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Study: Wyoming Ranked 11th In Country For Inbound Movers

in News/Coronavirus/Business
Wyoming sign

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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

in News/Business

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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

in News/Economy/Business

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

in News/Coronavirus/Business

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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

in News/Business

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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

in News/Coronavirus/arts and culture/Business

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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

in News/Coronavirus/Business
Man working at desk, going over analytics, ALT=Wyoming supplemental budget

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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

in Kanye West/News/Business
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

in News/Coronavirus/Business
Governors Business Alliance

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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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