Schools chief spearheading creation of $25M community center

When Superintendent Jim Wagner looks at George Grace Field, he doesn’t just see an empty snow-covered field. He sees potential. He sees what he hopes will be the future.

Call it his field of dreams.

“This community center I am proposing to build on George Grace Field would set us apart from some communities in the state and make us comparable to others,” Wagner said. “It gives Buffalo the opportunity to be a legit contender and to attract visitors from around the state.”

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Business Council Welcomes New Board Members

This month, we welcome four new members to the Wyoming Business Council board of directors, and we bid farewell to four whose terms have ended. We had the opportunity to meet the new board members and glean some wisdom from some of the outgoing members.


Great Ideas: Wyoming Teacher Co-Founds App to Showcase Students’ Whole Stories

As a teacher at Sheridan High School, Adam Metcalf got to know some remarkable kids.

Big standardized tests were a breeze for some, but many were overcoming significant personal obstacles or learning differences just to make it to graduation. They had inspirational stories and never-give-up attitudes, but, often, less-than-stellar test scores.

And yet those test scores often determined their options – or lack thereof – for life after high school.

“A lot of my students had unique stories to share,” he said. “I wanted to celebrate the stories of those students to help college admissions people see their value, even if their test scores weren’t stellar.”

So, in 2013, he and a team of three other friends came up with ZeeMee (a clever twist on “see me,”) a free app that allows students to share videos with colleges in the application process, with the goal of helping students be seen as more than the sum of their test scores.

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The Broadband Guy – How Networking is Saving Wyoming’s Small Towns

It’s a frigid, blustery January day in Guernsey, Wyoming.

As snow flurries whip through the air, a helmet-clad man climbs into a bucket lift, hoisting himself to the top of a tower on the city’s perimeter. He and a teammate hang antennas, run cables, connect wires and test circuits.

The rattling din of diesel engines cuts through the small-town quiet. There are more wandering antelope, curiously pricking up their ears at the commotion, than humans out on this grassy, windblown prairie.

About 1,151 people call this single-square-mile town in southeast Wyoming home, according to census estimates.

Guernsey’s remoteness, with its ample fresh air and breathing room, appeals to many of its residents; but it comes with challenges. For one: internet.

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Grown in Wyoming Announces New Website Features

Wyoming growers and producers can now join, renew membership and purchase program materials like stickers and decals online through the new and improved Grown in Wyoming website.

Grown in Wyoming is a state-branded program run by the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency. Members receive digital marketing perks through Grown in Wyoming’s social media and website, in addition to the opportunity for additional sales through the Mercantile and Farmer’s Market at the Wyoming State Fair each summer.

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The Business Council Kickstarts Three Wyoming Companies

Three Wyoming startups received $170,000 from two Wyoming Business Council grant programs.

This money provides the potential for the creation of 21 to 35 jobs in the next three years.

The two programs, called Kickstart:Wyoming and SBIR Matching, are developed from economic diversification legislation passed in the 2018 Wyoming Legislature. This is one of several bills created based on recommendations from the Economically Needed Diversification Options for Wyoming executive council.

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Area 59 Makerspace Sparking Creativity in Gillette

Economic diversification is critical to the future of rural America. Many communities around the nation have learned hard lessons about being dependent on one or two major industries. Such reliance leaves small towns and their citizens vulnerable to market fluctuations and economic downturns.

A promising effort to diversify the economy in Gillette, Wyoming launched in October of 2018. The Area 59 Center for Innovation & Fabrication at Gillette College was made possible by a powerful public and private partnership. Its goal is to spark creativity and entrepreneurism.

Gillette has long been known as a coal town. After one of the latest rounds of coal mine layoffs, it was classified as an impacted community, which helped it to qualify for federal economic development funds.Area 59Photos Courtesy of Area 59

Partnering for Growth

Area 59’s Director Ian Scott notes that Gillette College had been having conversations about the need for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and resources to help drive innovation in the region. A federal grant proposal to build Area 59, Wyoming’s biggest makerspace, at the college was ultimately successful.

The $1.5 million grant required Gillette College to come up with matching funds. Securing the match was a testament to the community’s strong support for the project. Local philanthropists, the Hladky brothers, stepped up to donate land and a building. Additional private donations were used to renovate the building, which used to house a tire store.

Grant funds enabled the purchase of a range of equipment. The makerspace features high tech tools such as 3D printers, a 3D scanner, laser cutters/etchers, computers and design software. It is also equipped with wood and metal shops. The tools housed in the space allow users to make just about anything.

Scott notes there is great value in the “tinkering process” of creatively working through an idea, especially when one has access to sophisticated tools and is surrounded by a community of people with a diversity of expertise.

Companies like General Electric are now investing in makerspaces because they’re beginning to understand that innovation and creativity thrive in nimble environments where there’s the flexibility to retool and refine prototypes on a small scale.

“You walk in to Area 59 with a big idea or concept on a napkin, design a product with computer aided design software, 3D print it and even create packaging for it,” says Scott.

Scott says those who had a hand in building the space may have “preconceived ideas of what it Area 59 might be,” but points out that members will help determine the vision. “What can be done here is so fluid and malleable. Everyone who walks through the space sees it in a different light.”

Business and Community Impact

While Area 59 serves Gillette College Science, Technology, Engineering and Math students and it hosts STEM camps for youth, it is also open to businesses and the community at large.

Scott says the public has responded well to the makerspace. It draws a wide range of people, from a student robotics club to retired people coming in to learn new skills and entrepreneurs building prototypes.

Try it TuesdayPhotos Courtesy of Area 59

On the first Tuesday of each month Area 59 hosts an event called “Try it Tuesday” where the public is invited to visit the space and participate in educational projects. In January, they shot off paper rockets. Scott says the event is powerful because it draws in a diverse demographic and intergenerational knowledge. “Everyone from 6-yr-olds to retired, married couples are all working on the same project.”

Area 59 groupPhotos Courtesy of Area 59

The makerspace offers student, individual, family and corporate memberships. The goal is for memberships to sustain the facility and equipment. Several businesses, such as L&H Industrial and Sign Boss, have signed on and are taking advantage of the tools already.

Area 59 aligns well with Energy Capital Economic Development’s mission to stimulate and facilitate a diverse economy. The nonprofit just secured a membership for its FUEL Business Incubator tenants. CEO Phil Christopherson sees the facility as a wonderful resource to help small businesses grow and help people develop products.

Those starting a business can “pretty much build any small thing they want to, including design, product development and even manufacturing,” says Christopherson.

Jeff Bumgarner is executive director of the PRECorp Foundation and vice president of member service at PRECorp, which is also a member of Area 59 and is committed to improving the communities it serves. “I see it as a valuable tool to encourage entrepreneurs, bolster the area’s economy and help leverage new technologies for the cooperative,” he says.

Powder River Energy Corporation (PRECorp) is known as northeastern Wyoming’s preferred energy provider. The nonprofit cooperative also works diligently with its member owners to improve the communities it serves. PRECorp has developed powerful partnerships with private, public and nonprofit organizations. These collaborative efforts aim to strengthen communities and create a more diverse economy.


Business Council Welcomes New Board Members

This month, we welcome four new members to the Wyoming Business Council board of directors, and we bid farewell to four whose terms have ended. We had the opportunity to meet the new board members and glean some wisdom from some of the outgoing members.

Read full article.


UW Entrepreneurship Summit expands event to two days

The University of Wyoming College of Business will host the third annual UW Entrepreneurship Summit April 17-18 at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center.

With efforts throughout the state to increase economic diversity, the College of Business has expanded the event to offer professional development workshops to educators, and also entrepreneurs and ecosystems sessions. The annual John P. Ellbogen $50K Entrepreneurship Competition also will be held during the summit. The competition encourages students to act on their talents, ideas and energy to produce tomorrow’s leading businesses.

Read full article and view event details here


Governor Gordon Asks for $21 Million to Diversify Economy, Protect Wildlife and Ag Lands, and Help Communities

CHEYENNE, Wyo.– Governor Mark Gordon has requested that $21 million be added to the supplemental budget to launch coal-based generation technology, protect wildlife and state lands from invasive species and predation, and better support local governments.

Governor Gordon is scheduled to testify before the Joint Appropriations Committee today at noon.

The governor submitted five letters to the Joint Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning, requesting that the following amounts be included in the supplemental budget. (Download the letters PDF)

$10 million to the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources for the purpose of constructing a 5-megawatt equivalent pilot project utilizing advanced coal-based generation technology that captures at least 75 percent of carbon emissions. “While promising post-combustion technologies will be tested at the ITC in the coming years, I would ask that we move swiftly to support advances in additional technologies advancing pre-combustion and novel generation systems using coal with carbon capture capabilities,” wrote Gov. Gordon.

$10 million to the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust for projects that enhance wildlife while simultaneously serving the state’s agricultural needs. “ These projects all enhance wildlife while simultaneously serving the agricultural needs of our state. These projects are always vetted and monitored by an engaged and committed board of Wyoming citizens,” wrote Gov. Gordon.

$500,000 in the supplemental budget, biennialized, for combating noxious weeds on state lands

$400,000 to the supplemental budget from the general fund for FY 2020 and biennialized for the Animal Damage Management Board budget for predator control work. “This is in service of agriculture, hunting and wildlife watching. It is also predator control done responsibly and professionally,” wrote Gov. Gordon.

$170,000/biennium for a position in the Office of State Lands and Investments dedicated to assisting local governments to use new programs and resources. “As you know I am not a proponent of growing state government, but where it can significantly help local entities and communities, I stand ready to assist,” wrote Gov. Gordon.