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Cheyenne brothers see success with slime

in Business/Community/News
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)
2225

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 DopeSlimes.com

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

in Agriculture/Business/News
CBD oil
2208

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, www.wyhemp.org, 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 Agriculture/Business/News
2199

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 Agriculture/Business/News
First Lady Launch
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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 Business/Community/News
Newspapers
2082

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 Agriculture/Business/News
1895
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 Bill Sniffin/Business/Column/Economic development
Sound off Wyoming's local economies
1816

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 Business/Community/News
Jonah Bank and Taco Johns team up for suicide prevention
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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 Business/Community
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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 Business/Economic development/Energy/News
Companies look for alternative uses for coal
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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.”

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