 2013 and 2014.

Earlier this summer, California-based Tungsten Heavy Powder & Parts announced it would move its Chinese production operation to Laramie. Company owner Joe Sery said a personal visit from Business Council staff and tours of potential sites throughout the state convinced him Wyoming was the right place to manufacture his products.

The Business Council also awarded a $1.35 million request that will help a Glenrock manufacturer retrofit space and purchase equipment so the company can create parts for medical equipment.

“Manufacturing plays a key role in efforts to diversify Wyoming’s economy,” Wyoming Business Council Chief Executive Officer Shawn Reese said. “There are the obvious geographical and low-cost-of-doing-business advantages. Equally important, though, today’s digital technology and Wyoming’s efforts to increase broadband capacity open new, untapped opportunities for startups, expansions and relocations.”

As Wyoming cultivates its manufacturing industry, creating a skilled workforce to meet demand will continue to be a priority for community colleges around the state.

Majors, of Major Metal Service, points to Gillette College’s welding and machining programs as examples of the education system’s ability to meet industry’s needs.

“We have a wonderful tech facility here in town. That keeps them local, and that helps us to have a better job pool,” Majors said.

Jackson agreed, calling students who graduate from Casper College’s welding program qualified and ready for work.

As the state continues to strengthen new sectors of its manufacturing industry, opportunities for those students to work in Wyoming will grow.

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