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Car Manufacturer Announces Vehicle Final-Assembly Facility To Be Developed In Sheridan

in Economic development/News
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By Floyd Whiting, Sheridan Media

Falcon Car Corporation has announced it will develop a manufacturing plant to assemble Falcon 9X full size pickup trucks and Falcon 3B buses onsite at the future facility which will be located at the Sheridan County Airport Business Park.

The development of the primary site is scheduled to be completed by 2025 and will employ 260 workers. The primary sub-assembly buildings are designed to be connected by elevated skybridges and provide a safe work environment year-round. 

Falcon Car is a DynamiX Energy Corporation owned entity. Falcon Car Corp. focuses on producing vehicles that are in demand today rather than future concepts. 

According to Sheridan County Airport Manager John Stopka, DynamiX Energy and Falcon  are known for their electric car components. The company is now taking the steps to manufacture electric automobiles.

According to a release, the Sheridan County Airport provided Falcon Car Corp. with the ideal location for the manufacturing plant. Located minutes from I-90 with rail services and aviation access, the Sheridan Airport Business Park also provides Falcon with direct access to Denver International Airport, essential for business travel.

Stopka told Sheridan Media the airport was the deciding factor for DynamiX Energy Corp. Managing Director Stefan Amraly.

The Sheridan County Commission recently received the conceptual designs for the facility. County Commissioner Tom Ringley told Sheridan Media this has great potential for the local economy. 

According to Falcon, Wyoming is a great state for business as demonstrated by Sheridan’s recent industrial growth and its Made-in-the-USA initiative.

Once the company has finished with the development phase, construction will begin, Stopka said. 

Falcon has secured an initial capacity building and permits to produce electric vehicles in the state of Wyoming with additional production capacity increasing to 30,000 units by 2026.

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Neiman-Owned Sawmill To Shut Down Friday Due To Shortage of Timber

in Economic development/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A company that operates sawmills in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming is finding itself unable to take advantage of the increased demand for its product because of shortages in available timber.

The shortage has become so acute that Neiman Enterprises has been forced to close its Hill City, South Dakota, sawmill effective Friday.

“We have enough material to run the (company’s other sawmills) for now,” said Mike Stevens, sales manager for Neiman Enterprises. “But the volume of material that the Forest Service wants to put up for sale is still well below what we normally purchase, and they have been ratcheting down the amount of material that we can buy for years. This by far is the worst year that we’ve ever seen.”

In addition to the lumber mill in Hill City that is closing after 50 years in operation, Neiman runs sawmills in Spearfish, South Dakota, and Hulett, Wyoming.

Stevens says each year the Black Hills operations for Neiman produce around 190 million board-feet of Ponderosa Pine and pressed board.

The lumber the company produces comes from timber put up for sale in national forests by the the U.S. Forest Service — but Stevens said that supply is dwindling.

“We’ve been battling with the Forest Service for years to keep enough supply to keep all of our facilities running,” he said. “They’re just not putting enough timber up for sale to run the facilities that we still have.”

According to a recent Forest Service report, the current amount of standing live timber in the Black Hills National Forest does not support a sustainable timber program for the forest. In addition, scientists are calling for a 50% to 60% reduction in the forest’s timber production.

The outlook for further reductions in available timber does not spell good news for companies like Neiman.

That shortage of raw material has come at a poor time, coinciding with an increase in demand for finished timber lumber created by the pandemic.

“When COVID hit, everybody thought that this was the end of our markets for the foreseeable future,” Stevens said. “Mills started looking at curtailment, production was scaled back, and then you started losing people. We were very fortunate that it didn’t affect us as bad in this area of the country, but because buying stopped for a three- or four-week period, there were huge concerns about what we were going to do.”

“And then, that rebound was so extreme that it went from, you know, having talks about how we were going to take care of employees, how we were going to alternate shifts or or curtail or whatever we were going to have to do to survive, to, holy cow, we can’t keep up,” he added.

The pandemic actually contributed to the demand for construction materials, Stevens said, because when people were forced to be at home, many decided to embark on long-postponed renovation projects, which helped keep the construction supply chain running.

“The country as a whole was locked down, everybody’s working from home or not working at all, but most people have a certain amount of disposable income,” Stevens said. “And all that was now not being spent, right? The restaurants were shut down, the movie theaters were shut down, nobody was allowed to travel. So there were people that had extra cash, and were spending all their time at home. 

“So they’re remodeling their house, doing the projects that they’ve thought about for years,” he continued. “They’re creating an office, they’re creating outdoor living spaces because they’re spending more time at home.”

But because of the dwindling supply, Neiman Enterprises is finding itself in the middle of the larger construction product shortage – without lumber, new construction, as well as the manufacture of components such as windows and doors, are impacted.

“We sell to retail markets, which would be your big box stores, your Menards or Home Depot or Lowe’s (and) your smaller retail chains,” Stevens said. “But our biggest customer base is probably distributors, who purchase material and distribute it locally to smaller users. And to the majority of the major window and door companies – Pella, Anderson, Marvin.”

And even though the mill in Hill City is shutting down, the mills in Spearfish and Hulett continue to churn out product, which is being snatched up by distributors from around the country, according to Stevens.

“It’s been an incredible market, something that I’ve never seen, and I’ve been in this chair for 20 years,” he said. “But just because the demand is high, it doesn’t change how much product their business can create.

“We don’t change our production,” Stevens continued. “You know, there’s slight changes that you can make, add a few hours here and there, but for the most part, we’re steady-Eddie in good markets or bad markets.”

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Hits to coal prompt leaders to look elsewhere for development

in Energy/Economic development/News
As revenue from coal continues to decline, many people around the state are looking at new ways to use the state’s rich resource and think outside of the coal box for future portfolio diversification.
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By Seneca Flowers, Cowboy State Daily

As revenue from coal continues to decline, many people around the state are looking at new ways to use the state’s rich resource and think outside of the coal box for future portfolio diversification.

Many people watching renewable energy expect it to eliminate the need for coal, but they are often not thinking out of the box, according one state representative.

State Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said people are often neglecting coal’s future possibilities. Greear is co-chair of the Legislature’s Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. He said the state has many developments it is exploring that still involve coal.

Greear said the University of Wyoming is continuing research on carbon capture sequestration and the utilization of the C02 for enhanced oil recovery. He visited the Petra Nova carbon capture and sequestration facility in Houston and believes Wyoming facilities would be great candidates for the same technology.

The Petra Nova facility is currently the only existing American coal-fired power plant using the carbon recapture technology, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The facility captures the C02 from the plant, liquifies it, and then injects it into oil fields. 

The process causes oil to swell, increasing the oil recovery volume. The process has reduced C02 total emissions at the Petra Nova facility by 33 percent.

Rob Godby, director for the UW’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, said the state is actively helping develop new products for coal to maintain tax revenues. He said once promising technologies become developed, companies are more willing to adopt them. 

He pointed as an example to pipelines in Wyoming delivering C02 from natural sources to enhanced oil recovery operations. If C02 captured from coal-fired plants could be sold, the revenue could offset the overall cost of coal-generated electricity and make it more competitive with natural gas. 

Not a coal problem

However, if the state continues to focus only on coal as a large revenue source, leaders may be missing other great possibilities, according to one person working directly with growing businesses.

Fred Schmechel, assistant director of the Wyoming Technology Business Center, works at the UW in a program that helps businesses grow with a goal of bringing more revenue to the state and employing residents. So when state revenues decline, he sees the results directly in his workplace. Yet, he cautions everyone who considers this a “coal problem.”  

“Wyoming doesn’t have a coal problem,” Schmechel said. “Wyoming has a revenue problem. When we reframe it like that and figure out how we pay for our services, that opens up much broader funnel of possibilities.”

 Schmechel sees diversification of the economy and expansion of revenue streams as vital to the future growth of the state.

“If we keep trying to sell to the same 10 people, none of us are going to get rich, but if we broaden our scope and sell beyond our borders, bring that cash here, that’s where we increase our lot,” Schmechel said.

Schmechel said if wages increase, people can pay more for services and make the state less dependent on coal revenue. He also suggested that getting businesses to use services based in the Cowboy State can help expand revenue streams. 

“If we continue to focus on developing companies that solve problems outside of Wyoming and bring more revenue in, that ultimately brings more cash on hand to play with,” he said.

Greear also thinks the state needs to explore alternatives to coal, but bringing new business to Wyoming is easier said than done.

Severance taxes or bust

“We are going to still be mineral reliant in this state so long as we hold onto our current tax policy,” Greear said. 

He added he does not see the tax policy changing, but that he believes a policy change is needed. 

Change, however, would alter the dynamic and culture of the state. That places Greear at odds with some of his constituents who simply aren’t ready for change. As an elected official, Greear said he must listen to them.   

“Most people understand the changes with society,” Greear said. 

He added it is easier to push those concepts in towns like Laramie and Cheyenne because of their proximity to Fort Collins and Denver, but such changes might not fly in a town like Worland. 

Towns are also dependent on larger populations to attract and sustain more tech and business, leaving smaller towns out of the mix. It also makes it unrealistic to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue, he said.

Holding out for the youth

Schmechel also said he wants to keep young people in the state and create jobs for them so they can to “plant their roots” for future generations.

Schmechel sees economic diversification and development as a way to expand a town’s culture, not diminish it.

“There are lots of people who look at anything that we are doing like this and assume we are losing our culture of Wyoming, and I think those people are mistaken,” Schmechel said.

“We don’t have to be Boulder or San Francisco. We are never going to be those communities. We have found in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan, where we have our three incubators for the WTBC, that each of those communities bring on their own feel.” 

As those communities grow and develop, their core values are moved forward, growing and strengthening their existing culture.

Godby also sees the need for diversification as necessity to independence.

“Do we need to diversify more, yeah,” Godby said. “The problem is when you rely on energy, you are going to be bound by energy cycles that are out of your control and typically driven by things outside of your state.”

The Blackjewel effect

Rick Mansheim, manager of state Workforce Centers in Gillette and Newcastle, has watched the Blackjewel layoffs from the front row. He has a lot of conversations with the workers and businesses around the state. He also believes Wyoming needs more jobs outside of energy.

“The key is diversification,” Mansheim said. “We need to broaden our scope.” 

He believes internships and early career path exposure is key to getting young workers involved in that effort.

Greear believes economic development around the state is productive, but often suffers from growing pains.

“There are some really good economic development organizations within communities,” Greear said. “But it’s kind of the hand your dealt. Cheyenne is going get a lot more looks at things you are not going to get in Worland.”

 He added that state leaders sort of had tunnel vision attracting specific types of businesses that were not fits for every community. 

“What is going to work in Cheyenne is not going to work in the Big Horn Basin,” Greear said. 

ENDOW’s impact across industries

But he believes creative ideas are still important. He cited the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — ENDOW — initiative as helping leaders think outside of the box. 

ENDOW was created in 2016 to diversify and expand the state economy.  Greear said ENDOW challenged people to think outside of the box and pursue opportunities such as value-added agriculture, which is changing a product to enhance its value through niche marketing, uniqueness or improving a supply chain.

Schmechel, whose organization assists many businesses with incubator programs and creative solutions, sees both existing and new economic sectors as exciting opportunities for business growth.

He added Wyoming’s vast spaces would be great for autonomous vehicles and drones. In addition, he suggested exploring UW’s cache of intellectual property for application in industries such as agriculture and making sure it is being used correctly.

He said the state’s agriculture community is doing great things and should be expanded upon.

Wyoming residents look to themselves to boost business, populations

in Economic development/News/Business
Wyoming small business
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new hotel will increase available lodging by 50 percent.

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

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

Effective economic development also demands creative thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public sector tries new approach to solutions for private industries

in Economic development/News/Education
Wyoming Next Gen partnership workforce
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Few kids see the construction trades as a potential career choice these days, but a new partnership between Wyoming’s public and private sectors is working to change that.

“The Next Gen Sector Partnership is an opportunity to bring industries’ priorities to the center stage,” said Hayley McKee, a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services spokesperson.  “It’s an opportunity for these teams to work together in an aligned approach rather than a siloed approach.”

Initiated in spring 2018, the partnership was designed to position industry professionals as the leaders in economic growth, with the public sector following their lead. 

“In the end, it’s about creating good jobs,” McKee said. “And connecting people with good jobs.”

In Laramie County, Next Gen has already experienced a measure of success, she said.

Larry Fodor, a project manager for the Cheyenne-based Mechanical Systems Inc., said he is working with the partnership to highlight the benefits of in the trades.

“We hope to improve the image and perception of the construction industry,” Fodor said. “The construction industry, in general, is not the dirty, unsafe industry it used to be.” 

Fodor and Next Gen have worked with Laramie County School District No. 1 to coordinate a bus tour for school counselors and staff, visiting several construction businesses around Cheyenne, he said. The initiative can help school district staff and students learn about a variety of construction-based career opportunities, providing details on wages, benefits packages and training options.

“It’s allowed us to show a side-by-side comparison of what a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns right out of college vs. a journeyman, who’s spent a similar amount of time learning his trade while getting paid,” Fodor explained. “We’ve seen a strong response to the Next Gen approach.”

After working construction in Laramie County for more than a decade, he said the partnership is a refreshing approach to recurring challenges.

“Next Gen as a whole is a new way of looking at solving old problems,” Fodor said. “These problems have been talked about for years without any meaningful way of getting together and moving toward a goal.”

McKee said Next Gen allows entities such as the Wyoming Workforce Development Council, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Education and Workforce Services to use data to identify challenges in regions across Wyoming, then approach industry leaders in those regions with an invitation to help develop a solution.

“In Laramie county, they selected trades as their area to focus on,” she explained. “But in other regions, they have looked at finance, healthcare and hospitality to name just a few.”

Still in its infancy, Next Gen could help develop struggling economic sectors, stabilizing Wyoming’s boom-bust cycle while reducing the number of young professionals leaving the state in search of jobs, McKee said.

“It’s not necessarily just challenges, but often the partnership is working to build opportunities as well,” she said. “These initiatives are just starting, and they have selected focus areas, but later on down the line, there are other industries that are prime for partnership.”

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