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Blizzard Of Chaos, Part III: Cheyenne Dairy Queen Lobby Reopens After Two Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After more than two years of being closed, the popular Cheyenne Dairy Queen’s lobby has finally reopened, its owner told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

While a fast food restaurant reopening its lobby might not be interesting or newsworthy to most people, the Cheyenne Dairy Queen is not a typical burger and ice cream shop.

Because the lobby has been closed, it hasn’t been uncommon to see a line stretching from the restaurant’s drive-thru window and snaking all the way around the building and spilling — sometimes more than 30 cars deep — onto Pershing Boulevard, one of the busiest streets in the city.

As a result, the restaurant and the police department have been hammered by angry citizens demanding something be done about it because of safety concerns.

“Guaranteed that someone will get killed there,” Kayla Parker told Cowboy State Daily.  “No one obeys the speed limit, people are flying down Pershing at 70mph and then a bunch of dumbasses are sitting in the middle of the street waiting for their stupid chili cheese dog.”

Popular memes circulating on local social media channels, chastise drive-thru-goers for clogging a main artery and turning the street into a game of bumper cars.

Fist-fights have reportedly broken out in front of the restaurant too as upset motorists have either slammed into each other or come close.

Like Riding A Bike

Dairy Queen co-owner Randy Filbin told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that reopening the lobby was like it was like riding a bike — with things running pretty much the way they did before the lobby was closed by COVID-19.

“I’m doing a softer opening right now, because we’ve still got a lot of people training and we don’t want to overwhelm them,” Filbin said. “I’m not fully staffed yet, but we were close enough that I thought we could handle the lobby being opened, as long as we didn’t make a big announcement of it.”

Posts on Cheyenne-centric social media groups announced the lobby’s opening, which Filbin was not surprised by. He does not expect the lobby’s reopening to stay quiet for long.

Dairy Queen employees saw around 75 to 80 people come through the lobby on Wednesday, which is a few more than Filbin was expecting.

“It felt kind of good, having it open again,” he said. “It gives people an opportunity to go work in a different spot after being stuck in the same place and doing the same actions day after day.”

But don’t worry, the drive-thru was still busy the whole day.

Lobby Life

One restaurant-goer told Cowboy State Daily she was relieved the lobby was opened but still had concerns about the volume of traffic the restaurant receives.

“Every day it’s like Target on Thanksgiving Eve,” Rita Mallsen said. “The only difference is no one is trying to steal TVs.”


Filbin has hesitated to reopen the lobby since the COVID-19 pandemic struck two years ago due to low staff numbers. The drive-thru has typically been the more popular option anyway, so he, his father and their business partner decided to keep the lobby closed until they could get their staff up to a higher number.

According to Cheyenne Police Department spokeswoman Alex Farkas, 10 traffic incidents occurred in the Dairy Queen area in the last year. Five of those occurred at the Dairy Queen address itself and five happened near the restaurant between Duff Avenue and Pershing Boulevard.

Of those 10 incidents, one was directly related to the drive-thru. A collision took place as a driver was turning into the location.

There were two rear-enders at the Dairy Queen, one of which involved a single vehicle backing into something and another related to a driver being under the influence.

The police department also received a traffic complaint from the Dairy Queen address on June 2 regarding speeding and reckless driving.

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‘Duchess’ Nagle Warren Mansion In Cheyenne Prepares For Grand Reopening

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Jas Barbe can remember driving away from Cheyenne a little less than 50 years ago in his 1972 green Chevy Vega with his middle finger in the air, cursing everyone and everything in the state.

He would never come back to Wyoming, he’d had enough. Instead, he was going to travel the world.

“Fifty-one years later, here I am,” Barbe said from the comfort of a reupholstered chair in the lobby of the Nagle Warren Mansion on Friday. “My intent when I first came back here was to be here a year or two and get this place back up and running. I didn’t anticipate certain emotions happening. I feel like I’m back home.”

Barbe is the new innkeeper and co-owner of the mansion, a landmark in Cheyenne and a popular bed and breakfast that closed in 2019 due to the retirement of former owner Jim Osterfoss.

Barbe said Osterfoss actually contacted him that same year about taking over the inn, but Barbe was unable to do so because he was under “several” hospitality-related contracts.

However, in March 2021, Barbe’s busy schedule finally cleared to a point he was ready to circle back to Osterfoss.

“I called to check up on him and found out he had passed [in January 2021],” Barbe said. “But I got to talking with the realtor and found out Jim’s children had taken ownership of the inn. So I got with the kids and became partners with them.”

The mansion is officially slated to reopen sometime in mid-July, as Barbe and his team are still working out a few kinks at the inn, such as the plumbing, which dates back to the 1880s.

The mansion will open with a dozen rooms available. After Cheyenne Frontier Days, the inn will begin hosting special events, such as afternoon and holiday teas, weddings, a supper club and much more.

Barbe has big plans for the nearly 140-year-old building.

Barbe and the crew have spent the last year basically renovating the entire inside of the building, from the floors to ceilings. They have also been painstakingly researching the history of the mansion and the families associated with it, the Nagles and Warrens.

“This was the most expensive house built in America: $50,000 in 1888,” Bare said. “Everything important that happened in Wyoming between the 1880s to around 1930 happened in this house. What would be the future of the Philippines was decided in the room across from me. Buffalo Bill Cody met with Pawnee Bill here.”

Erasmus Nagle bought the mansion for his family in 1888, but died just two years later. His wife, Emma, and son, George, lived there until 1907. Emma Nagle rented the home to Gen. George Randall, who served in the Civil War, from 1907 to 1910 and it was bought by former Gov. Francis E. Warren in 1910.

Warren entertained many a famous guest at the home during his time there, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. After his death in 1929, his wife donated the house to the Cheyenne YWCA, which owned the building for many years.

The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Osterfoss bought the inn in 1997 and converted it into the bed and breakfast and now, it has become one again.

The history that emanates from every wall of the home is why Barbe was so attracted to coming back to Nagle Warren. He described it as the “duchess,” a house and inn that is one-of-a-kind.

“We’re protecting this. We’re making sure this city has this in 50 years,” Barbe said. “I want this to be here for your grandchildren. I am creating a refuge of 1900. It’s an immersion, basically kind of like a fantasy.”

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Liquor Is Inflation-Proof Says Wyoming Booze Expert

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With prices on consumer goods continuing to increase across the board, are some products inflation-proof? Liquor might seem to be a likely candidate.

You’ll get no argument from Wyoming State Liquor Association Executive Director Mike Moser. He said people will not drink less, but they’ll drink differently.

“People will continue to consume alcohol no matter how bad a recession, but they do it a different way,” Moser said.


First, they may downgrade what they drink. He told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that brand loyalty is mostly of the past.

“My dad and grandpa drank the same type of whiskey and beer for their entire lives,” Moser said. “But now, we have more products available. We’re more price-sensitive than we used to be and the alcohol and drink quality is just better overall.”

Second, the types of businesses that serve alcohol have changed.

Most businesses in Wyoming that sell alcohol have diversified their income streams, offering additional options to enhance the drinking experience.

“You don’t find standalone bars and taverns here with no restaurant or kitchen facilities or even a package liquor store,” Moser said. “Standalone bars and taverns have a much more difficult chance of surviving out here.”

There are a few reasons standalone bars that don’t offer food exist, he said. However, people drinking less is not one of them.

Responsible And Cheaper

First, the cultural attitude toward drinking has shifted, he said. It is not socially acceptable to drink to excess anymore, as it might have been a few decades ago.

With that shift also comes the legal ramifications regarding drinking and driving, which have also become much more strict than in years past.

People are more likely to have a drink or two with dinner and then go home, rather than hit the bar and have several drinks in one sitting, Moser said.

“People’s habits have changed,” he said. “It’s not that we’re drinking less, people are just drinking more responsibly. Not to mention, it’s a lot cheaper to drink at home.”

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich agreed with Moser except the part about drinking to excess not being socially acceptable. 

“At least in my circle, beer pong is considered an artistic experience,” Ulrich said. “And who goes to the symphony without doing some body shots beforehand?”

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Blizzard Of Chaos, Part 2: Cheyenne Police Says Dairy Queen Owner Not Breaking Any Laws

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The drive can be maddening and to some, dangerous.

When traffic backs up in front of the Dairy Queen on Pershing Boulevard in Cheyenne, it really backs up.

The street turns into a parking lot, according to a popular meme circulating on local social media channels.

And the co-owner of the Dairy Queen knows why: his restaurant sells a quality product. As a result, his employees serve around 400 cars per day which often spill out onto the busy roadway.

Randy Filbin is also aware that the fast food and ice cream shop’s longtime location is not the most ideal, especially at particularly busy times.

It can be a struggle having a small parking lot and a large customer base, but Filbin, his father and their business partner do their best to make things work.

“We’ve gotten some grief because our lobby hasn’t reopened since COVID, but I don’t think a lot of people understand about coming out of this pandemic and the workforce shortage,” Filbin told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “Now, there’s a lot of competition to hire people. In March, when I normally would have 47 to 50 employees, I was down to 24. We were struggling.”

Filbin’s intent is to get enough staff to reopen the Dairy Queen lobby by the end of the month, but he pointed out that even once the lobby opens, there will still likely be some traffic on Pershing Boulevard.

Is It Really That Bad?

Although some residents predict traffic fatalities will result because of the congestion, those claims may be a bit hyperbolic.

According to Cheyenne Police Department spokeswoman Alex Farkas, 10 traffic incidents occurred in the Dairy Queen area in the last year. Five of those occurred at the Dairy Queen address itself and five happened near the restaurant between Duff Avenue and Pershing Boulevard.

Of those 10 incidents, one was directly related to the drive-thru. A collision took place as a driver was turning into the location.

There were two rear endings at the Dairy Queen, one of which involved a single vehicle backing into something and another related to a driver being under the influence.

The police department also received a traffic complaint from the Dairy Queen address on June 2 regarding speeding and reckless driving.


Filbin said it was likely that the Dairy Queen has outgrown its location after more than 40 years in its spot on Pershing Boulevard, but added that in today’s economy, moving the business could be a huge risk.

“Sometimes when you move locations, you hurt your business by doing so,” Filbin said.

“It’s just a really scary investment when you’re talking about $2.5 to maybe $3 million with a staggered workforce,” he said. We’ve also talked about opening another location, but when you’re having trouble staffing one, what do you think is going to happen at another?”

Looking at another local hot spot, Chick-Fil-A can have dozens of cars waiting in its drive-thru lines as well.

But they have the benefit of data which shows wherever they put a franchise, people will follow. So they know they’ve got to build adequate space for the traffic — which they did 7 years ago when Cheyenne’s first Chick-Fil-A drive-thru opened up.

And the people came. So much so that occasionally the traffic spills over there too — and they have significantly more space.

A recent drive-thru study showed Chick-Fil-A at the top of its class with 77% of its drive-thru experiences having three or more cars in line while 35.5 percent had six or more cars in line. For context, McDonald’s claimed the second-busiest drive thru, and only 41.8 percent of its drive thrus had three or more cars and 9.1 percent had six or more.

This information is interesting but it won’t do anything for Filbin. He’s already in place and there’s no way to expand.

Street Legal

As for the traffic issues, he has spoken with the Cheyenne Police Department and asked whether there is anything they can do.

“They said that as long as a car has their turn signal on to indicate they’re going into the restaurant, then that is the legal thing to do,” Filbin said. “It might not be the safest thing, but it is the legal one.”

Sgt. Ryan Trimble, Cheyenne police’s traffic safety supervisor, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that Filbin was right.

As long as no one is blocking the Duff/Pershing intersection or the crosswalk and the left lane of traffic is clear, the traffic congestion into Dairy Queen might be a nuisance, but not illegal.

“If a person is unable to get into the parking lot, they are allowed to remain in the roadway as long as they’re not completely stopping traffic,” Trimble said. “Same rules apply when turning left into the parking lot.”

The sergeant said Cheyenne police see traffic congestion at other places besides Dairy Queen too. Some schools have drop-off lines so long they actually do impede traffic.

Farkas said the Dairy Queen traffic jams were a good reminder for drivers to be aware of their surroundings and to slow down in area where congestion might be an issue.

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Cheyenne Marketing Company Looking To Transform Building Into Event Hotspot

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The staff members at the West Edge Collective marketing agency in Cheyenne get questions weekly about what their building is.

Regularly, someone wanders in to tell them the building would make a great bar, coffee shop or restaurant.

So the owners decided to go for all three.

The building is eye-catching, showcasing a large mural of what appears to be a cat crossed with an alien that draws people to it daily. It’s made of reclaimed bridge girders from train bridges across Wyoming, with boxcar flooring and other homages to the Equality State hidden throughout the building.

After hearing so many suggestions on what the building could be, West Edge’s Managing Director Chad Willett, along with his partners Juan Coronado and Seth Stefanik, got an idea.

“This is around a 5,500 to 6,000-square foot building,” Willett told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We think it’s got a really groovy vibe and groovy location. But it’s seen as underutilized in a lot of ways, so we saw a great opportunity to fuse some brands together and create this attraction for tourists, as well as a destination for the local economy.”

The idea? West Edge moves out of its building to allow the creation of The Railspur: a family-friendly business by day — complete with a coffee bistro and a roving cavalcade of food trucks stationed on the grounds — and a bar by night.

The intent is to keep the Railspur open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, providing something for everyone who might pass by, including live music.

“For a lot of years, there’s been a declining entertainment atmosphere in Cheyenne, and we think we can revitalize that,” Willett said. “We think this location pays homage to the train and railroad heritage, but also has a contemporary vibe that people will want to go to.”

Not only will it be a spot for Cheyenne locals to hit up regularly, but Willett, Coronado and Stefanik believe it will draw tourists from elsewhere in Wyoming and from out-of-state while creating at least 20 jobs for the city.

At the end of January, the West Edge Collective and Micro Pop-Up Concepts, a food truck and catering company, submitted an application for a retail liquor license to the Cheyenne City Council.

If awarded the license, a decision expected in late February or early March, The Railspur team can continue the plan of opening this new event destination to the public by the end of the year.

If not, then the cool but underutilized building will go on being home to West Edge.

The Railspur team is asking both Cheyenne locals and anyone interested in the concept to “high five” them through their website, which will give them the ability to show the Cheyenne City Council quantifiable evidence that the project has support.

Willett also hopes their pursuit of a liquor license will spark conversations about the way retail licenses are awarded in the state.

“We’re going for Old West values,” he said. “There’s opportunity abound and it’s the chance to grow something cool that people want to be a part of.”

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Storefronts Filling Up in Wyoming’s Small Towns 

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The landscape of forlorn, empty storefronts on Main Street are a thing of the past for many small towns in Wyoming.

Jumps in tourism traffic and the oil and gas industry, along with an influx of city dwellers looking to escape pandemic-related restrictions, have given a much-needed boost to many communities in Wyoming, according to local officials. Restaurants are among the fastest-growing of the small town businesses. 

Jamie Jessen of the Sundance Chamber of Commerce said the city’s food service options are about to double.

“Currently, we have three restaurants,” she said. “We have a pizza shop, a coffee shop, and then a full service restaurant, but they’re not open for breakfast.” Jessen said two new restaurants are about to open, along with a Subway that could occupy space in a local gas station.

Although Sundance sits just off Interstate 90 in the northeast corner of the state, Jessen pointed out that the majority of businesses downtown aren’t necessarily tourism-oriented – they primarily serve the local population.

“We have a very large hardware store right downtown,” she said. “And then we have the banks downtown, the gallery, we have a chiropractor downtown,” she said. “There is a brand new gym and physical therapist that just opened up in a downtown location, and then we have a pharmacy that also has gift type items. The coffee shop is also a very large gift shop, and then we have a florist downtown that has gifts as well.”

Jessen added that the only store fronts that are empty in Sundance right now are buildings that are in disrepair.

“There are a few buildings that are empty, but it’s more due to the fact that they aren’t in great condition than the fact that they can’t have a business in them,” she said. “We had a brand new gallery built this year that was in an old location, and he just built a new building on an empty lot right downtown. And then one of our restaurant buildings that has been empty for a few years is getting a restaurant in it, so that’s exciting.”

According to Jessen, the town of roughly 1,100 people got a boost from people moving into the area to escape big cities.

“Real estate has really done very, very well, and there’s a lot of new people here,” she said. “So I think, there’s more people, there’s more need, and so I think it’s just become a more appealing place to open a restaurant.” 

Jessen added that tourism has been up significantly the last two summers, which has most likely made an impact on the types of businesses that have opened in Sundance. 

Greybull Chamber Director Deanna Werner said that while a new industrial park on the outskirts of town is the primary focus of the town’s economic hopes, clothing and food stores are gaining a foothold downtown.

“Right next door to the chamber is a store called the Flying E, and it sells local grass-fed meats,” she said. “There is another little fun boutique shop called the Wyoming Scene, and they have some really nice clothing shirts, jackets, sweaters, jeans and things like that. And it’s brand new, they’ve only been open a few months.” 

Queen Bee Honey, a Lovell-based business that opened in 1976, has a large presence downtown in the building that was the home of Probst Western Wear for dozens of years.

Like many small towns in Wyoming, when the Shopko closed its doors in Greybull several years ago it left locals scrambling for an all-purpose store.

“I’m looking for something like Ben Franklin, or something that we can, you know, go buy a pair of socks in notebook paper and a pen,” said Werner.

Much of the focus for development in Greybull is on the new industrial park, Werner said.

“The economic health is good right now,” she said. “And I see it growing in the future – for example, with the industrial park, there’s a lot of potential there. And we also have lots of housing lots for sale on the east side of town, so, if we do get the industry here, we have places to house people.” 

Matt Adelman, the publisher of the Douglas Budget, told Cowboy State Daily that Douglas’ economic health can boom and bust dramatically, depending on the natural gas industry.

“The last four or five, six years have been really good on the retail side with a lot of new businesses, a lot of new storefronts,” Adelman said, adding that new chain stores such as Dollar General and Tractor Supply have served the community well, as have new restaurants and coffee shops.

In towns like Douglas, however, tourism doesn’t have much of an impact.

“Tourism is a very, very small part of our economy,” said Adelman. “Hunting is a little bit larger and in the summer mostly people are going to Yellowstone or Devil’s Tower, stopping here and getting gas. But oil and gas and coal and energy related projects, that helps hotels and restaurants and are a much bigger impact.”

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Park County Businesses Honored As Wyoming’s Small & Large Employers Of The Year

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

When the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and its partners recently selected the large and small employers of the year, they chose a pair of Park County businesses.

The HumbleBee Shop, a clothing boutique located in downtown Powell, was named the top small employer, while Sierra Trading Post, which operates a store and call center in Cody, was named the best large employer.

Black Hills Energy — a gas company whose territory includes Park County — was named the Veteran-friendly Employer of the Year, while Delta Wye of Gillette was honored for its efforts to recruit and hire youth.

The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and the Wyoming Workforce Development Council honored the four employers for “excellence in workforce practices” on Oct. 20, during the 2021 Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit.

DWS Director Robin Sessions Cooley said the awards are an important way to recognize outstanding employers around Wyoming.

“Each year we get the honor of presenting these awards to employers who are truly passionate about creating exceptional workplaces,” said Director Cooley. “The department and its partners are grateful to these employers and workers for their leadership and contributions toward a thriving business climate in Wyoming.”

Given the innovative employers operating in the state, “we remain very optimistic about the future of Wyoming’s workforce,” said Wyoming Workforce Development Council Chairman Fabian Lobera.

The HumbleBee Shop, which opened over the summer, was chosen in part because of its efforts to collaborate with other local businesses. The women- and employee-owned boutique offers free advertising and business development assistance to its vendors — largely made up of single parents, women and children — and doesn’t charge a consignment/vendor fee, owner Mallory Riley said. 

Riley said the business works to train and assist other aspiring entrepreneurs and “intends to lead the way in creating a collaborative business environment to encourage local businesses to cooperate and become problem-solvers for the economic hurdles facing business owners in Wyoming.”

The shop encourages community members to support other local stores; during its grand opening, the HumbleBee held a block party and gave prizes to customers who visited other businesses. The approach struck a chord with the Department of Workforce Services and Workforce Development Council.

“We appreciate their efforts to raise the tide in their community,” Lobera said during the awards presentation.

As for Sierra Trading Post, which is a division of TJ Maxx, the department praised the way the company responded to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing employees with laptops to enable them to work from home.

“Rather than close down and lay off the many employees who worked in the Cody and Cheyenne call centers, they kept the business open and those employees working by finding a way to make it work,” Lobera said.

To qualify as a large employer, a business must have at least 250 employees.

Black Hills Energy, meanwhile, was praised for the way it recruits, hires and supports U.S. military veterans. The Department of Workforce Services presentation noted that Blacks Hill Energy has participated in various initiatives to show support for veterans and offers military members paid time off. The energy company — which serves some 1.3 million customers in Wyoming and seven other states — has more than 450 veterans on its payroll.

Lobera said the Department of Workforce Services received more nominations for its 2021 awards than it has in years, with all nominees worthy of being honored. He said many of the applications were “super inspiring.”

“Because we have so many wonderful people, we also have a great many wonderful places to work,” Lobera said. “And it’s just one of the reasons we stay through those winter storms and spring winds.”

He added that, “It’s not just the people involved — it’s these organizations that are doing great things.”

The annual Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit includes sessions aimed at improving safety practices and strengthening Wyoming’s workforce. Topics included cryptocurrency/blockchain technology, safety success stories, how to create secure and comfortable home offices, combating burnout, COVID-19 regulations and “the vanishing workforce.”

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Wyoming Has Mixed Reaction To Dollar Tree’s Price Increase

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By Wendy Corr, Jennifer Kocher and Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A plan by Dollar Tree to begin offering some items at prices that exceed the chain’s well known $1 limit is ruffling some feathers among the store’s Wyoming customers.

However, some of the patrons of the state’s 10 Dollar Tree outlets said they understood the need for the company to raise some prices.

“It doesn’t bother me, because I can afford it,” said Donna Lynn Murray in Cody. “But I’m sure for the people who need that cheaper price, it will hurt.”

The corporation recently announced it would be offering some new items for $1.25 or $1.50 to help offset rising costs resulting from inflation, shipping and labor, as well as to boost profit margins for investors.

“What? Then can you really call yourself the Dollar Tree?” said Jami Grosz, a Cody resident, half-jokingly. “Will they now be called the ‘Two Dollar Tree?’”

But Grosz said she understood the need for the change.

“I mean, it’s still pretty cheap, even if it’s a dollar,” she added. “And I do understand, in this economy, everyone is going to have to raise prices.”

Over in Gillette, some longtime customers were less sympathetic to the price hike. Writing on the local store’s Facebook page, several customers took umbrage that the chain store will now carry items that cost more than $1.

“Will no longer shop there after price change, basically another $5 below, or Dollar General with prices higher than Walmart prices,” Shane Cody wrote on the page. “Shame. I guess Walmart is the one stop shop.”

Dawn Franklin agreed. 

“I guess my favorite part of shopping there is over, now that you’re adding items that are more than $1,” she wrote.

Jessica Barrilleaux, assistant manager of the Gillette Dollar Tree, attempted to clear up confusion regarding the price hikes, noting in her comment to a post that the store is “not raising the price on everything” and that “if it was a dollar it will remain a dollar” and that the company is just adding new merchandise that will be priced between $1.50 and $5. 

One unhappy customer urged the company to make it clear what items will cost more than $1.

“Any price increases better be clearly marked on all products or I’ll leave them at the cash register,” the customer wrote.

Other customers like Gillette’s Alexandra Luckett were more sympathetic to the inevitability of inflation.

“Having worked in wholesale and sourcing goods from China, I’m surprised DT was able to keep retail price points at $1 for so long,” she wrote on the group’s page. “Because they buy such huge quantities, that has helped. But please do the math…you have to factor in what China charges. For the time, cost of labor, shipping goods on a container ship, duty, inflation, etc. I think they are doing a fantastic job. Especially with the Crafting, Seasonal and Storage/Organizational departments.”

Rikki Cruz of Cheyenne said she doesn’t mind the increase in prices, but she hopes the extra money goes back to the stores.

“I personally don’t care that Dollar Tree raised their prices, but I do care that maybe they use the money they get from the increase to revamp their stores a little bit,” she said. “$1.50 is still cheaper than most places!”

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California Energy Company Lays Out Plans For Newcastle Facility

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A privately-owned California renewable fuels company is eyeing Newcastle for a facility that would use various plant and animal material and convert it into jet fuel.

“Black Hills Advanced Synfuels project will convert approximately 500 tons a day of dead and diseased woody biomass to sustainable aviation (jet) fuel and diesel,” EcoTech Fuels president Linda-Rose Myers recently told Cowboy State Daily.

Earlier in the summer, the company began talks with officials in Newcastle for a potential location, possibly at an old sawmill in town, according to the Newcastle News Letter Journal.

The project is estimated to cost $389 million.

“I can’t comment just yet on exactly where in the Newcastle area we will be locating the plant, as negotiations are still in progress,” Myers told Cowboy State Daily.

According to an executive summary provided by Myers, about 80 people would be needed to run the plant and other jobs would be created during construction. She added more jobs would ultimately be created in the community to support the plant. The jobs created would include chemical engineers, skilled labor and entry-level work.

The Synfuels project is expected to produce about 1,150 barrels of aviation fuel or diesel per day for a total production of about 16 million gallons per year.

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Record Tourism Year, Lack Of Help Strains Wyoming Businesses

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been a busy summer for Wyoming’s tourism industry. 

Yellowstone National Park is setting visitation records — in June of this year, over 938,000 people visited the park.

That broke the previous all-time high number for June visitation set in 2016 by almost 100,000.

For park gateway communities, that means business has been good. But it has also put a strain on businesses already suffering from a shortage of workers.

Ryan Hauck, the Park County Travel Council’s executive director, said he was enthusiastic about the number of people traveling to — and through — Cody.

“We are seeing record numbers all throughout Park County,” he said. “I know our guest and dude ranches are doing amazing, our attractions are doing amazing, our restaurants are full.”

Hauck said attractions and retailers in the towns just east of Yellowstone are reporting not just their best June ever, but their overall best month ever. However, Hauck admitted the high number of visitors is causing an unintended negative effect because of a limited workforce.

“You kind of get worried about, you know, that traveler experience,” he said. “Is our destination holding up to the demand?”

Restaurant owners in Cody said the demand has been taxing — especially in light of the labor shortage that has impacted small businesses throughout the country. Susan Cory has owned Peter’s Cafe in Cody for nine years, but has worked at the small sandwich and ice cream shop for over 30.

“We can’t keep up,” she said. “I’m having to double staff breakfast, because it’s that busy, so it’s making me short-staffed for our closing shift.”

According to Donna Lester at the Workforce Service office in Cody, across the region, the number of people actively looking for work has dwindled to almost nothing. 

“In June I was in five different states. I traveled to Idaho, through Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, and it is everywhere,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing – the workforce has just kind of disappeared.”

The lack of workers, coupled with the increase in tourism, means that visitor experience that Hauck referenced has definitely been impacted.

“A lot of our local businesses aren’t opening until (4 p.m.), or they’re closing parts of the day or certain days of the week,” Lester said. “You know, just today I went to meet somebody for lunch, and they had gone to three different places to try to have lunch, and either they couldn’t get in because it was packed, or because the other places weren’t open.”

So business owners like Cory are working around the clock, and closing one or two days a week to best use the staff they have.

“I normally run with 14 people, we’ve been running with nine and 10,” she said. “And they’re getting burned out, because I had two applicants, and they were both 14 year olds, so I hired both of them. I have never not had a stack of applications to go through.”

Cory’s predicament is just one example of a scenario that is playing out all across the region. Business owners who are already overwhelmed with the number of tourists who are in town are having to work extra hours — and there’s no relief in sight.

“I don’t have an extra person to cover when people call off,” Cory said. “And it’s just going to get worse in the next three weeks when we lose all our high school kids.”

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HollyFrontier Buys Sinclair Refineries, Stations

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

HollyFrontier, the company that owns Cheyenne’s Frontier Oil Refinery, will buy portions of the Sinclair Companies, including its two refineries in Wyoming, the companies announced Tuesday.

Holly is to acquire the Sinclair Oil Corp. and Sinclair Transportation Co. in a deal aimed in part at expanding its renewable diesel production.

The $1.8 billion deal is expected to close in mid-2022, according to a news release from HollyFrontier.

HollyFrontier announced in June of 2020 that it would convert its refinery in Cheyenne to produce renewable diesel, a fuel made out of soybean oil. Sinclair’s refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming, near Rawlins, is already producing 10,000 barrels of the renewable diesel fuel per day and is in the process of an expansion.

Once the transaction is complete, the Sinclair and Cheyenne refineries will be able to produce about 380 million gallons of renewable diesel per year, the release said.

The addition of the refineries in Sinclair and Casper will give HollyFrontier seven refineries in the Rocky Mountain, mid-continent, Southwest and Pacific Northwest regions, the release said.

In addition to the refineries, the arrangement will give HollyFrontier the Sinclair Oil commercial activities, including its gas stations.

“The transaction will help accelerate the ongoing rapid expansion of our Sinclair branded retail sites and the iconic DINO brand,” said Ross Matthews, chairman and chief executive officer for Sinclair.

HollyFrontier will form a new parent company, HF Sinclair, which will replaced HollyFrontier as the company trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the release said.

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Black Tooth Brewing Created Official Beer of Wyoming: 307 Lager

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming now has an official beer, and it is brewed by one of the state’s most popular brewing companies.

Black Tooth Brewing of Sheridan announced Friday that it had brewed a beer that best represented Wyoming, so now it was going to do so in an official capacity.

“Meet the newest addition to our beer family…..307 LAGER!” the brewery announced on social media on Friday. “This beer is not only Brewed FOR Wyoming, it’s now the Official Beer OF Wyoming….and we couldn’t be more proud of it! At 4.2% ABV and 10 IBU, this beautiful light lager is malty, bready, crisp and clean, and light-bodied with a light lemon aroma and mild bitterness.”

The beer is available in six-packs and individual 12-ounce cans at Black Tooth’s Cheyenne and Sheridan taprooms until it runs out, which it likely will since the Fourth of July weekend is creeping closer and closer. Drafts of the beer will be available next week.

The brewers wanted to create a beer that signified Wyoming in a perfect drink.

“Wyoming is who we’ve been, who we are, and who we will always be. It’s at the core of what we value, what we believe, and where we will continually chase perfection,” Black Tooth said. “This beer is for our families, friends, and neighbors.”

Black Tooth Brewery has managed to soldier on during the pandemic, operating two taprooms and selling their beers in stores across the state.

The brewery received a $50,000 in coronavirus relief funds last year from the Wyoming Business Council.

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Alexis Garrett Named 2020 Wyoming Woman Entrepreneur of the Year

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By Cowboy State Daily

Owner of Cheyenne-Based Alexis Drake Recognized for Leadership & Giving Back to Woman-Focused Non-Profits in Wyoming

The Wyoming Council for Women announced Alexis “Lexie” Garrett as the 2020 Woman Entrepreneur Award winner. Garrett owns and operates Cheyenne-based Alexis Drake, a design company which creates affordable and customizable luxury handbags and accessories.

“The benefits to owning a business as a woman in Wyoming include our amazing sense of
community and how in our “small town” of Wyoming, we support each other,” Garrett said.

“It is an honor to be part of such an amazing group of nominees. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Wyoming business community—the support, encouragement and love has been incredible,” she said.

The ‘Woman Entrepreneur Award’ recognizes woman-owned businesses in Wyoming and is designed to increase the attention to, and recognition of, the contribution female entrepreneurs make to Wyoming’s economy. Nominations from outstanding Wyoming female-owned business owners were received from across the state.

A Cheyenne Central graduate, Garrett earned an undergraduate degree in Studio Art from the
University of Arizona. She started Alexis Drake in 2003 and since that time has been building the brand while teaching art, obtaining her master’s degree, raising two children and working out of her garage.

She taught elementary school art full-time in Cheyenne until 2016. Shortly thereafter, Garrett moved Alexis Drake into her manufacturing and retail location in downtown Cheyenne. She employs seven individuals and her products can be found online, at their flagship store in Cheyenne and in limited shops across the state.

Garrett believes in giving back and building the future of our communities. Through her business, she has supported many Wyoming non-profits and initiatives including CLIMB Wyoming, Wyoming Children’s Society, Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative and the Alzheimer’s Association.

All the Wyoming Woman Entrepreneur Award nominees were highlighted on the WCW Facebook page last summer. Jan Torres, chair of the Entrepreneur of the Year committee for WCW, says of the applicants, “Reading the nominations reinforces my belief that women are truly both innovative and passionate about their business. Ranking and scoring is difficult because each one has a unique back story and many strengths. It is a joy.”

“We would like to thank every person who took the time to nominate these outstanding Wyoming women,” said WCW Chair Jennifer Wilmetti. “We had nominations that came from local Chambers of Commerce and Urban Renewal Agencies, friends and family, and the entrepreneurs themselves. It takes great courage and resilience to be a business owner at any time, but even more so when times are tough. Please support small businesses in your community.”

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Study: Wyoming Ranked 11th In Country For Inbound Movers

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a fairly high amount of people moving into the state last year, ranking 11th in the country for moves through one particular company despite the pandemic, according to a recent study.

However, United Van Lines also reported that it saw more than 100 people leaving due to job situations, something unsurprising to the Wyoming Business Council CEO.

According to the moving and relocation company, Wyoming had around 193 families (or people) come into the state, while 140 people/families left. Since 1977, United Van Lines has annually tracked migration patterns on a state-by-state basis.

In total, the company had 333 moves within Wyoming, either inbound or outbound.

The 2020 study is based on household moves handled by United within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. and ranks states based off the inbound and outbound percentages of total moves in each state.

United classifies states as “high inbound” if 55% or more of the moves are going into a state, “high outbound” if 55% or more moves were coming out of a state or “balanced” if the difference between inbound and outbound is negligible.

Wyoming’s percentages were 58% inbound and 42% outbound.

Some of the states that had the most inbound movers were Idaho, South Carolina and even South Dakota, which Gov. Kristi Noem proudly declared on her Facebook page.

“Pretty cool! South Dakota was 4th in the country for percentage of inbound migration, according to United Van Lines. Folks are moving to South Dakota because they value Freedom and our way of life,” she wrote.

Wyoming came in 11th overall for inbound movers, just barely missing out on the top 10 ranking.

One of the primary reasons people cited for leaving Wyoming was due to their job situation, which was not surprising to Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell.

“Based on what we call the perfect storm of a devastating economy has really contributed to that [job loss] so the fact that we were a little bit positive [with inbound movers] was pretty good,” Dorrell told Cowboy State Daily. “I think with so many factors, we were going to see people leave the state, especially in the energy sector.”

He added that the Wyoming coal industry had already been hit hard over the last few years, but the pandemic also caused the oil and gas industries to suffer.

However, as the United data showed, people chose to move to Wyoming due to its opportunities for a lifestyle change and retirement, as well as for health reasons.

This was encouraging to Dorrell and other business officials in the state, as he believes resiliency will be the key to growing Wyoming’s economy and business industries this year.

“I think we need to focus on resilience rather than hunkering down and waiting until the next boom,” he said. “The course for this year is communities to say, ‘We’re not just going to wait around. We’re going to build.'”

Dorrell also believes that the next few years will likely be an interesting time to see certain industries, such as technology, manufacturing and banking, grow throughout the state.

Some of the more traditional Wyoming industries like agriculture and tourism will continue to thrive over time, Dorrell said.

“I think a lot of people in 2020 got reacquainted with Wyoming, and that’s good,” Dorrell said. “I do see Wyoming as a place where people are now realizing what they have, which is access to beautiful spaces, access to the outdoors and a feeling of safety and security.”

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Powell Area’s First Hemp Crop Harvested

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By Kevin Killough and CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

The Powell area’s first hemp crop produced about 190 tons of hemp, averaging about 5 tons per acre.

Two fields were planted in June, one near Deaver and the other near Powell, totaling about 137 acres according to Mother’s Hemp Farms owner Dale Tenhulzen. However, the crop grown on the 107 acres in Deaver had to be destroyed.

“It came in too hot,” said field manager Terry O’Neill.

Regulations require that any hemp produced under licenses from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture maintain a THC level no greater than 0.3%. The chemical is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. If the plant tests higher than that, the entire crop is lost. 

“It would have been an excellent harvest,” O’Neill said of the destroyed Deaver field. 

Fortunately, the crop outside of Powell tested within the limit and was able to be harvested. From that field, O’Neill said they harvested 197 bales weighing about 1,800 to 2,000 pounds each. 

Mother’s Hemp Farms is shipping the bales to South Carolina, where the hemp will be processed for CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical in hemp that consumers believe has medicinal value. It is currently one of the more profitable uses of hemp. 

However, Wyoming Hemp Association President Justin Loeffler told state lawmakers in August that the market for hemp-derived CBD products had become oversaturated. As an example, he said some 117,000 acres of hemp were planted for CBD production last year, while U.S. processors were only able to handle 22,000 acres-worth.

“Right now there is a lot of 2019 crop that still has not been extracted into oil or made into products, which is allowing for a lot of cheap biomass being bought — and the market just hasn’t recovered,” Loeffler told the Legislature’s joint ag committee on Aug. 27, adding, “on the CBD level, we’re still seeing this as more of a boutique or bougie crop that people are going to be able to grow on small acreages.”

Loeffler said he sees the most potential for Wyoming hemp in fiber products.

Tenhulzen said in June that, since marijuana remains illegal in Wyoming, it’s an attractive place for growing hemp for CBD. In other states, cross pollination from marijuana fields is a constant threat to CBD crops, and the fields need to be separated by miles.

Shipping hemp across state lines has been a problem, with numerous cases of law enforcement agencies seizing hemp shipments on the suspicion they’re marijuana. O’Neill said he contacted all the transportation departments in the states the shipment will pass through to make sure the company wouldn’t have any problems. The officials in other states told him that, as long as they could produce the lab results showing it was under the 0.3% THC threshold, they wouldn’t have a problem.

Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto had reported some issues with THC compliance during August’s legislative meeting. He said two unnamed growers — one in the Big Horn Basin and one in Lincoln County — had crops that came in over the 0.3% threshold. The highest level the department had seen was 1.1% and he specifically referenced a crop that had tested at 0.64%.

“That’s still not a high level of THC concentration, but it’s over the standard,” the director said. For comparison, the THC content in some strains of marijuana can top 15% — 50 times higher than the limit on hemp.

Tough weather conditions that stress plants, such as the drought seen this summer in Wyoming, tend to drive up THC levels in cannabis plants, Miyamoto added. Regardless of the reason, the state has no authority to deviate from the 0.3% standard set by the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which means noncompliant crops must be destroyed.

“That’s something that I don’t like very much and … I really don’t want to plow people’s crop’s under; I have no interest in doing that,” Miyamoto said. “But then by the same token, because hemp is regulated at the federal level, I don’t have any latitude. I don’t have anything akin to prosecutorial discretion where I can decide what I’m going to do with these crops.”

Loeffler said the industry is working to gather data on which varieties of hemp will grow the best in Wyoming, suggesting that cultivars from Oregon and Colorado may wind up producing too much THC in this climate.

“… we are a very great climate for growing hemp,” he said. Particularly with the state’s clean headwaters, “that puts us on the map to be able to produce this at a really, really high level and high quality,” Loeffler said. “But we have to do our due diligence first.”

Across the state, the Department of Agriculture had issued 27 licenses for the 2020 growing season as of August, covering about 1,010 acres of open ground and 18,200 square feet of greenhouse operations.

Despite the loss of Mother Hemp Farms’ plants near Deaver, O’Neill said it was an overall success for a first-year crop in an emerging industry. He thinks the future of hemp in Wyoming looks promising. 

“Hopefully this gets more farmers psyched,” O’Neill said. “This shows that hemp is definitely something to pay attention to.”

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Kraken: World’s First Digital Bank To Open in Wyoming

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Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The world’s first bank dedicated to handling digital assets will open in Wyoming with state approval of an application to open a “Special Purpose Depository Institution.”

Kraken, a company that specializes in the purchase, sale and trade of digital currencies such as Bitcoin, won unanimous approval from the Wyoming State Banking Board on Wednesday to open a bank for the holding and trading of digital currencies.

The SPDI, to tentatively be called Kraken Financial, is the first of its kind to win bank charter recognition from both state and federal regulators, the company said in a news release.

The bank will be headquartered in Cheyenne and will provide comprehensive services for holders of digital assets, the company said, such as accepting deposits and allowing its customers to use their digital assets to pay bills, trade for other currencies or make investments.

Kraken described the bank as a bridge between “cryptocurrencies” and traditional economic systems.

In announcing the Banking Board’s approval, David Kinitsky, Kraken Financial’s CEO, praised Wyoming’s Legislature for making the changes to state banking laws needed to allow the handling of digital assets.

“We’re thrilled to work in a state so aligned with our philosophy and values,” he said. “Wyoming is a rare and shining example of how thoughtful regulation can drive innovation for (financial technology) companies.”

The company also said that Wyoming is the only place where such a bank could open and be successful.

“Though many regulators talk about fostering innovation, Wyoming is the only state to actually build out this vision in a concrete, commercially viable way,” its news release said.

The news was welcomed by legislators who worked to adjust Wyoming’s banking laws to allow such operations.

“Big news Wyoming!” Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, one of the legislators to work on the law, wrote on his Facebook page. “We just made history this morning. While I know this may seem a little geeky, it is huge news that Wyoming can and has expanded its economy and can now officially be considered a tech State.”

“And we’re off…. Wyoming people asked for economic diversity and THEY HAVE IT,” another advocate of the banking bill, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, wrote on his Facebook page. “The first of many tech jobs and dollars for the state.”

Caitlin Long, a Wyoming native recognized as an expert in cryptocurrency and “blockchain banking,” also expressed excitement over the approval in a post on her Facebook page.

“As a (Kraken) shareholder, I’m thrilled, but even more thrilled for Wyoming,” she wrote. “True economic diversification and a big building block for attracting a new tech and financial services industry here.”

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Wyoming Relief Fund Demand Nearly Over Available Amount

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With the deadline nearing for Wyoming businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for federal funds to offset coronavirus losses, the state had already paid out more than $120 million for assistance through the two of its programs still running, according to state figures.

Numbers posted on the website showed that as of Sept. 10, the state had distributed $123.4 million through its coronavirus business relief and mitigation programs.

The numbers were posted as the state neared its deadline of Tuesday for businesses and nonprofits to apply for the money made available through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislature, during a special session in May, approved three programs to distribute $325 million to Wyoming businesses affected by the coronavirus and related business shutdowns.

The first program, the Coronavirus Interruption Stipend, ended on July 2 after paying out $98.7 million to almost 4,000 businesses. Each business could receive up to $50,000 as relief for losses suffered because of business interruptions caused by public health orders adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Another $39.3 million has been distributed through a program designed to help businesses forced to close by the public health orders that may have been unable to apply for relief through the first Coronavirus Interruption Stipend program or that had losses exceeding what they received through the interruption stipend program.

One of the other two programs still running, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, makes up to $300,000 available to cover coronavirus-related losses.

The Wyoming Business Council, in a news release, said as of Friday, 2,480 businesses had applied for $182.7 million from the relief fund.

The second program, the Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend, makes up to $500,000 available to compensate businesses for expenses directly related to coronavirus, such as the purchase of personal protection equipment and the costs of extra sanitization measures.

As of Friday, 629 applicants had requested $28.3 million from the mitigation stipend program, the WBC said.

“The demand for the relief fund is very close to exceeding available dollars, while the mitigation fund requests have slowed to a trickle, potentially leaving millions of unused dollars,” said Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s chief executive officer. “We have decided to close applications in order to reallocate leftover funds to best serve the ongoing needs of Wyoming businesses later in the year.”

The state received $1.25 billion as its share of the federal coronavirus relief program. Under terms of the program, the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Gov. Mark Gordon said last week the state has spent about $829 million and is looking at other programs to provide assistance using the money, including funding for Internet service improvement in Wyoming’s rural areas, sending some of the money to local governments and providing funding to help meat processing companies in Wyoming expand their operations.

More Than $1M Disbursed On 1st Day Of Wyoming Coronavirus Mitigation Program

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than $1 million was delivered to Wyoming businesses on the first day funds from the Coronavirus Mitigation Fund were distributed, according to state figures.

Figures found on the state auditor’s “WyOpen Transparency Platform” website showed that on Aug. 14, 41 businesses received payments from the fund designed to reimburse them for health and safety expenses stemming directly from the coronavirus.

The program was one of three created by the Legislature to help businesses hurt by the coronavirus and resulting public safety orders.

Companies that had to spend money on safety measures such as protective equipment and extra sanitization of their buildings can receive up to $500,000 in reimbursement for those expenses under the mitigation program.

Many of the businesses receiving mitigation funds were in the health care field, including the Cheyenne Surgical Center, the Borgrstrand Clinic in Cody, Frontier Eye Care in Casper and Advanced Dental in Cheyenne.

The largest payment given out in the first day of payments was $452,223 to True Grit WY in Rozet, an oilfield service company.

The Wyoming Business Council, which is managing the relief programs, said that as of Wednesday, it had received requests for funds from 496 companies asking for $24 million. It added $7.6 million in payments had been approved of the $40 million in federal coronavirus relief funds available for the program.

The state’s “Business Interruption Stipend” program, which ended earlier this month, paid out almost $98.7 million to 3,988 small Wyoming businesses that saw their operations closed or restricted by public health orders adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The third program, the “Business Relief Fund, is designed to provide relief for larger companies and nonprofit organizations that saw their operations affected by public health orders.

No payments have been made under the program, but the WBC said 2,240 entities have requested assistance totaling $182.8 million.

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JCPenney Places Original Kemmerer Store Up For Auction

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Department store chain J.C. Penney Co. has placed its original store in Kemmerer up for auction, according to Forbes.

The company filed for bankruptcy in May and was given until the end of July to formulate a business plan that would appease the court and its own creditors.

On Friday, the company released that plan, known as the “JCPenney Disposition Portfolio.” The document listed 142 leased locations and 21 company-owned stores that are scheduled for a mid-September auction. These locations were targeted for closure to help facilitate the company’s sale as part of the court proceedings.

The Kemmerer store was one of the 21 company-owned locations listed for auction. Forbes stated that the store will likely be liquidated and sold after the auction.

The Kemmerer location is known as the “Mother Store” and has been in continuous operation since the company’s founding in 1902 by James Cash Penney. When it first opened, the store was known as the “Golden Rule Store.” The building is part retail store, part museum.

The bidding date for the Kemmerer location is Sept. 9. Forbes couldn’t find a particular reason for the company’s officials deciding to auction the store, and representatives were also unable to provide further details on it.

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Dubois’ $100 Million National Military Museum To Open On August 7

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

The gigantic new National Museum of Military Vehicles will finally open on Aug. 7.

The museum, located just south of Dubois, originally planned to open in May but was postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We are opening the museum Friday, Aug. 7, at 10 a.m.,” founder Dan Starks said. “Admission will be free for the first three days. After that normal admission of $15 will be charged, except for veterans, who will get in free.” Under 18 is $10 admission with under 8 years old getting in for free.

“Face masks and social distancing is required so we can keep all of our older veterans safe,” he said. “We will still be working on finishing some of the exhibits but we have gotten tired of turning everyone away who wants to come inside. We are staffing up and training for the opening.”

The $100 million self-funded project has been a dream of Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011.

Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square foot facility, which is designed to hold 200 military vehicles.

But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

Starks is not a veteran but said he has such a high degree of respect for those who served, he sees this project as his life work.

He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis and was CEO before retiring in 2017. The company was doing $6 billion in revenue per year. He had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices for the human body, specializing in heart catheters and other devices.

“At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.

His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.

The life dream of Dan and his wife Cynthia was to settle in Dubois and do some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans.  

And boy, is this ever some project.

Using Richardson Construction of Cheyenne as a general contractor, the project has hummed along on schedule.  And although the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small. 

They own more than 400 of the most pristine historical vehicles from World War II and other conflicts. He thinks he might only get 200 of them inside the walls. It is assumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world.  

The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility. Admission will be $15 for adults and $10 for visitors under 18.  Veterans will be admitted for free. The museum will employ 20 people. 

Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” he says. 

Dan sees the facility having three components:

  • To honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans.
  • Preserve the history of what happened during these wars.
  • Provide an educational experience. 

The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers.  It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable. 

Starks likes to discuss how the Red Ball Express helped secure the victories. This was the supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.

He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and a half years.  

The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy.  

“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did. It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized,” he said. 

Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault, unlike anything west of the Smithsonian. It will hold his $10 million collection of historical weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I.

The collection includes 270 Winchester rifles. The vault has a safe door that would look just right at the national mint. 

The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming legislature are convening there in October.

It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004 in Iraq.  The movie Taking Chance was about that soldier.

There will be large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.

There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 that was used in the Vietnam War against American soldiers. It is flyable.  

Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and to be a shop to keep them running. 

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. More recently they have purchased a 250-head cattle ranch. Recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 64 bison grazing on it. 

“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks concluded. 

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More Than 3,800 Wyoming Businesses Get $95 Million In Relief

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As the first of three state coronavirus relief program nears its end, the state has delivered more than $95 million to more than 3,800 businesses, according to Wyoming Business Council figures.

Figures posted on the state’s transparency website show that as of July 16, almost $95.2 million had been delivered to 3,812 businesses under the state’s Business Interruption Stipend program.

The program was one of three created by the Legislature to put money given the state under the federal coronavirus relief program in the hands of businesses whose operations were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Business Interruption Stipend made up to $50,000 available for Wyoming companies employing fewer than 50 that lost money because of public health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The program opened on June 8 and applications for assistance were accepted until July 2. The first of the grants were delivered to businesses on June 10 and the deliveries continued daily until July 16.

Tom Dixon, a spokesman for the WBC, which manages the program, said a few applications are still being reviewed.

When the program began, officials planned to distribute a total of $50 million, but it soon became clear applications would exceed that amount, so Gov. Mark Gordon moved another $50 million into the program.

According to state figures, 988 businesses have so far obtained the maximum $50,000 grant, many of them restaurants, bars and entertainment companies, such as roller skating rinks, bowling alleys and movie theaters. The state’s public health orders closed such businesses for several weeks.

Other businesses receiving the maximum grant included law firms, medical clinics and dental clinics.

Some of the companies receiving the maximum grant in the latest payout included Carpets Plus in Green River, Khan Hotel Investments in Gillette, Ancora Law in Cody and Evolution Fitness in Sinclair.

The WBC has finished its rules for the next relief program, the “Wyoming Business Relief” program, which the agency said will open soon.

Under the program, companies employing up to 100 people — as well as nonprofit agencies — will be able to apply for grants of up to $300,000 to offset losses they suffered because of public health orders or coronavirus-related expenses, such as the costs for extra cleaning.

The third program, the “Mitigation Fund” will pay companies up to $500,000 to reimburse them for employee and customer health and safety expenses directly related to the coronavirus.

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Kanye West Seeks Approval To Use Cody Labs For Yeezy Manufacturing

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Kanye West

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An engineering firm is seeking approval for plans to turn a building formerly owned by a defunct pharmaceutical manufacturer into a manufacturing facility for musician Kanye West’s Yeezy fashion brand.

The Cody Planning and Zoning Board was asked by Engineering Associates to approve its application for modifications of the building that used to house Cody Laboratories for the manufacturing of Yeezy apparel and shoes.

“The modifications primarily related to removal of items that are not needed for the new use, rearranging parking and utilities, and slightly modified site grading,” said a report on the plans by Todd Stowell, Cody’s city planner.

Cody Laboratories closed in July 2019 before it could complete work on what was to be a pharmaceutical product facility and warehouse.It was announced early this year that West had purchased the building and planned to use it to create prototypes for the Yeezy shoe brand.

After West purchased the building, James Klessens, the chief executive for Forward Cody, told the Cowboy State Daily the building was a perfect fit for West’s needs.

Stowell recommended the board approve the application as long as some technical conditions are met having to do with issues including water lines, utilities and landscaping.

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Wyoming Business Alliance’s Governor’s Business Forum Cancelled Until 2021

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The 2020 Governor’s Business Forum, originally scheduled to be held this fall, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Wyoming Heritage Foundation and Wyoming Business Alliance announced Friday.

The forum has been put on every year since 1982 to provide a platform for the discussion of Wyoming’s economy by a wide array of Wyoming officials and business leaders.

The 2019 forum was held in Cheyenne and featured speakers from all over the state. Many of the topics focused on how Wyoming should prepare for challenges of the future.

Cindy DeLancey, president of the Business Alliance/Heritage Foundation, said organizers could not see a way to hold the event while observing precautions to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

“Moving forward with a large, indoor forum is just not feasible this year,” she said in a news release. “Over the last several months, the management team, board and vendors have vetted possible scenarios of how to hold an indoor meeting with our statewide business community responsibly. None of the scenarios met our criteria for holding the state’s premier business event, so we had to make a tough decision. We will work hard to hold an incredible forum in the fall of 2021, and it will be better than ever.”

The Wyoming Business Alliance serves as the state’s premier business advocate, with a mission of promoting and advocating a growing economy by connecting business leaders from across Wyoming, representing business interests and issues and partnering with key business organizations and trade associations.

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Amazon: Wyoming Tops List Of States With Most Digital Entrepreneurs

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Wyoming Business Council

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is ranked fourth in an Amazon listing of states with the most digital entrepreneurs per capita in the nation.

Amazon, in a news release Thursday, said Wyoming has more than 1,000 small- to medium-size businesses or SMBs selling in its stores, giving it one of the nation’s highest per capita rankings for digital entrepreneurs.

The other states in the top five that have the most SMBs per capita reaching customers in Amazon’s stores include Iowa, Delaware, California and New Jersey.

Nationally, 47 states are home to more than 1,000 third-party sellers, mostly SMBs, and 26 states have more than 5,000 third-party sellers.

Amazon’s announcement comes ahead of the release of its 2020 SMB Impact Report, which will unveil more new data on the growth SMBs selling in Amazon’s stores have seen in the past 12 months.

The company said Iowa tops the list of sales increase in the past year with growth of 57%

“Iowa is home to thousands of small and medium-sized businesses selling in Amazon’s stores, and we’re working hard to support their growth despite the global pandemic,” said Keri Cusick, head of small business empowerment at Amazon, in a news release. “Both top 10 lists we revealed today demonstrate innovation in every corner of the country, with states like Iowa, Delaware, Wyoming, and Alabama coming out on top.”

The top 10 states with the most digital entrepreneurs per capita:

  1. Iowa – with nearly 10,000 SMB sellers
  2. Delaware – with over 3,000 SMB sellers
  3. California – with over 100,000 SMB sellers
  4. Wyoming – with over 1,000 SMB sellers
  5. New Jersey – with over 20,000 SMB sellers
  6. Vermont – with over 1,000 SMB sellers
  7. New York – with nearly 50,000 SMB sellers
  8. Utah – with over 7,000 SMB sellers
  9. New Hampshire – with over 3,000 SMB sellers
  10. Florida – with over 50,000 SMB sellers

The top 10 states with the fastest year-over-year growth by digital entrepreneurs:

  1. Iowa – 57% growth
  2. Washington – 56% growth
  3. Alabama – 53% growth
  4. Virginia – 50% growth
  5. Louisiana – 49% growth
  6. Georgia – 45% growth
  7. West Virginia – 45% growth
  8. South Dakota – 45% growth
  9. Rhode Island – 40% growth
  10. Alaska – 38% growth

Small and medium-sized businesses selling in Amazon’s stores come from every state in the U.S., and more than 130 countries around the world. In 2019, more than 15,000 American SMBs exceeded $1 million in sales in Amazon’s stores worldwide, and nearly 25,000 surpassed $500,000 in sales. Products from small and medium-sized businesses make up more than half of all items sold in Amazon’s stores worldwide.

Amazon spent $15 billion last year on logistics, tools, services, programs, and people to help small and medium-sized businesses around the globe succeed in its online stores.

As part of this investment, the company launched Amazon Small Business Academy to help small businesses in the U.S. harness the power of the internet to reach more customers, build their brand, and grow sales.

Through a combination of free in-person seminar events, live webinars, and community college classes across the country, Amazon Small Business Academy will help thousands of American entrepreneurs gain digital strategy and brand building skills to make their ambitions reality.

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Wyoming Real Estate Becomes Hot Property During Pandemic

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Real estate

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s wide open spaces have become a draw for people who are seeking to get out of the crowded urban areas that have become hot spots for COVID-19, according to several realtors. 

Matt Hall, Cody’s mayor and a realtor for Western Real Estate, said the market has become much busier in the last few months.

“We’re having a hard place finding rentals, which we’ve always struggled with in Cody,” he explains. “But also, any houses that are in town, especially in the downtown corridor, they’re getting sucked up almost immediately.”

Mike Fraley is a realtor with Hall and Hall in Buffalo. His territory covers much of Wyoming and Southern Montana, with an emphasis on ranch properties. Fraley said high-end land sales have spiked since late March.

“The first part of April, not just in Wyoming, but in Montana and the Colorado brokers as well, we all started getting this inclination that we may have a different market emerge out of this,” he said. “You know, I picked up three different clients, three different private jets, and those were the kinds of buyers that were emerging.”

But Hall added that some of the interest in Cody in particular could also have been sparked by the move to the community by Kanye West.

“It’s certainly a correlation,” he said, “between the fact that we’ve had some new industry coming to town and that the market is actually doing quite well.”

And Fraley pointed out that while the market is hot right now, there’s no telling what could happen this fall.

“We are in a really good market today,” he said. “I don’t think any of us know what could happen this fall, with the election coming on and just so many things, the chaos going on across the country right now.  “I tell sellers, we know what the market’s doing today, and let’s try to capture some of that, because in six months it could be a completely different story.”

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Enzi, Barrasso Call For Reform In Meat Processing Industry

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyoming, called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday to look into reforming the meat processing industry.

The two joined a bipartisan group of legislators in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking him to consider areas for regulatory and programmatic reform in the industry.

“When high-capacity processing facilities experienced (coronavirus) outbreaks amongst employees, operations were forced to shut-off or slow down production, leaving the rancher with livestock they could not move and the consumer with either empty grocery shelves or overpriced products,” the senators wrote. “These pitfalls can be avoided in the future if we take action today to promote a diversified food supply chain. Regulations must be streamlined to remove barriers impeding small and medium-sized meat processors.”

The legislators included Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

In April, Wyoming legislators Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, called for an investigation into meat processors, accusing them of taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to make record profits.

They both criticized the four major meat packing companies, Tyson, Smithfield, JBS and Cargill for creating a monopoly that hurts ranches and small cattle producers.

Driskill recommended the public call for an investigation into these companies and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which regulates interstate and foreign commerce in livestock, dairy, poultry and related products.

Lindholm blamed the companies’ misuse of the Federal Meat Inspection Act as one of the problems behind rising beef prices for consumers, but not ranchers. 

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Wyoming Companies Receive More Than $2.8 Million In Relief (So Far)

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Wyoming Business Council

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than $2.8 million in coronavirus relief funds was distributed to 180 Wyoming businesses in the first week of the state’s relief programs, according to Wyoming Business Council records.

The WBC’s records of companies that have received grants under the state’s Business Interruption Stipend program show that distributions of funds began June 10, just two days after the council began accepting applications for the program.

As of Monday, about $2,894,000 had been distributed to companies in amounts ranging from $1,000 to the full $50,000 allowed under the program.

The Business Interruption Program is one of three approved by the Legislature during its special session in May to help businesses that lost money because of the coronavirus. The Legislature set aside $50 million for the program to provide up to $50,000 for each business, depending on the level of the pandemic’s impact.

The program is open to Wyoming businesses that have 50 or fewer employees.

According to the WBC, almost 2,700 companies have applied for assistance and so far, almost $7.7 million in grants has been approved for distribution.

Many of the grants already distributed, according to WBC figures listed on the state’s transparency page (, have gone to restaurants, child care centers, bars, breweries and other businesses closed by public health orders designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Among the 17 companies receiving the full $50,000 as of Monday was the Pumpkin Patch Preschool in Wilson, the Black Tooth Brewing Co. in Sheridan and the Tortilla Factory in Cheyenne.

Two other relief programs have yet to be launched. The Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend will provide grants of up to $300,000 for independent Wyoming businesses that employee fewer than 100 people and experienced difficulties because of public health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The Coronavirus Mitigation Fund reimburses companies for what they spent to purchase cleaning supplies, sanitizers, personal protective equipment and other materials used to comply with safety standards.

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First Wyoming Coronavirus Small Business Relief Grants Approved

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Man working at desk, going over analytics, ALT=Wyoming supplemental budget

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The first grants to be provided under one of the state’s coronavirus relief programs have been approved for a total of $149,000.

The eight grants made under the Business Interruption Stipend program, ranging from $2,560 to $32,891, were approved Wednesday, according to a page on the state’s transparency platform website

The program is one of three approved by the Legislature during its special session in May.

The program set aside $50 million to provide grants of up to $50,000 for Wyoming businesses that employ 50 or fewer employees and suffered a loss due to closures required by federal, state or local health orders.

The grants approved Wednesday included money for Cheyenne and Gillette restaurants, including a grant of $18,732 for a Gillette company that makes mead.

Other grants included $32,570 for a cupcake company in Gillette, $17,126 for a catering company in Cheyenne, $25,000 for a restaurant in Cheyenne and $15,000 for a Cheyenne preschool.

The state’s transparency website did not have the most recent numbers, but according to the Wyoming Business Council’s website, by Thursday morning, 2,145 applications for assistance had been received and more than $2.1 million in grants had been approved.

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Financial Relief Will Be Available Soon For Wyo Small Businesses

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Some financial relief will soon be available to small business owners in Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council CEO said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Josh Dorrell spoke during the conference alongside Gov. Mark Gordon and broke down the three grant programs created to distribute federal coronavirus emergency funds.

During the special legislative session in mid-May, the Wyoming Legislature created these programs to distribute $325 million in federal funding for Wyoming small business owners who experienced hardship related to the pandemic.

The first program in operation is the Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend, a program providing grants up to $50,000 for Wyoming for-profit applicants that employ 50 or fewer people and established their business before any public health orders were issued in the state.

This particular program has $50 million in its budget. Businesses will be able to apply on-line for the grants beginning Monday.

“In developing this program, we’re working hard to ensure security and simplicity so applicants can access those funds and continue to focus on what’s important: running their business,” Dorrell said during the conference.

He added applicants will not be required to submit supporting documents to apply for the grants, but they will want to keep information showing their businesses were hurt by the coronavirus for future audits.

The second program has a budget of $225 million and will provide up to $300,000 to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. It’s expected to launch in early July.

The third program has a budget of $50 million and will provide up to $500,000 in grants to Wyoming businesses. This particular stipend won’t have an employee requirement. It’s also expected to launch in early July.

Dorrell reminded viewers that the payments provided under the relief programs are grants and wouldn’t need to paid back.

Businesses are eligible to apply for all three grants if they meet the requirements.

“We definitely want to make sure this money stays in Wyoming and helps those businesses that need it most,” Dorrell said.

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Cheyenne Refinery To Shift To Renewable Diesel, Cut 200 Workers

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

HollyFrontier’s Cheyenne Refinery will shift from refining petroleum to producing a diesel fuel made out of soybean oil, the company announced Monday.

HollyFrontier announced in a news release that the conversion from petroleum refining will take 12 to 18 months and by the time the work is completed, about 200 workers will have been released.

The reduction in the refinery’s workforce will occur over a period of time, said Liberty Swift, manager of corporate communications for the company.

“Everyone’s learning today what the plan is so no one would be taken by surprise,” she said. “We’re working with everybody to try to assist them through this process.”

The refinery on the south side of Cheyenne has been processing petroleum for 86 years, according to Mike Jennings, HollyFrontier’s president and chief executive officer.

But Jennings said given the crash in oil prices caused by both oil price wars and the coronavirus, the company did not believe petroleum refining was a sustainable business.

In addition, the company was looking at high operating and maintenance costs related to the refinery over the next three to five years, he said.

Swift said there is a growing demand for diesel fuel made from renewable resources, particularly in California, but also in Colorado.

The Cheyenne refinery was well-suited for the conversion because some of the equipment already in place can be used to produce the renewable diesel, she added.

Any equipment not used in the production of renewable diesel will be idled, Swift said.

The conversion process is expected to cost about $125 million to $175 million, the company said.

When the work is finished, about 80 employees will remain at the refinery.

The company will work where possible to put employees removed from the refinery to work at other HollyFrontier plants, Swift said.

She added the company wants to continue working with Cheyenne as it has in the past.

“We want to continue to be in the Cheyenne community and want to continue to be a strong community partner,” she said. “This is a way we can stay in the community.”

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Wyoming Business Owners Can Require Face Mask Use

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As businesses reopen nationwide, shoppers are increasingly encountering “no mask, no service” signs, which has some people asking, “Can they do that?”

In short, yes, said Melissa Alexander, a University of Wyoming law professor who specializes in health law and policy.

“We as Americans believe in individual liberties,” Alexander said. “So it’s not that there’s a law protecting business owners who want to do this, but rather there isn’t a law prohibiting it.” 

Mask requirements can be likened to “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs common in many gas stations, tie requirements at some formal restaurants or even smoking restrictions in areas where smoking indoors hasn’t been banned by local officials, she added. 

As long as a business is not targeting a class protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — race, color, religion, sex and national origin — it is allowed to stipulate how their customers shop. Because masks are being required of everyone who enters, such requirements are legal, Alexander explained.

“People who don’t agree with a business’ requirements always have the choice to shop elsewhere,” she said. 

While some states have mask orders in place, which puts businesses that choose not to enforce the rule at risk of losing state aid or licensing, Wyoming has only issued a mask recommendation.

“Wearing a face covering is absolutely not a substitute for social distancing, which remains important to slowing the spread of this virus,” Wyoming State Health Officer Alexia Harrist said in a news release.

The Wyoming Department of Health acknowledges cloth face coverings of the homemade variety are not as effective as N-95 respirators, but still advises residents the cloth covering is better than nothing at all. (

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Sheridan Police Say They Didn’t Threaten Closure of Restaurant But Non-Compliance Could Lead to Closure

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sheridan police did not threaten to shut down a Sheridan restaurant because its employees were not wearing face masks, a spokesman said Thursday.

Instead, Police Chief Rich Adriaens and another officer met with Smith Alley Brewing Co. co-owner Tiffany McCormick to explain the health rules that are in place as restaurants and bars begin to reopen across the state, said Lt. Tom Ringley.

“We never threatened to close the restaurant,” he said. “But closure could be a consequence of non-compliance. As far as we know, she’s in compliance of all of the mandates.”

On Wednesday, McCormick broadcast a 24-minute livestream on Facebook, telling viewers about how Adriaens and another uniformed officer told her that if her business didn’t comply with health regulations, it would be fined and its license could be revoked.

Last week, Sheridan County was given exemption approval to open its bars and restaurants before statewide orders were to begin relaxing on May 15. The exemption was granted by the state on the condition that restaurants follow 21 health safeguards, including one requiring staff members to wear face masks. The conditions are similar to those that will be in place when all the state’s restaurants and bars reopen Friday.

Of the 21 mandates, McCormick declined to require her employees to wear face masks, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

HIPPA guarantees the privacy of health care records and information. The ADA guarantees equal employment opportunities for the disabled.

“I, myself as an employer, cannot ask my employees why they refuse to wear a face-covering. I cannot ask them to do that,” McCormick said in the video.

Ringley said Adriaens and another officer met with McCormick after the department received a complaint about Smith’s employees not wearing masks around 12:40 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re trying to seek compliance through education, warnings and citations as an absolute last resort,” Ringley said. “When we got the complaint on Wednesday, Chief Adriaens and the second officer went and met with the owners to educate them on what the standard was and how they weren’t in compliance.”

Adriaens brought a second officer to the discussion because that officer was carrying a body camera and could record the entire encounter.

Later Wednesday night, an officer on foot patrol in downtown Sheridan checked in on the brewery and saw that employees were wearing masks, complying with health orders.

Ringley explained that he empathized with McCormick’s situation as a small business owner and understood why she might have complaints. But ultimately, the Sheridan police have no desire or authority to close any bar or restaurant, he said.

Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily in an email that a brewery wouldn’t be a fully-covered entity under HIPAA like the Health Department or a hospital would be.

“Beyond that, we will decline to interpret how privacy rules would or should be applied to a particular business,” Deti wrote. “The statewide and county public health orders in effect are lawful; enforcement is primarily left to the discretion of counties.”

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Cheyenne Hospital Likely to Lose $10M for April Due to Coronavirus

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The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center will likely see a loss of close to $10 million for the month of April, its CEO said in a statement Friday.

Hospitals across Wyoming have taken major financial hits during the coronavirus pandemic, due to the increased social distancing practices calling for fewer people to be in the building at one time and the cancellation or postponement of elective surgeries and other procedures.

CMMC CEO Tim Thornell said the hospital lost $1 million in March and is projecting an operating loss of close to $10 million for April.

“Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, like every other hospital in Wyoming, is certainly feeling the negative financial impact that COVID-19 is having,” Thornell said in a statement. “We are seeing about a 30% reduction in inpatient care and an upwards of 50% reduction in outpatient care.”

The hospital system is managing the situation, but Thornell noted that these losses aren’t sustainable in the long term. To address funding shortfalls, CRMC is using financial reserves to supplement current operations, which means major capital projects have been placed on hold to divert funds to daily operations.

There is also a hiring freeze in place at the hospital and overtime is being limited. Reduced hours have been implemented for select non-urgent service lines.

“Our volumes are down in all areas,” Thornell said. “We have a strong and dedicated staff that continues to provide the best possible care to our community during these challenging times.”

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Gordon Extends Health Closures/Orders Until April 17

in News/Coronavirus/Business

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist have extended the three statewide health orders closing some businesses and restricting gatherings through April 17 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The current orders have closed public places such as schools, bars, coffee shops and some personal service businesses such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, as well as limited gatherings of 10 people or more in a single room or confined space (including outdoors). Food establishments providing curbside services, delivery or drive-thru can remain open.

“I have extended these orders in consultation with Dr. Harrist,” Gordon said in a news release. “Because we’ve seen cases identified in additional counties and growth in the case numbers, it’s clear how important it is for us to take sustained action. I understand the ongoing strain that these measures are having on businesses, workers and Wyoming communities. But it is imperative that our citizens respond to this public health crisis by staying home whenever possible and practicing proper social distancing when they must go out. This is how we can save lives and protect people’s health.”

Harris emphasized the extension is necessary because social distancing measures are critical to slowing of the spread of the virus and monitoring the impacts of those measures on the outbreak in Wyoming.

“The best tool we have to reduce the potential burden on our healthcare system and save lives is for all of us to limit our contact with other people as much as possible,” Harrist said in a news release. “Of course it is most important for people who are ill to stay home unless they need medical attention.”

The state currently has 70 confirmed cases of the virus.

Lander Gin Distiller Now Making Hand Sanitizer

in News/Coronavirus/Business

By Paul McCown, owner of Huck Gin in Lander

A few months back, I decided to formalize something I’ve done for fun in the past: making gin.

After my lovely bride questioned my sanity (she has occasions to do this on a regular basis), I decided to start a gin distillery right here in Lander.

Over the last few months, I’ve been pulling together all of the ingredients, equipment, and licensing required.

My first product, Huck Gin, will have a leading flavor profile of juniper, accompanied by strong infusions of huckleberry, all made from locally-sourced ingredients from right here in Lander and the Rocky Mountain West.

Now, with coronavirus impacting our community, I was asked by the Wyoming Business Council in conjunction, with the state of Wyoming, if I could convert my gin stilling operation to focus on the production of germ-killing hand sanitizer?

This was certainly never part of my plan, but with such a strong need across the state, I feel a firm calling to give back to this wonderful place I call home. So while I’ll be busy at my distillery, it won’t be from creating Huck Gin just yet. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other distilleries in the state. On a recent afternoon, we all had a call together with the federal agencies that will be required to get this done.

I can’t stop thinking about how amazing this community and state are. Competitors, all putting it aside for a higher cause. This is truly a special place. 

Editor’s note: A number of Wyoming distilleries have committed to producing sanitizer to help make up for shortages, including Backwards Distillery in Casper, Koltiska Distillery in Sheridan, Chronicles Distilling in Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs Distilling, Melvin Brewing in Alpine, Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby and Jackson Hole Still Works and Grand Teton Distillery in Jackson. The Wyoming Business Council on Tuesday was directed to provide financial assistance to any distillery manufacturing hand sanitizer.

Grocery stores announce special hours for vulnerable adults, limit daily hours

in News/Coronavirus/Food/Wyoming/Business
Apple City Festival

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbing every day, grocery stores across the country have recognized a specific need among customers. 

Certain groups, such as the elderly, people who have underlying health conditions and pregnant women, are the most susceptible to the coronavirus. With the addition of people panic buying unnecessary extra supplies, those vulnerable adults are often risking their health to shop in grocery stores with empty aisles. 

But more and more grocery stores across the country and in Wyoming have pledged to create special hours for these high-risk individuals, allowing them to come into stores for a certain amount of time and shop at a time they can avoid large groups of people. 

Walmart announced an hour-long senior shopping event every Tuesday until April 28. Customers 60 and older will have the opportunity to begin shopping one hour before the store opens for the general public. The pharmacy and vision center will be open at this time, as well.

Albertsons and Safeway will reserve two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning, 7 to 9 a.m., for vulnerable shoppers, including seniors, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems. 

Dollar General will designate the first hour at all of its stores as open daily to senior shoppers. 

Big Lots will reserve the first hour of each day for seniors and those most at-risk concerning the virus.

Many of these chains, such as Walmart and Albertsons, are also limiting their daily hours to help combat the spread of the virus.

Year of the Pig sees Wyoming cut the fat, celebrate equality, go gaga for choo-choo trains

in Energy/Jobs/News/wildlife/Agriculture/Transparency/Business
Year of the Pig

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

In 2019, Wyoming celebrated the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage, welcomed back members of the Black 14 and bemoaned the worsening coal crisis.

Cowboy State Daily was there to cover it all.

Here’s some of our top stories from throughout the year.


Mineral extraction in Wyoming could enter a slump in the next four years, and the coal industry is slated to experience the worst of it, according to a report produced by Gov. Mark Gordon’s Power Wyoming initiative.

Some of the initiative’s scenarios predicted a recovery period in two years, but most, and the most likely, predicted a devastating decrease in both Wyoming’s total employment and population.

For the residents of coal country, those predictions could be life changing.

“The coal jobs have historically been the stable jobs,” said Alison Gee, a Gillette attorney. “Now, we’re shifting to an environment where we have to look to oil and gas to try and provide some of the stability for our families. And as you know, the oil and gas markets just aren’t that way. They’re very volatile because of the world economy.”

Although several hundred miners returned to work at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines after Eagle Specialty Materials assumed ownership from the bankrupt former owners, Blackjewel, the reverberations of 600 coal miners being laid off in one fell swoop earlier this year are still being felt statewide.

Corporate income tax

Despite dying in the Senate during the 2019 Legislative Session, a legislative committee is once again studying a proposal to impose an income tax on so-called “big box” stores.

The Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee listened to testimony in September regarding a 7 percent corporate income tax on companies with more than 100 shareholders.

A similar proposal, House Bill No. 220, referred to as the National Retail Fairness Act, was not considered by the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee before a deadline in February.

Both measures were raised as state officials were faced with rapid declines in the state’s mineral tax revenues, historically the biggest contributors to Wyoming coffers.

Irrigation collapse

After an irrigation canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska without water for months this summer, officials are looking into ways to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Built by the Bureau of Reclamation more than 100 years ago, the Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapsed in July, causing the governors of Wyoming and Nebraska to declare states of emergency.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture later said crop losses would be covered by insurance, a previous economic analysis report produced jointly by the Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension originally estimated the collapse could cost both states about $90 million combined. 

Opening the books

After a years-long legal battle between Wyoming officials and non-profit organizations over state government transparency, Wyoming State Auditor, Kristi Racines released Wyoming’s checkbook  shortly after taking office in January.

The data dump contained approximately 4.9 million line items of expenditures made by state agencies during the last six years, but it does not include several spending categories such as state employee salaries or victims’ benefit payments.

Racines took transparency a step further and launched a website dedicated to providing the public with basic spending data for the state.

Using the data provided through both the checkbook and website, Cowboy State Daily covered a series of state spending stories including the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s sponsorship of rodeo teams, the Wyoming Department of Correction’s purchases of religious items and a look at Wyoming’s own air fleet

Big Boy

The largest steam engine ever built, the Big Boy locomotive, crossed Wyoming for the first time in 60 years, bound for Utah and the 150th anniversary of the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railway.

“A steam locomotive is a living, breathing piece of machinery,” said Bob Krieger, a former steam locomotive engineer who now runs the UP Historical Society in Cheyenne. “You can see its muscles. You can hear it breathe as it pulls a grade. All steam engines do that. The Big Boy is just the biggest.”

Train enthusiasts from all over the world flocked to Wyoming to witness the historic trip.

Capitol renovations

State agencies started moving back into the Wyoming Capitol building this summer as a $300 million renovation project neared its end.

The refurbishment of the 129-year-old Capitol was the centerpiece for the Wyoming Capitol Square Project that also involved updating the Herschler Building to the north and the space between them.

The reopening ceremony coincided with the celebration of Wyoming’s Statehood Day, and the unveiling revealed a Capitol building considered to be much more accessible to the public, with larger rooms, broader passageways and more open space.

“They’ve done a lot of stuff here that opened up the Capitol,” said Joe McCord, the former facilities manager for the Capitol. “The stairs going into the House and Senate are wide open right now. Downstairs, you’ve got the galley that’s wide open. The rooms are bigger. I just love it, what they’ve done. They’ve done a great job.”

Despite being mostly complete, many agencies were still working with temporary furniture towards the end of the year as the state worked out the details of new furniture request for proposal.

Taco John’s

There was a whole lotta Mexican goin’ on at Taco John’s 50th anniversary this year, some of which the company is taking to Minnesota.

While founded in Cheyenne half a century ago, the fast food chain announced in December it was expanding its corporate office to Minneapolis, where there are more than 200 Taco John’s locations within a few hours drive from the city. But for those readers who can’t get enough oles, the franchise is slated to remain headquartered in Wyoming. 

Women’s Suffrage

State legislators kicked off the 2019 Legislative Session by passing a measure setting aside a day to recognize Wyoming as the first state in the nation to give women the right to vote.

The measure declared Dec. 10 as “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day,” which marks the day in 1869 when Territorial Gov. John Campbell signed the bill giving women the right to vote in Wyoming.

Marking the occasion with music, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra commissioned an original work from American composer Stephanie Ann Boyd. 

“Wyoming, of course, put through women’s suffrage about 50 years before everybody else, and so we’re taking the inspiration of that, and the stories of the women that were instrumental in that, and writing a piece about them, but also writing essentially a 25-minute minute love letter to Wyoming,” Boyd said.

On Dec. 10, women and men marched to the Capitol commemorating the newly declared holiday and highlighting instances of inequality that still need to be addressed.

Black 14 

Fifty years after the University of Wyoming expelled 14 members of its football team, known as the Black 14, for wearing black armbands onto the field, race relations are still strained in the Equality State, said Mel Hamilton, one of the Black 14.

“It’s a shame to say, but it’s pretty much the same as when I entered Wyoming in 1965,” Hamilton said, adding, “with one exception — it went underground.”

Adding diversity to the history books and teaching students how minorities contributed to growth of the U.S. as well as informing them how racism was cultivated by ignorance would be a strong step toward improving Wyoming’s future race relations, Hamilton said. 

“They must be allowed to learn what other races have given this country,” he said. “They are ready to lead the way if we — the old vanguard — just get out of the way and let them do it.”

Chronic Wasting Disease 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department released a draft plan to address a fatal disease running rampant through the state’s wildlife population.

“(Chronic Wasting Disease) has been documented spreading throughout the state, and there are areas where its prevalence is high enough that we think it could be having significant impacts on some of our herds,” said Justin Binfet, one of the plan’s authors and a Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator. “The plan is based on recommendations that were developed through an extensive collaborative process.”

Dubbed a “suite of strategies,” the plan suggests managing the disease by installing wildlife feeding bans, potentially targeting mule deer bucks during breeding season, voluntary and mandatory submission of harvested animal samples and working with landowners, cities and counties to eliminate areas with unintentionally high concentrations members of the deer family.

Gambling is booming under the radar, hurting players, state coffers

in News/Business

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Traditionally, Wyoming takes a conservative stance against the gambling industry, but technological innovations and legal gray areas are moving the state closer to its Wild West roots, a state senator said.

“We really don’t know what’s there, and it varies county to county and town to town,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. “You may have a poker game in one town, and the next town over, it isn’t allowed.”

The overview of gambling in Wyoming is further muddied by “skill games,” which are becoming increasingly popular barroom additions across the state.

“We had so-called skill games or gray games come in on what they saw as a crack in the law regarding skill games,” Driskill said. “At this point, there’s probably between 500 to 1,000 of these machines out there that at some point in the past would’ve been deemed illegal.”

A member of the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, Driskill is drafting a bill that would transform the state’s Pari-Mutuel Commission, which currently oversees horse racing and historic horse race gambling ventures, into the Wyoming Gaming Commission, which would oversee gambling on a broader spectrum.

“The attempt at the commission and the new bill are not attempts to expand gaming in Wyoming, merely to define what’s already there,” Driskill said. “It would also create a model that anyone who is gaming in Wyoming would need a permit or a license, so the state knew where and what gaming is occurring.”

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said he’s lobbied for both the alcohol and gaming industries throughout the years, and Wyoming could benefit from an oversight committee.

“There’s nothing keeping bad operators from coming in and setting up shop right now,” Moser explained. “(The Liquor Association) is in a highly regulated industry, and we appreciate oversight, because we serve a product that provides some wonderful benefits when consumed in moderation, much like the gaming industry.”

Many of the skill games currently operating in the state are located in places that serve alcohol, so the operators Moser represents have questions about how to keep it all above board.

“We don’t want our retailers to get in trouble,” he said.

Determining what is legal, however, is complicated, Driskill said.

“Right now, there’s really only two entities that regulate gambling — the county attorneys and the (then-Wyoming) Attorney General,” he said. “Consequently, because of the number of lawsuits in the works by the gaming industry, (the county attorneys) aren’t willing to take it on, because these guys have enough money to take it to court. They don’t want to end up in endless litigation.”

Mired in gray areas and absent the support of county attorneys, gambling is being overlooked by local law enforcement, Driskill added.

“From the testimony we’ve had in the counties, their law enforcement in cities and counties don’t know what’s happening in their boundaries at all,” he said. “It really leaves it to the Wild, Wild West.”

Despite most gambling being illegal throughout the state, games are taking place on a regular basis. But, without oversight, the players bear all the risk.

“The machines that are out there, you don’t know what they’re set at, 1 percent (payout) or 80 percent,” Driskill said. “You really don’t have anywhere to go if someone cheated you in a poker game or to report a bad machine.”

A gaming commission could alleviate many of these problems, but it’s not a new idea.

“Gaming commissions have been proposed in some form for the last decade,” Moser explained. “We’re the only state that doesn’t license bingo or pull tabs, and the skill games are falling into the same area.”

Skill games are typically defined as games in which interaction with the player affects the result, he said.

“They consider video poker as a game of chance,” Moser said. “Games of skill are legal and games of chance are not for the most part.”

Responding to an inquiry from Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigan requesting a formal opinion regarding some machines manufactured by Banilla Games, Attorney General Peter Michael listed ten skill games his office deemed gambling. Those games include:

  • Bathtime Bucks
  • Fruity Sevens 
  • Searing Sevens 
  • Snake Eyes
  • Wheel Deal
  • Spooky’s Loot
  • Mega Money Reel 
  • Lucky Striker 
  • Major Cash
  • Pedro’s Hot Tamales

Moser explained Michael’s formal opinion determined these games were won by chance, rather than the player’s skill.

Despite the list, Driskill said numerous other machines are still in operation.

“These machines are nearly doubling every year,” he said. “The initial numbers right now indicate that the creation of the commission and authority to require licensing would raise $12 million to $15 million for the state.” 

With or without oversight, Driskill said gambling is growing in the Cowboy State.

“The biggest takeaway is whether you’re pro-gaming or against, you’re going to have major expansion in gaming if you don’t do anything with it,” he said.

Cheyenne brothers see success with slime

in News/Community/Business
Dope Slime Whiteaker bros
Mark Whiteaker (left) stretches some bead slime that he and his brother Joe Whiteaker (back), both of Cheyenne, make and manufacture through their business called Dope Slimes. (Photo by Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Slime is sublime for Cheyenne brothers Mark and Joe Whiteaker.

The savvy entrepreneurs run a thriving business called Dope Slimes that makes and ships homemade slime across the country and to other parts of the world.

Slime is a gooey and stretchy substance that is taking much of the globe and the Internet by storm. Slime’s history goes back 30 years, but it has become wildly popular now, especially among kids who like to make it. 

“Slime looks so amazing,” Mark said during an interview with Cowboy State Daily as he gently pushed his fingers deep into a thick layer of fresh slime.

The brothers make about 100 varieties of slime in different colors, textures and scents. They package their slime in clear plastic containers and sell it on their website and platforms like Etsy and eBay. They also post their own videos on Instagram to show how to make perfect slime.

A batch of the slime created by Dope Slime, a Cheyenne company run by brothers Mark and Joe Whiteaker. The brothers sell more than 100 varieties of slime online. The basic recipe is relatively simple, they say: Elmer’s white glue, Borax and water. It is Mark’s imagination that allows the company to create slimes with different textures, scents and colors (Photo by Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

Slime creators use social media sites to market their work, Joe said, adding that in one month, anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million searches for “slime” are logged on Google.

Mark, 16, is the creative force behind Dope Slimes. 

Using a simple recipe — “Elmer’s (white school) glue, Borax and water,” according to Mark— the brothers and a few of their employees stir the ingredients using large stainless steel industrial mixers. Then Mark’s imagination provides the magic, as he creates a wide variety of slimes — from banana to funnel cake.

Mark’s slime is known for its distinctive aromas. A fluffy cloud slime called Lavender Dreams has the pleasing scent of the flower. 

DIY Pizza Kit combines five scents to create the smells of pizza sauce, cheese and buttery dough. Cotton candy bubblegum smells as good as it sounds.

Texture is also important for excellent slime. 

“Say I’m doing a slime inspired by an ice cream. I’d like to make the texture like ice cream,” Mark said.

Mark began making slime in the eighth grade for fun. “It’s stuff to do when you’re bored,” he said. 

He started the business when he was 14, but couldn’t keep up with the demand. 

Joe stepped in to help and is now an integral part of the business. 

Cheyenne brothers Mark and Joe Whiteaker with some of the slime created by their company, Dope Slimes. The company has sold more than 150,000 units of slime online. (Photo by Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

Joe, 24, handles the business end from customer service to packaging, labeling and ordering. He also manages the company’s website, which includes photos and commentary about each slime type. Although Joe earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wyoming in May, he plans to continue working with slime.

The brothers have sold more than 150,000 slime products (they also make dope putty) and their slime has won awards for its quality. 

Slime has given them a taste of celebrity as they have been invited to attend many slime conventions throughout the country. These expenses-paid trips soon will include one to a convention in Brazil. 

They have become well known partly because of their 500,000 followers on Instagram.

Two of the leading YouTube slime experts have noticed them, too. Karina Garcia, also called the “Queen of Slime,” and Talisa Tossell of London, England, gave high praise to their slime in online reviews.

The brothers are gearing up for a busy Christmas season.  

“We take it pretty seriously. It’s not just a side business,” Mark said.

For more information on Dope Slimes, visit the website

Hemp industry, Ag Department await USDA response to state’s regulatory plan

in News/Agriculture/Business
CBD oil

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Hemp could be a cash crop for Wyoming growers in coming years, but seeds can’t be sown until the U.S. Department of Agriculture signs off on the state’s regulatory program.

“We have not heard much back from the USDA,” said Stacia Berry, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) deputy director. “They anticipate having their rules out this fall.”

Hemp was legalized in 2018 after President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows ag producers to grow hemp as long as the plants contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In February, the Wyoming Legislature approved legislation removing hemp products from regulation by the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act, giving rule-making authority to the WDA and requiring the department to submit a state plan for the regulation of hemp to the USDA.

The WDA plan was submitted to the USDA in April.

Regulating hemp

Hemp is marijuana with a THC level lower than 0.3 percent and is grown for three primary products: Cannabidoil (CBD), seeds and grains.   

“(THC) is a genetic trait that you select for,” Berry said. “One of the things that can be a little tricky is, like any crop, it can change a little under stress, like heat or water stress.”

The WDA’s analytical services lab in Laramie will be tasked with testing hemp crops before harvest to ensure the plants have not crossed the allowable THC threshold, she said.

“We will have inspectors that go to the different farms and do testing, collect samples, then return those samples to the lab,” Berry explained.

Additionally, she said her department will work closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure the regulatory guidelines are followed.

The discussion about how to appropriately regulate hemp began about five years ago.

“We have worked extensively with other states’ departments of agriculture,” Berry said. “Especially in regards to understanding their approach to regulation: What has worked for them, what hasn’t worked.” The WDA gained significant insight from the Colorado and Kentucky licensing and testing protocols.

“Those are two of your highest-producing hemp states,” Berry explained.  

Processing and education

Ag plays a major role in economic development throughout the Bighorn Basin, so Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, has spent the last year cultivating relationships with potential partners in the hemp industry. 

“There’s 25,000 to 50,000 products that can be made with hemp,” Bekes said. “Right now, most of the processors are looking at the CBD oil extraction.”

The biggest challenge for growers in the coming years is finding partners on the processing side, she said. 

“Our growers can grow anything, but if we can’t get it to market, it doesn’t do us any good,” Berry said. “I would caution any grower not to grow hemp without a contract.”

Once the USDA approves the regulatory program, processors can cement plans for building facilities to accommodate the predicted influx of hemp in 2020. Until then, Bekes said it’s important to bring as many partners as possible to the discussion table.  

“The biggest component is education,” she explained. “If people are considering hemp as an opportunity, whether it’s growing, processing or end products, I would really emphasize education, awareness and communication.”

The Wyoming Hemp Association,, could be an information source for interested parties in the future, along with the WDA and University of Wyoming.

Jim Heitholt, director of the UW Powell Research and Extension Center Agricultural Experiment Station, confirmed his staff would conduct basic studies about the the viability of hemp crops in the Bighorn Basin once the USDA approved the WDA plan. As the new year draws near, both Bekes and the WDA said they’ve seen increased interest in hemp from around the state, but so far, it’s been a waiting game.

“Right now, we’re all preparing for it to be in the ground in 2020,” Bekes said. “In the meantime, the Wyoming Hemp Association has reviewed the WDA plan and engaged in conversations with the WDA and law enforcement. Growers and processors continue to work in the background.”

Bighorn Basin brews feature area barley

in News/Agriculture/Business

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Some brewmasters in the Bighorn Basin are using barley from nearby fields in their products — shipped by way of Wisconsin.

Some of the basin’s barley growers sell their grain to Briess, a malting company based in Wisconsin. Briess malts the barley in Wisconsin and returns the malt to Wyoming, where area brewers use it in their beer.

The barley produced in the basin is consistently high in quality, said Rick Redd, regional manager for Briess, making it very attractive for use in malting.

“We’re in a high mountain desert, which has very little (precipitation), which means the barley doesn’t get a lot of rain on the plants during the growing season,” he said. “The growers control the water they put on it through irrigation.”

Fred Hopkins, who grows a number of crops including barley at his basin farm, agreed the quality of the basin’s barley is good.

“It’s fairly consistent,” he said. “It’s very rare that we have quality issues with our barley. I don’t know if it’s the climate, the irrigation, our soils or maybe a combination of all three.”

Briess uses barley from across the country to create the malt used by 85 percent of the nation’s craft brewers, Redd said.

Malt is made by wetting barley to begin the germination process, which converts the grain’s starches into sugar. The germination process is halted by drying before the malt is shipped back to brewers.

Bart Fetzer, of the WyOld West Brewery in Powell, said he likes to use Briess’ product both because of quality and because it comes from local farmers.

“It’s also about giving back to the local community, keeping the money here instead of sending it all out somewhere else,” he said. “We support the local farmers. We brew here with Briess grains and then when it’s all done, the spent grain goes into tubs and we give it to local cow farmers. So it’s kind of a circle of life kind of thing.”

First lady focuses on easing childhood hunger

in News/Agriculture/Business
First Lady Launch

By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As a laboratory medical tech at the Sheridan hospital, Jennie Gordon helped physicians diagnose diseases; as a representative for Abbott Laboratories, she repaired lab equipment at hospitals and clinics; as a rancher, she’s bottle-fed newborn calves and used her hair dryer to dry and warm them. 

Now, as first lady of Wyoming, she not only supports her husband in his position but last week launched an initiative she hopes will help end childhood hunger in Wyoming. 

The Wyoming Hunger Initiative is a nonprofit, bipartisan organization that will oversee community operations that provide food to children in the state who are hungry or don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 

“I think there are already people in place doing all the work,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “What I see my position as being is putting a spotlight on it, helping people network, making people aware that we do have that problem in our state.”

“We’re making people aware, getting them to care, and encouraging them to share,”  she said. 

According to Gordon, approximately one in six kids in Wyoming is either hungry or has food insecurity.  Based on Wyoming’s population, that amounts to about 24,000 children in the state. 

“So if that were a city in Wyoming, it would be the fifth largest, after Gillette,” she said. 

Gordon said she was once unaware that hunger was a problem in Wyoming.

“I was naively thinking everybody was doing well, because the state looks great in a lot of respects,” she said. “But I ran into a friend in Sheridan who was buying food for Friday food bags to distribute in Sheridan County, and she told me they were doing over 500 food bags a week. 

After I started going into other communities on the campaign trail, I found that almost every community in our state is doing some sort of Friday food bag program. They do about 900 in Laramie County every Friday.”

Since that discovery, the first lady has traveled to nearly every county in the state to check out the organizations that combat hunger. She visited the Food Group in Sheridan, the Wyoming Food for Thought Project in Casper and mobile food pantries in Gillette. She also helped pack backpacks at the Friday Food Bag Foundation in Cheyenne. The Friday Food Bag Foundation provides bags of nutritious, non-perishable food to students in Cheyenne and Pine Bluffs who otherwise might not have much to eat over the weekend. 

The Wyoming Hunger Initiative has teamed up with the Wyoming Department of Education and the national No Kid Hungry campaign to promote in-school breakfast programs across the state.

“We were one of five states to receive a $50,000 grant from No Kid Hungry to promote breakfast at schools,” Gordon said.  “With that, we went to New Orleans in June to the School Breakfast Institute, and we have a task force that came up a plan to address what’s called the ‘breakfast gap.’  

“A lot of kids who qualify for free or reduced lunches also qualify for breakfast, but they’re not getting it for one reason or another; often times they’re the kid who is late to school and has already missed the opportunity to go into the cafeteria,” she continued. “And some kids just choose to play on the playground with their friends, even though they’re hungry, because they don’t want to miss that, and others just don’t want to be singled out.”

The “Breakfast After the Bell” program brings breakfast into the classrooms in Title I schools across the state. Children can choose to participate or not, but the food is offered to all of them.

The first lady described witnessing breakfast being served to kindergarteners at Cheyenne’s Afflerbach Elementary School recently and said she was impressed by how efficiently it was managed.

“There was not a lot of goofing around,” she said, recalling that the food was distributed in an orderly fashion and the teacher had given her students a task to complete as they ate.  

“They were ready to learn,” Gordon said, “and there was a real feel of community.” 

Ensuring children get a good breakfast is important, she said, because statistics show that kids who are fed are less likely to get sick and have disciplinary problems.

In addition to the No Kid Hungry grant, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative is funded in part by the Wyoming Governor’s Residence Foundation Board, a gift from the 2019 Inauguration Committee and funds raised at the 2019 First Lady’s Luncheon.

The board will continue to work to raise funds for the initiative that will be turned into grants available for organizations and school districts throughout Wyoming.

The website for the first lady’s initiative contains a list of all the programs throughout the state by regions so those who want to donate or volunteer — as well as people who need services — can see what’s available in their area. 

The first lady also noted that the Wyoming 2-1-1 helpline and website provide anyone in need of any kind of service — be it help with housing, food or mental health services — with a referral to the appropriate agency.

Beyond the Wyoming Hunger Initiative, Gordon’s interests run the gamut from playing with her 10-month-old grandson Everett to military activities and anything having to do with the state’s agriculture industry.

Her interest in the agriculture industry is no surprise, coming from her background helping to run the Merlin Ranch with her husband.
Gordon returns to the ranch near Buffalo every month to check in.

“I go up about twice a month for a chunk of time to try to catch up,” she said. “I love my cows, so I get to see my girls.”

Veteran reporter, publisher to be president of national newspaper group

in News/Community/Business

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A longtime Wyoming newspaper reporter and publisher is about to become president of the country’s largest community newspaper association.

Matt Adelman, publisher of the Douglas Budget for 25 years, will take the helm of the National Newspaper Association during the organization’s annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in early October.

The association represents more than 1,700 newspapers across the country, most of them smaller or “community” newspapers that focus their coverage largely on their communities.

It is this dedication to local journalism that is allowing these smaller newspapers to survive and even thrive during an era that has seen significant declines in circulation and even closures among larger metropolitan newspapers, Adelman said.

“The newspapers people hear about are in the mid-range circulation and up, 50,000 to millions,” he said. “Community papers are focused on hyper-local coverage, which is very much in demand. Our readers are very loyal and as long as you are providing good local coverage, you get stable readership.”

Such local newspapers are doing well even though some of the subscribers to their printed product are moving to their online products.

“A lot of people are going digital,” he said. “But digital is still 10 percent or less in terms of revenue streams and circulation. Our overall circulation and financial health is still pretty good. Unfortunately, the news is about everybody who’s doing worse, so the news is that newspapers are heading out the door. And nothing could be further from the truth.”

Adelman began his newspaper career at the Daily Utah Chronicle, the independent student newspaper for the University of Utah and worked for several Wyoming newspapers such as the Thermopolis Independent Record and Cody Enterprise before being picked to head the Douglas Budget in 1994.

After serving on the board of the Wyoming Press Association for several years — including one year as president in 2003 — Adelman joined the NNA as a state ambassador in 2004, moving onto the organization’s board of directors in 2012.

The NNA was formed in 1885 to represent the interests of newspapers at the national level. The group offers training for newspaper employees at gatherings such as its annual convention and lobbies Congress on issues of importance to newspapers.

One of the main issues for the NNA is postal reform, an issue Adelman plans to keep at the top of the NNA’s priority list.

“We are hoping we can get a postal bill out of Congress, one that will provide the Postal Service with much needed stability and control,” he said.

The Postal Service must follow congressional requirements for retirement and health care that leave it unable to manage its own costs, forcing it to boost its rates, Adelman said.

“The upshot is they have to have the ability to deal with their own financial situation with no more processing facility closings and layoffs,” he said. 

As newspapers turn increasingly to mail delivery to replace carriers, keeping delivery costs down is very important, he said, as is keeping Postal Service processing centers open to provide for timely delivery.

As head of the NNA, Adelman will also be the “face” for the nation’s small newspapers and will work to convey the message that local newspapers are essential to the well-being of small communities.

He pointed to one study conducted by the University of Notre Dame that showed after a local newspaper closed in a community, the cost of government increased over the next five years by 30 percent.

“We’re the watchdog,” he said. “We’re the public. We’re their eyes and ears at meetings they can’t go to, on budgets they don’t understand or don’t have time to read. If you don’t know if the (government) is hoarding money or they’re broke, then you don’t know the health of your community.”

Another study by the Pew Research Center shows that most local news shared on social media and digital news outlets is actually originated by newspapers.

“Without (local newspapers), that content would be gone,” he said. “People wouldn’t even have access on a social media level to the information you need to make decisions.”

As a result, Adelman said, printed newspapers will remain important to their communities.

“A community newspaper’s job is to watch and provide that content for posterity,” he said. “Once it’s in print, it’s in print forever.”

Irrigation canal repairs nearly complete, Goshen County to turn water back on

in News/Agriculture/Business
Look back at how this water crisis began and see a view of the situation on the ground in Torrington with this report from Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha and Mike McCrimmon when the tunnel first collapsed.

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Tunnel crews cleared the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal tunnel Monday, and water could start flowing to crops as early as later this week, Goshen County Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said.

Full capacity irrigation, however, won’t be restored immediately, he added.

“We’ll go a little at a time until we get there,” Posten said. “It might take another week — it usually takes 7 to 10 days to bring the water into where we want it.”

Irrigation water was cut off to more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska on July 17 after the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal tunnel collapsed about a mile south of Fort Laramie.

Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said Posten’s announcement was well received around the community.

“Apparently there is no sidewall damage, which would have prohibited running water through it this year,” Adams said. “People in the community who’ve driven around the canal area have said the crops are looking better than expected.”

Prior to the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating Friday that crop losses caused by the canal collapse would be insured, the mayor said the incident could cost the community as much as $250 million during the next few years. Adams said he wasn’t sure how the USDA announcement would affect prior economic predictions, one of which predicted a total loss to crops that could cost Wyoming and Nebraska about $90 million.  

“The USDA is going to have to wait until those farmers harvest and turn in the crop, so they know how much they’ll pay out,” he explained. “I haven’t been a farmer for over 20 years, but crop insurance is basically a means for you to get back on your feet and plant the next crop. It’s better than getting nothing.”

Crop loss

Turning the irrigation back on could reduce overall crop loss, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher said. Xin Qiao, an irrigation management specialist at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center, produced a report in July detailing the potential crop losses in the area served by the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal. The report predicted 100 percent loss of corn, more than 90 percent loss of dry edible beans and a 50 percent to 60 percent loss of sugar beets if the tunnel was not repaired by Aug. 13.

“I don’t think that number is accurate anymore,” Qiao said. “Any rain they got (since) could reduce the overall impact. It’s the total amount of rainfall that matters and the timing. I don’t have a concrete analysis at this point.”

At his research facility in Nebraska, Qiao said his team turned off irrigation to their own sugar beat plots after the canal collapsed to study the potential effects on the crop. Unfortunately, he said a recent hail storm killed the plots before he could observe the lasting effect on the plants of removing irrigation.

“I definitely think they won’t have that much loss from the original prediction,” he said. “My (new) prediction is it will be less, but I don’t think the numbers will be that far over.”

Legislative support

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Torrington, said the tunnel reopening was great news for everyone involved.

“It’s a testament to the work of the problem solvers on the ground and both of the irrigation boards,” Steinmetz said. “(Locals are) overjoyed to have water flowing back through the canal.”

On the policy side, she said legislators are looking into potential ways for the state to help Goshen County ag producers and Wyoming residents affected by similar disasters in the future.

“The Select Water Committee will be taking up this project through the omnibus water bill,” Steinmetz said. “We’ll be advancing that to a construction phase in the 2020 (Legislative) Session.” 

The omnibus water bill allows legislators to approve and transfer funds from state accounts into priority water projects around Wyoming.“We’re also looking into an emergency account when issues like this arise similar to the fire suppression account,” Steinmetz added.

The emergency fire suppression account bill was adopted by the Legislature this year. It allows unspent, unobligated general fund monies appropriated to the Division of Forestry to revert to a revolving account for emergency fire suppression.

Questions of responsibility

Despite an outpouring of support from Wyoming agencies in response to the tunnel collapse, Steinmetz said there is still a question of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s responsibility in the collapse.

Bureau spokesperson Jay Dallman said the agency constructed the tunnel in 1917 as part of the North Platte Project, then signed over the responsibility for maintenance and use to Goshen Irrigation and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation districts.

“The agency response (to questions of responsibility) is under that 1926 agreement, the (irrigation) districts are responsible for operation and maintenance,” Dallman said. “However, we’re certainly supportive or our districts, and we’re trying to work with them to figure out solutions to the problem.”

The bureau authorized up to $4 million in loans for temporary repairs to the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal tunnel, he said. While Dallman did not have the exact amount requested by the districts on hand, he said it was about $2 million.

Posten did not have an estimate on the tunnel’s cost of repairs.

Dallman said the loan was on a 50-year term at about 3 percent interest, and the districts would only be responsible for paying back 65 percent of the loan value.

About 100 years ago, the bureau also built the Interstate Canal System, which leads out from Whalen Diversion Dam and serves farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska.

“One could easily conclude this has been an eye opener for all of us,” Dallman said. “We will probably be not only continuing inspections with the (irrigation) districts, but also looking for ways to improve on the technology used in those inspections.”

Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

in Economic development/Column/Business/Bill Sniffin
Sound off Wyoming's local economies

Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Of Wyoming’s 23 counties, why is Converse County leading the way economically?

The county boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, the fourth-lowest rate in the state behind Teton, Crook and Weston counties. It is in the midst of an energy boom bringing new workers to the area. Who better than the local newspaper publisher to explain what it happening in Douglas, Glenrock and Converse County?  

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

“Converse County is at the apex of a massive oil and gas exploration boom that appears to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“While we have huge amounts of exploration and development activity underway already, indications are the next few years will see an even bigger explosion of development as more wells are drilled – as many as 17,000 by some estimates based on those permitted. Those wells in the permit pipeline and the 5,000 wells being proposed are the subject of an environmental impact statement that is nearing its conclusion – and many more come into their own.”

Adelman says that all this oil and gas activity eclipses other energy-related activity.

“The Cedar Springs (phase 1) wind farm is beginning work this year, and phases II and III are already well into becoming realities concurrently and consecutively with phase I.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s multi-billion dollar Gateway West transmission line project is underway, with its starting point outside of Glenrock, and those and other wind farms will tie into that and other lines.”

Adelman notes that even though the coal industry has been hit with declines in demand and production, the industry — along with the railroads — is still responsible for most of the long-term energy employment in the area.

He sees development of other energy sources causing the Converse County economy to soar in a short time span.

“Of course, such a surge in growth – with employment spikes, drastically falling unemployment and the accompanying shortage of housing – is not without its struggles, but it is certainly a welcomed relief from the 2016-2018 crash in oil and gas prices and near-standstill in new exploration here,” Adelman concludes.

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

“Those of us that have lived through energy economic cycles remember how quickly the spigot can turn off when commodity prices fall out of bed and the workers spools their rags overnight and head back to Houston.

“When dealing with fossil fuel economies, 12-month budgets are considered long-range planning. Oil and gas economies are good until they’re not. The best cross on an Angus cow is a Lufkin pump.

“Our growth seems manageable at the present time, but the seams on our jeans are starting to get stretched tight. Any help in adding lanes to State Highway 59 would be welcomed. Those of us in energy counties understand the importance of mineral taxes paid in to the State’s coffers, as well as the strains our cities and towns undergo to meet the needs and costs of their development and production… we hope all our citizens of our wonderful State understand as well.”

The situation is different in Fremont County, where the unemployment rate in June was 4.7 percent, the highest in the state.

But in Fremont County’s seat of Lander, business owner Joe Quiroz said he sees opportunities ahead:

“I think we’re holding and have potential for growth. Last week in Jackson, three people asked me quietly and seriously about life in Lander. In fact, they’re all prosperous people who earn and spend, and are tired of the glitz and glam of a ski town.

“And the traffic. But they also need fast connectivity and transportation by a reliable air carrier. 

“I’m encouraged by the arrival in Lander of an interventional cardiologist and a vascular surgeon. These are people who will draw patients from around the state. Our future is not going to be based on employment of a large skilled workforce, but of small operators working in a knowledge based economy. 

“Lander has physical advantages that many places in Wyoming do not have. The sense of community is paramount. My wife Andrea runs a global enterprise from Lander, a place that will be our base camp as long as we are able to live here. We may have an apartment in London or Paris, but Lander is home.” 

Albany County is keeping steady with the University of Wyoming as a stabilizing anchor:

“The Laramie area economy is holding on, which is about all it ever does,” says John Waggener, an archivist for the American Heritage Center. “The tax base here is low due to the fact the largest employer, UW, is a public entity.”

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

“Hard to read the Laramie economy without reference to UW and, so far, I detect a ‘wait-and-see’ feeling about the interim and forthcoming new leadership. The mystery on departure of Laurie Nichols still spawns rumors. We’ll see in the next few weeks what the new semester holds.” 

Up on the eastern slope of the Big Horns, things are green and growing, according to retired community leader and former state Rep. Doug Osborn:

“I feel like the Sheridan-Buffalo area is doing well. The towns are clean and well kept, people seem generally happy and there seems to be building going on throughout.”

Retired Buffalo Bulletin Publisher Jim Hicks largely agrees, although he acknowledges the difficulty posed by the deterioration of coal-bed methane in the region:

“I believe Buffalo is holding its own economic issues.  The area has seen a sharp decline in Coalbed Methane activities and a lot of those jobs and supporting industries have gone away. Buffalo expects to see some negative spin-off from the decline of coal production, but that should be minor.  Tourism is up this year and cattle prices remain at a level to keep at least a small smile on the faces of ranchers.”

Pat Henderson, executive director for Whitney Benefits in Sheridan, describes his town:

“Our Sheridan area is doing very, very well.  Tax receipts are up.  Housing prices continue to increase. Lots of people moving here.  California, Texas and Colorado. We have diversified a lot with our economy. 

“One big dark cloud is Cloud Peak mine operating up north of here in Montana. Most of the employees live in Sheridan County. Very good wages but great uncertainty with them staying open. Going through bankruptcy currently and looking for a bidder.  If this mine closes, it will be a considerable loss.  Need to pray for them and their families.”

Gillette attorney Tom Lubnau II, a former Speaker of the Wyoming House, remarked on oil’s temporary ability to mask the struggles of the Powder River Basin’s coal economy:

“I live in Gillette.   The economy is average to below average.   Oil is covering for the slump in coal, for awhile.”

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

Powell real estate agent Dave Reetz says, “Our area is holding its own in my opinion.”

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

“I would say our economy here in Powell has been holding its own… but unfortunately we’re beginning to see a downturn due to closings of key retail stores like Shopko and others. Amazon and other e-commerce have really hit our Main Street hard. Closings of these retail stores locally have really put a damper on retail advertising in the Powell Tribune as well. We have more doctors, dentists, legal and insurance offices now than retail.”

Snuggled up against the Idaho border, Lincoln County’s Star Valley is benefitting from spill over of the robust tourism economy in Teton County plus agriculture and agribusiness operations.

“The Star Valley area is doing well economically, says Sarah Hale, editor of the Star Valley Independent in Afton.

Up in Newcastle, Newcastle News Letter Journal Editor Alexis Barker says:

“Economically I think we are holding fairly steady, we have had low unemployment rates, a recent increase in our valuation and increases in our taxable sales. I wouldn’t say that these increases necessarily make us above average but are definitely making Newcastle not have to struggle as much as we have in the past. We are also looking at an increase in new businesses in the area with a new grocery store being built, a new travel center (truck stop) and a new private practice (doctor’s office) opening locally.” 

John Davis, a retired Worland attorney and author, says:

“We are below average. Worland has not recovered from the oil slowdown of a few years back, when all activity in the oil field slowed.  Especially ruinous was the closing of the Worland Schlumberger office.”

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

“Economy is very good here in Cheyenne thanks the government, Walmart distribution plant, and the other warehouse giants on the east and west side of town. You can’t forget F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is huge boost to the economy and to the volunteer base for Frontier Days.”

Tom Satterfield, a retired member of the Wyoming Board of Equalization in Cheyenne, says:

“Cheyenne is doing above average thanks to the college, the air force base, good medical hospital and being the center of Wyoming government all contribute. The new renovation of the Herschler/Capitol complex was a big factor for the last four of five years.  Good little theater and a great symphony orchestra as well as a very active arts group and a fine Civic Center add to the enjoyment of every one. Also a very active economic organization LEADS are all factors making Cheyenne an enjoyable place to live.

But the former director of one of the state’s most visible business advocates is glum:

“I think the state is in serious trouble given future spending obligations and current revenue streams. Tourism is fine; coal–a transitional mainstay– is getting hammered,” says Bill Schilling. 

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

“I think our economy is OK. But, there are uncertainties and I think everyone is worried. There are numerous homes for sale.”

Jonah Bank and Taco John’s Raise More than 14k for Suicide Prevention

in News/Community/Business
Jonah Bank and Taco Johns team up for suicide prevention

Jonah Bank and Taco John’s teamed up for the third year in a row to raise money for suicide prevention with Grace For 2 Brothers — a Cheyenne-based suicide prevention organization.

This year, more than $14,500 was raised and the funds will be distributed to suicide prevention centers across Wyoming.

Experienced Wyoming accountant retires after 45 years in business

in Community/Business

One of Wyoming’s most experienced tax accountants is retiring after 45 years in the business.

Joe Paiz is retiring as a partner from the Cheyenne firm of McGee, Hearne and Paiz, a company he formed with eight others in 2000.

Paiz’ former partners praised the Wyoming native for his creative nature.

“You could always walk down the hall and talk to him about taxes,” said Jim Hearne. “And talk about creative. We could always figure out a way to get things done and make things happen.”

Ken Dugas, who worked with Paiz for close to 40 years, said Paiz is one of the smartest businessmen he knows.

“I’ve talked to people a number of times about a problem I can’t solve, I go into Joe’s office, he just sits there for a second and bam, he’s got the answer,” he said.

After graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1975, Paiz joined the IRS and then worked for several other firms before becoming a partner at McGee, Hearne and Paiz.

Paiz also spent 35 years doing volunteer accounting work for organizations such as the Cheyenne Animal Shelter.

Companies look for alternative uses for coal

in Energy/Economic development/News/Business
Companies look for alternative uses for coal

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE — Once upon a time, coal helped to usher in a new technological age. So much concentrated energy in such a convenient package helped power the steam engines that drove the Industrial Revolution, transforming the way we live and work. Now, with coal’s future anything but certain, innovators are looking for new uses for the mineral that could fuel a new carbon-based high-tech manufacturing industry.

Coal’s fortunes have fallen in recent years – once the preferred fuel source for power plants, the mineral has been supplanted by cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas in many places, while renewable energy sources like wind and solar have also been ramping up. And while coal is far from dead as a fuel source – China and India alone consumed about 4.56 billion tons of it in just 2017 – international pressure to ultimately phase out coal as an energy source remains strong, with at least 10 European Union nations now vowing to eliminate coal power by 2030 and similar draw downs and moratoria on new coal plants announced even in large coal-consuming nations including China and India.

Wyoming produces more coal than any other state in the U.S., and the mineral severance taxes paid to Wyoming for its coal comprise a large portion of the state’s annual revenues. But where once that amount rose steadily, from $85.3 million in Fiscal Year 1999 to $294.3 million in FY 2011, it has since been in decline, with the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) projecting coal severance taxes of $192.3 million for FY 2019, and continuing to drop through 2024. 

The shift in coal’s economics have led innovators to look for new uses for the mineral, and Randy Atkins, CEO of Ramaco Carbon in Sheridan, is among those leading the push locally. Atkins said that while coal is best known today as fuel for power plants and as a reducing agent in the steelmaking process, it was once believed to have potential far beyond just those uses.

“There used to be a thing called the ‘coal tree’ in the early part of the 20th century. In Germany and even the U.S. they had these tree drawings, it was all the various things you could make from coal,” Atkins said. “We were making all sorts of chemical products, drugs, cosmetics, you name it; all from coal.”

That changed following the invention of catalytic cracking, the process by which crude oil is broken up into smaller molecules that are then made into refined products like gasoline, plastics, and a myriad of other uses. From then on, Atkins said, exploration of coal’s alternative uses effectively evaporated.

“I wouldn’t even say it was left by the wayside, it’s just all the technology advanced through the use of petroleum,” he said. “If you go back to the ’80s there were a couple attempts to make coal to fuels, and that involved making what looked like a refinery for processing coal. … But it’s really been the last three years that some of this stuff has started to come together in ways that began to make the argument that coal needs to be given a second look for uses beyond combustion.”

Since coal is primarily composed of carbon, Atkins and like-minded researchers have been looking at coal’s potential as a source for carbon fiber, a high-strength, low-weight material used primarily in aircraft and the aerospace field, but with the potential for many other uses.

“What we’re trying to do with carbon fiber is to make it dramatically less expensive than today’s use of carbon fiber from petroleum,” Atkins said. “Right now prices are $25 to $45 a pound for (carbon fiber) precursor made from petroleum. We think we can get that down to five bucks.”

In fact, Atkins, along with other members of the National Coal Council, contributed to a report published earlier this spring at the behest of the Department of Energy, “Coal in a New Carbon Age: Powering a Wave of Innovation in Advanced Products and Manufacturing.”

The report lists carbon fiber as just one of many potential coal products likely to see increasing demand in the 21st century. Other uses include advanced prosthetics, biosensors, electrodes, fertilizers and as a medium for 3D printers. And at a cost of $12 to $50 a ton versus nearly $500 a ton for petroleum, Atkins believe coal could find mass appeal again as further uses and innovations are discovered.

“As this becomes more widely known, I think we’ll see some fascinating breakthroughs in materials science,” he said. “Twenty or 30 years from now we may look back and say ‘My gosh, the 2020s were when we switched from widespread use of steel and aluminum to widespread use of carbon fiber from coal,’ that’d be huge.”

If and when those breakthroughs occur, Atkins hopes they’ll be under the roof of iCAM, or the Carbon Advanced Materials research park currently under construction in Sheridan. There, Ramaco Carbon plans to host researchers “from national laboratories, universities, private research groups and manufacturing organizations” in a collaborative effort to unlock the potential of coal’s carbon content. 

Ultimately, Atkins’ plan is to develop an entire “Carbon Valley” akin to northern California’s Silicon Valley, with both research and manufacturing facilities fed by an adjacent coal mine.

That proposed coal mine, the Brook Mine, would be the first new coal mine in Wyoming in half a century, and one Atkins said would be relatively tiny compared to some of the extant mines in the state. But it has yet to materialize after Wyoming’s Environmental Quality Council rejected the mine’s permit application in September 2017 amid concerns over the potential environmental impacts. Ramaco’s appeal of that decision was heard in state district court in Cheyenne earlier this month, even as the company has submitted a revised permit application to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Even if the mine is ultimately approved, and in spite of his optimism about coal’s potential, Atkins says he doesn’t expect carbon fiber production will be what reverses the drop in severance taxes – at least not in the short-term. But in time, he believes coal’s high-tech uses could be what keeps mining a viable industry in the worst-hit parts of the state.

“As products develop over time … mines that can’t make it selling their coal at $12 to $15 a ton may be able to make it if they can sell at $25 to $40,” Atkins said. “I’m hopeful over a medium-term period this will provide an alternative demand for coal beyond its use as thermal coal.”

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, believes Atkins’ proposals have promise, even if they don’t immediately offset the recent declines in production.

“What Ramaco’s doing with carbon fiber, graphene, graphite, 3D printing, that’s a great way to use our resource and make it viable in the future,” Deti said. “Is it going to replace the 300 million tons we’re mining right now? Probably not. But it’s an innovative use of the resource and it’s a great project.”

Deti said that while coal is still widely used internationally, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, it remains a hard sell domestically. While techniques for capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants are still developing, he said, it’s important for stakeholders in the coal economy to find alternative uses of the mineral.

“We want to continue to use our coal for electricity generation, but it’s really a remarkable resource,” Deti said. “And looking at the direction of where we’re going right now in terms of electricity generation … we need to start looking at other avenues and ways of using the resource.”

Wyoming residents look to themselves to boost business, populations

in Economic development/News/Business
Wyoming small business

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Residents in many Wyoming cities and towns are pitching in to invigorate their communities in the face of declining populations.

About three-fourths of the larger cities and towns in Wyoming saw people leave between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, based on estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. A recent news release from Wenlin Liu, Wyoming Economic Administration’s senior economist, said Casper was the hardest hit community with a decline of 351 in population, followed by Rock Springs at a loss of 291. Cheyenne, meanwhile, gained 370 residents.

A random check with residents in towns and cities in the Cowboy State finds that many are trying to turn things around. Many get help from state and federal grants, non-money resources and education as well as private financial sources.

Lots of activity is going on now in Gillette, a city of about 31,903 people that depends heavily on the oil and gas revenues. Gillette lost 134 people between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, according to Liu’s news release. The loss reflects an economic slide caused by plummeting oil and gas prices and diminished coal production.

Phil Christopherson, chief executive officer for Energy Capital Economic Development, the economic development arm for Campbell County, said city and county revenues dropped 30 to 40 percent because of the downturn a couple of years ago. But residents stayed strong. 

“Everybody came together and said ‘we’re going to make it through this.’ The community spirit really showed through” and is there today, he said.

The county’s economy is rebounding now, but the downturn meant “that the community became committed to diversify the economy,” Christopherson said. 

Energy Capital Economic Development proceeded with a business incubator program that was in the works when the crash occurred. The business incubator opened in September and has about nine business interests involved.

The agency also started plans for an advanced carbon research facility for exploring the many uses of coal. Its goal is to prove the technology exists to make the alternative uses of coal commercially viable.

The Wyoming Business Council will vote June 20 on a $1.4 million grant for the project, which also received money from an EDA federal grant and private investments.

In Rock Springs, officials are trying to determine how best to develop 15,000 acres of land near the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, said Kayla McDonald, business development director for the Sweetwater County Economic Development organization.

Money for the $66,000 study will come mostly from a Wyoming Business Council grant as well as the economic development organization, the county, Rock Springs and Green River. The study will provide ideas about what businesses and industries would be best to recruit for the site, she said.

Economic development supporters also want to recruit more retail businesses and restaurants to the area, she said.

Meanwhile, Powell, a farming town in northwest Wyoming that added only four people to its census during the year, is also looking at new development. Residents now are excited about the planned construction of a new hotel and convention center, said Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership.

The center, with an estimated cost of $10 million, is planned to open in 2020 and should create around 33 new jobs. It is the result of a partnership between the Powell Economic Partnership and the Wyoming Business Council. Additional hotel rooms are in demand, Bekes said. 

“We’re right near Yellowstone National Park and the lodging is inadequate,” she said.

The new hotel will increase available lodging by 50 percent.

Other projects in Powell’s near future will rely heavily on community volunteers. A community action group is building Powell’s first public dog park. A dog park is high on the list of what people who are relocating want to see. 

“Those who live in urban environments come to expect it,” Bekes said.

Effective economic development also demands creative thinking.

“I think the communities that are thinking outside the box are finding some success” in terms of positive community development efforts, said Justin Schilling, coordinator of member services for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. 

Schilling points as an example to high-tech education, such as Cheyenne’s Array School of Technology and Design. The city has a diversified workforce, allowing it to offer career training for high-tech jobs, he added.

Another creative project Schilling cited is the $7 million Evergreen Plaza, a proposed 30-room assisted living facility in Torrington, where the population dropped by 14 during the year.

Money to build the project will come from sources like a $2.6 million grant from the Wyoming Business Council, a loan from local banks and a partnership with the private assisted living provider. The facility can be a solid economic development tool, according to Schilling.

Positive economic development doesn’t always mean building big warehouses. Tom Dixon, marketing management coordinator for the Wyoming Business Council, said that some projects – like the Civic Center Commons park in Cheyenne – “help develop the soul of a place and make people feel more connected.”

Projects don’t have to be expensive, either. Sprucing up a downtown with flower planters, bushes or a giant chess set can make a big difference, Dixon added. 

Even though Cheyenne is the fastest-growing city in the state — it gained 370 people in one year — efforts to boost the economy are ongoing.

Economic development in Cheyenne long has relied on Cheyenne LEADS, a private, non-profit organization with its own volunteer board of directors. Business and community leaders formed LEADS 32 years ago to attract good jobs and industries to Laramie County, Executive Director Randy Bruns said. 

LEADS receives $50,000 a year each from the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County and money from private donations. More than 80 industries and 6,000 jobs have been created in Laramie County because of the work of LEADS. 

“I am still doing this job because when LEADS succeeds, when we have a success, we know that the result of our work helps to do good things in the community,” Bruns said.

Help Wanted: Low unemployment means hiring difficulties in Cheyenne

in News/Business

While Cheyenne’s low unemployment rate is good news for its economy, it means hard times for the city’s employers who are having trouble finding workers.

Cheyenne’s unemployment rate as of the end of April was 3.1 percent, compared to Wyoming’s statewide average of 3.6 percent.

“Help Wanted” signs can be found throughout Cheyenne, a sign of the resulting labor shortage that employers must face when trying to hire workers.

Businesses will have to be more creative than usual in luring staff members, said Stephanie Meisner, vice president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.

“It causes us as employers, as well as businesses within the community, to have to think more creatively as to how to recruit, as well as retain employees and to be a little bit more competitive with one another in terms of workforce,” she said.

Astrid, the owner of the Plains Hotel, agreed the low unemployment rate makes hiring more difficult.

“It’s very severe for employers right now,” she said.

Katy Rinne, director of marketing and business development for one of Cheyenne’s newest restaurants, The Metropolitan, said her property is almost fully staffed. She attributed the achievement to the restaurant’s training for new workers.

“We’re happy to work with them, we’re happy to show them the way that we want to offer service and really train them to be great employees and to have a great work experience for them and for our customer,” she said.

Missile systems upgrade could bring billions to SE Wyoming

in Economic development/News/military/Business

If the missiles under control of F.E. Warren Air Force Base are made part of a massive upgrade program, Cheyenne could see challenges in managing the resulting growth, according to the former head of the Wyoming Business Council.

Bob Jensen, now part of Wyoming Entrepreneurs, said F.E. Warren’s involvement in the Ground Based Strategic Missile Upgrade program could generate growth among existing businesses and bring in new businesses as well.

“So this is going to be a big change and managing that change is as big a deal as having the opportunity in the first place,” he said.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are in competition for a project to upgrade the nation’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, about 400 of which are deployed in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, at an estimated cost of $90 billion.

Jensen said if the missiles in Wyoming are made part of the project, opportunities for growth would be seen throughout Cheyenne.

“People that are already here will have an opportunity to grow their businesses in relation to this if they want to,” he said. “But there will be new businesses that will come in and new workforce that comes in.”

To take full advantage of the program, Wyoming and Cheyenne will need to be able to look ahead and act on the opportunities it provides, said Eric Trowbridge, the founder of Cheyenne’s Array School of Technology and Design.

“We must have ‘leapfrog’ moments,” he said. “Wyoming does something that no one else has done before. We have to have that courage to be able to say we’re going to do it and leapfrog ahead of all the other states to do it.”

Boeing and Northrop Grumman have been awarded three-year contracts for the preliminary design phase of the upgrade.

An upgrade to Wyoming’s nuclear weapons system could be coming to Cheyenne’s FE Warren Air Force Base — but is Cheyenne ready?

Invention of Taco Johns potato ole

in Food and Beverage/Business

By Cowboy State Daily

If you’ve ever eaten at a Taco Johns you know about the potato ole.

That crispy, crunchy, salty, seasoned tater tot so good you would never call it just a tater tot. But how did the potato ole become a central player on the menu of a Mexican fast-food joint?

We’ve got the skinny on the history of the deep fried delicacy that almost burned out before it blew up as a west-Mex sensation.

There’s a whole lotta Mexican goin’ on: Taco 🌮 Johns celebrates 50

in News/Business

“If you’ve got a tiger by the tail, hang on. I knew this was a tiger and I was ready to go right then,” that’s how Taco Johns co-founder Harold Holmes remembers deciding to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure that started in Cheyenne, Wyoming and grew to hundreds of restaurants over 50 years.

Taco Johns celebrates 50 years in business this week and we’ve got the skinny on how a humble taco stand on Carey Ave. – that was built in a week – turned into a national fast-food chain serving tacos (and potato oles) to fans in 23 states.

National Science Foundation funds first Wind River Start-up Challenge

in News/Business
National Science Foundation funds first Wind River Start-up Challenge

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A recently announced entrepreneurship challenge focused on engaging future business startups in the Wind River Indian Reservation could help Native Americans return to their entrepreneurial roots, a University of Wyoming spokesperson said.

“We don’t see that much entrepreneurship or very many businesses started by community members on the reservation,” said James Trosper, executive director for University of Wyoming High Plains American Indian Research Institute. “But we used to be entrepreneurs. Both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho were very rich tribes. A lot of historians referred to the Arapaho as the ‘Phoenicians of the Plains.’”

Hosted by the UW’s business incubator, the Wyoming Technology Business Center, the Wind River Start-Up Challenge is the center’s fourth entrepreneur initiative statewide and the first to be tried outside the center’s facilities, said WTBC-Laramie Director Dave Bohling.

“No one has ever done this before with the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) funds,” Bohling said. “So, we’re an experiment.”

When Trosper heard about the EPSCoR grant’s need for diverse recipients, he said he pitched the idea for a startup challenge on the reservation.

“The WTBC wanted to have entrepreneurship initiatives statewide,” Trosper explained. “But they didn’t have anything specifically for the reservation.”

The EPSCoR program provided the startup challenge with $50,000, which he said could be awarded to Native American entrepreneurs with successful business pitches during the next two years.

With the funding secured, WTBC decided to model the challenge after the Fisher Innovation Launchpad, a long-running startup initiative based out of UW in Laramie.

WTBC-Laramie Assistant Director Fred Schmechel said Fisher has proven the model’s efficacy.

“The university has had great success with our startup challenges,” Schmechel said. “We’re hoping this is a model that can be applied to an area that’s far less served than the rest of the state.”

Culture of dependency

Growing up on the reservation, Trosper said entrepreneurs were absent from the community.

“In the back of my mind, I always wondered ‘Why aren’t my people starting businesses,’” he said. “I was lucky, though. My mother earned a degree in optics, returned to the reservation and started a business called Wind River Optical. So, I got to watch firsthand the success entrepreneurship could provide.”

Trosper’s mother was a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe and the great granddaughter of Chief Washakie. His father was Northern Arapaho and the great grandson of Chief Friday. Thus, Trosper said he has strong ties to both tribes’ past, and he would like to see them return to their entrepreneurial roots.

“The government, when they put us on the reservation, they said, ‘You can’t leave this geographical area,’ which ended our trade routes and fur-trade economy,” he explained. “Instead, they said they would provide us blankets, rations and food. And that created a culture of dependency.”

That culture remains strong today, he said, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs reported in 2005 the Wind River Reservation unemployment rate was more than 70 percent.

“We’re not setting out to change unemployment right away,” Trosper said. “But as we start to change the culture of dependency, things are going to start to change in the community. I think entrepreneurship will have positive effect on the community as a whole.”


While the challenge won’t officially kick off until fall, Bohling said WTBC staff will be visiting the reservation throughout the summer to work with potential participants.

“The first step is pitching an idea: who are you, what problem are you trying to solve, what’s your solution and who are your potential customers,” he said. “We’re only asking for a paragraph or two, because most proposals don’t survive as submitted.”

Prior to submitting pitches, Trosper said WTBC staff will mentor participants, refining their ideas and helping them get an idea about how much funding they might need to get started. 

“We want to provide some training right up front before the competition even starts,” he explained. “And during the competition, they will receive mentorship so they can really understand what the UW has to offer to them.”

Despite the use of terms like winner and competition, Bohling said participants are not competing against each other for funding, but rather themselves. 

“This is not a contest — the challenge part is internal,” he explained. “There will be a lot work on their part to get these pitches together and get their ideas off the ground. We provide some money, but we’re investing in sweat equity.”

Once pitch day arrives, a panel of judges will decide which ideas are viable in their current form and in the current market. If an idea isn’t funded, Schmechel said participants are encouraged to continue working with the WTBC and resubmit amended pitches in following years.

No matter the challenge’s number of participants or funded pitches, Trosper said he believes the initiative could be a catalyst for change on the reservation.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t something we’re born with, it’s something that has to be taught,” he said. “Getting people familiar with that, it will take time. But, I think the startup challenge is a way to really get our community to start thinking about what they could do on the business level.”

The partnership between HPAIRI and WTBC was announced at the WY-Wind River: Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Symposium. Find our coverage of that event here.

In the market for an airplane? Great Lakes has 16 for sale

in News/Travel/Business

By Cowboy State Daily

Sixteen airplanes parked at the old Cheyenne Regional Airport are being stored for Great Lakes Airlines while the company tries to sell them.

Great Lakes stopped its flights in and out of Cheyenne in March of 2018 and is trying to wind down its business, said Nathan Banton, general manager of aviation for the Cheyenne Regional Airport.

The bank that holds the company’s loans is working with Great Lakes sell the airline’s assets, Banton said.

“As part of that process, they agreed to move out of the building they’ve been in for a lot of years …” he said. “In order to facilitate that happening, we allowed them to take over other space in order to store the aircraft and such while they work on selling it off.”

Great Lakes owes the airport back rent for space, Banton said, but he added the bank holding the notes for the company has been working with the airport.

“The bank has been working in good faith with us, so we’re working in good faith with them,” he said.

Community college bachelor’s degree bill will help industry: Chamber official

in News/Education/Business

By Cowboy State Daily

One of the last bills to pass during the Legislature’s general session should help the state’s businesses find the better educated workers they need, according to the head of Cheyenne’s Chamber of Commerce.

Dale Steenbergen, chief executive officer of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said SF 111 will help answer the demand among the state’s industries for an educated workforce.

“Something that our industries have been screaming for that they need, they need better educated employees,” he said. “We talk about the workforce and the lack of education for workforce here all the time and this can be a real game changer for us.”

The bill was among the last approved by Wyoming’s House on Wednesday as the Legislature wrapped up its general session. It would allow the state’s community colleges to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees in applied sciences.

College, city, state help workers displaced by Western Sugar closure

in News/Agriculture/Business
A forklift loading sugar into semi trailer, ALT=Western Sugar layoffs hit 200 Torrington workers

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

City, state and educational institutions are stepping up to help the almost 200 Western Sugar Cooperative employees in Torringon who will soon be out of work with the closure of the cooperative’s plant there.

“We’ve done a rapid response already, and we have one planned in mid-March,” said Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Torrington Center Manager Gilbert Servantez. “(A rapid response is) a core team that meets with individuals that are going to be laid off and lets them know what services we can provide.”

As first reported by the Torrington Telegram, Western Sugar recently announced they planned to layoff 193 employees from the Torrington facility by mid-March. The layoffs are predicted to be permanent, and Western Sugar attributed the workforce reduction to evolving business needs, the Telegram reported.

Many of the employees at the plant are seasonal. However, Western Sugar would not respond to requests for additional information or comment.

Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said the news of the layoffs was not surprising, because Western Sugar announced a coming round of layoffs in 2016, but the timing of the move is less than ideal.

“Western Sugar is not our only problem — just this weekend we had a major fire downtown,” Adams said, explaining no one was hurt, but a major business was shut down. “In the last year, we also heard the South Morrill yards, a Union Pacific engine repair facility, was closing. We had quite a few people working at that facility.”

In office for just more than a month, Adams said he’s got a lot on his plate, but he’s not going to let that stop the city from pitching in to help the soon-to-be laid off Western Sugar employees.

“We’re working directly with (Servantez) on all the things he’s trying to do,” the mayor said. “All my departments have been told to consider Western Sugar people who are slated to lose their jobs when an opening comes up.”

As part of the rapid response core team, Adams said the city is also working with the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation — Wyoming’s only economic development organization funded by an optional local sales tax — to explore economic effects the layoffs might have on the area and offer dislocated employees opportunities for opening new businesses. The Goshen County Economic Development Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.

Servantez said another key member of the rapid response team was WDWS unemployment insurance staff.

“That was probably one of the most important core partners,” he said. “There was a lot of questions regarding unemployment insurance.”

Some of the workers could also be eligible for WDWS dislocated worker funding, Servantez added.

“When a business closes down such as Western Sugar, and there is no other place for the workers to go in regards to their skill sets, they qualify for dislocated worker funding,” he said, explaining the money would be in addition to the employees’ unemployment payments. “They do have up to $6,500 dollars that is available to them for whatever it is they want to do after their employment ends.”

One of the challenges of the Western Sugar layoffs is they haven’t happened yet, Servantez said, so determining what programs and training opportunities could best serve the people affected is on hold until after March.

At Eastern Wyoming College, Vice President for Student Services Roger Humphrey said the school is reaching out to Western Sugar employees with information about high school diploma equivalency courses, single-semester certificate programs and other post-secondary training opportunities.

“We’re hosting a job expo scheduled for Feb. 13, and we encourage those displaced workers to attend,” Humphrey said. “We’ll have 20 employers from the around the region in attendance. We’re also offering seminars on employee culture and interviewing techniques.”

The college is also encouraging the Western Sugar employees to enroll for summer and fall courses.

“We’ve went out twice during shift changes (at Western Sugar) and talked about opportunities for financial aid to attend and how to re-enroll in the school,” Humphrey said. “We also outlined all the one-semester degrees and certificates that could potentially put them right into the job market.”

Servantez said it would be difficult for Goshen County to retain all the workers, but WDWS has prioritized finding former Western Sugar employees work as close to home as possible.

“It’s important that our community knows there are some options for these folks — training options and post-secondary options,” he said. “Our goal going forward is to find them work, we will do what we can to find them work here, but the reality is some might need to move to find work.”

With help from the economic development corporation, Adams said new jobs could soon be available in Goshen County as Torrington and the surrounding area push for tourism growth.

“Economic development is rebranding and trying to attract more tourism,” he explained. “We’re on the (U.S.) Highway 26 to Yellowstone (National Park), we’re on (U.S.) Highway 85 to Devil’s Tower — there’s things looking to the future that are positive, and that hopefully we can build on.”

Whatever the path forward may be for Torrington and the Western Sugar employees, Adams said they would work on it together.

“I don’t know that it will be rather quickly, but we will overcome this,” he said.

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