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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.

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