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Amazon: Wyoming Tops List Of States With Most Digital Entrepreneurs

in News/Business
Wyoming Business Council
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wyoming Real Estate Becomes Hot Property During Pandemic

in News/Wyoming/Business
Real estate
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enzi, Barrasso Call For Reform In Meat Processing Industry

in News/Food/Agriculture/Business
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in News/Coronavirus/Business
Wyoming Business Council
4906

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Wyoming Coronavirus Small Business Relief Grants Approved

in Economic development/News/Coronavirus/Business
Man working at desk, going over analytics, ALT=Wyoming supplemental budget
4854

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Financial Relief Will Be Available Soon For Wyo Small Businesses

in News/Coronavirus/Business
4761

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheyenne Refinery To Shift To Renewable Diesel, Cut 200 Workers

in Energy/Jobs/News/Economy/Business
4710

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wyoming Business Owners Can Require Face Mask Use

in News/Coronavirus/Business
4674

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wyoming Department of Health acknowledges cloth face coverings of the homemade variety are not as effective as N-95 respirators, but still advises residents the cloth covering is better than nothing at all. (https://health.wyo.gov/targeted-use-of-personal-face-coverings-recommended-for-wyoming-residents/)

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

in News/Coronavirus/Business
4507

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in News/Health care/Coronavirus/Business
4222

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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