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Kroger, Albertsons CEOs Grilled On Capitol Hill About Mega-Merger

in News/Business
Cheyenne Albertsons. Photo by Jimmy Orr
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Pointed questions were just what Local 7 union president Kim Cordova was hoping to hear during a congressional hearing into the merger deal between grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons, and she wasn’t disappointed.

Lawmakers asked many of the same questions Cordova has been asking about the proposed merger, which would create a grocery store behemoth that would control one-fifth of the nation’s food supply. 

“I think it sounded like the only two in the room who are for the merger were the two CEOs,” she told Cowboy State Daily after the hearing Tuesday afternoon. 

Cordova represents about 750 grocery store workers in Wyoming. She said Local 7 and other unions will continue to push lawmakers to stop the merger, which she believes will broaden food deserts in the West and put hundreds of jobs at risk.

Not To State The Obvious, But …

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, led off the round of questioning with this one.

“Kroger has made public commitments to spend billions of dollars to lower prices to improve its stores and to raise wages,” Lee said. 

Yet, at the end of 2021, Kroger announced a billion-dollar stock buyback. 

“Things have gotten considerably worse since then,” Lee said. “Just the beginning of last year, the average U.S. household paid an additional $110 for food in the month of October 2022. The average Utah household paid an additional $125 in October of 2022, so it’s even worse in Utah. 

“If Kroger wasn’t passing on savings to consumers when it was competing with Albertsons — competition is very often what brings down prices. It’s one of few things that can be counter-inflationary.”

Because competition often leads to lower prices, “why would we think it would pass on savings after it eliminates that competition?”

CEO Says Prices Are Lower

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said Kroger has lowered pricing by more than 3% since 2003, which is $5 billion a year.

“If you look at our merger with Harris Teeter, we’ve lowered our gross profit rate to more than $100 million per year there,” he said. “And if you look at our merger with Roundy’s in Wisconsin, we’ve lowered pricing there by about $130 million per year.”

But simply lowering prices is not what creates the best market scenario for Kroger, he added.

“What we have found is by giving customers a better value, using personalized pricing for each household based on what’s really important to that household and passing those savings, that creates more loyalty,” he said. “And then we also really focus on fresh foods. And that’s really from a competitive standpoint, we always try to make sure we have the freshest product in the market.”

Next Question

Those personalized customer deals, however, aren’t binding on the company going forward, Lee pointed out before asking his next question of Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran.

“Albertsons has just proposed handing out $4 billion to its shareholders, which dwarfs the $2.8 billion in commitments tied to the merger,” Lee said. “Why do Kroger and Albertsons need to merge in order to lower their prices and treat their employees better, when it seems like they already have the money to do so now?”

Sankaran said Albertsons had bought a number of distressed stores from SuperValu in 2013, spending $11.5 billion since that time to turn the stores around, as well as an additional $1.5 billion for communities where Albertsons operates. 

“In every year since the merger of Safeway, increasing wages and, at the same time, becoming more competitive. We have not returned cash to shareholders over that timeframe,” he said. “This $4 billion is a return of cash to those shareholders who have supported us over this decade. It has nothing to do with the merger itself.”

Sankaran also denied that paying the dividend will weaken the company.

“Albertsons companies is in excellent financial condition,” he said. “And that was the case before the dividend payment and will remain the case after the dividend payment.”

Haggen Deal A Failure

Lee also brought up the bankruptcy of Haggen Foods & Pharmacy, after Albertsons sold off most of its available 168 locations to the smaller grocery chain as part of the Safeway-Albertsons merger in 2014. 

“I don’t think it’s controversial to say that when divested assets required to be divested in connection with the merger had to (declare) bankruptcy less than a year, just nine months, and then end up simply being re-acquired by the merged firm, that remedy is an embarrassing failure,” Lee said. “You have any response to that?”

Sankaran said the divestment and buyer were at the time both qualified and approved by the FTC. 

“We did everything we could to help the Haggen stores at that time and, when it didn’t work, we bought it,” he said. “But if you step back and look at the bigger picture, the merger by any measure is a success, where we put two companies together, one of them struggling, and have turned them around, and we’re sitting at this table with the financial performance we have because of that merger.”

Timeline

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, meanwhile, asked about the timetable for implementing price cuts.

“If the merger is approved, who will analyze whether or not you meet that commitment?” she asked.

McMullen said the process would begin Day One.

“Obviously, we won’t be able to, we’re not able to do any of the analysis before we merge because of the information that’s involved,” he said. “But it will start immediately Day One. And we would expect that the $500 million to be (cut) over a four-year time horizon as well.”

Not Convinced

Klobuchar expressed skepticism that consumers would ever see price reductions.

“Your operating profit increased from $2.8 billion in 2020 to $3.5 billion in 2021,” she said. “That’s a 25% jump. And so that is why you’re sensing some cynicism about this idea about bringing prices down when we have even less competition.”

McMullen said he appreciated the directness of Klobuchar’s question.

“One of the things in retail, you have to re-invent yourself every 10 to 12 years, because you have new competitors come in,” he said. “And at one point that was Walmart. At another point that was Costco. At one point that’s Amazon. It’s just part of the industry.”

That reinvention involves creating better value for consumer’s money, he said.

Klobuchar said she was asking about the future, not the past.

“(Do) you think that having less competition is going to create pressure on you to reduce prices?” she asked.

“Yeah, I just don’t see less competition going forward,” McMullen replied. “It’s easy for a customer to take a right turn or a left turn. And we will continue to invest in pricing because it’s incredibly important to our customer. We will also invest in service and fresh product.”

Kroger Already Huge

Klobuchar also pointed to Kroger’s own factbook issued in 2021, which lists 49 major markets where the supermarket already has nine or more stores in one city.

“It says that you have the No. 1 or No. 2 market share in 41 of the 49 markets already today,” Klobuchar said. “And that’s without even accounting for the Albertsons stores. 

“What is your market share today and do you think, just as you’ve done here with your own factbook, do you think that you should be considering market share on a market-by-market basis instead of a nationwide basis?”

McMullen said Kroger takes both perspectives into account.

“We always have,” he said, “because from a local basis, looking at market share, the infrastructure (such as) a warehouse, some of the other parts are incredibly important to create efficiency.

“So, we would always look at market share from both perspectives.”

More Food Deserts, Higher Prices

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, meanwhile, said he finds many communities up and down his state where constituents will clearly have fewer retail grocery store options if the merger goes through.

“In your testimony, you both suggest that your stores compete with premium stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts, or warehouse stores like Costco, or expensive online grocery delivery services,” he said. “But from my experience, consumers know better. Replacing the neighborhood grocery store with premium alternatives means a consumer would face a dramatic increase in the price of their basic staples, and likely the number of stops they would now need to make to buy what they need. 

“Do you really believe that your customers could easily substitute all the shopping that they do at your stores with shopping at Whole Foods or Costco or Amazon?”

McMullen said surveys of Kroger’s customers indicate they’re shopping on average at five to six locations.

“Obviously, we are actively working with the FTC, and we will expect to continue to do that, and would expect that every market will be just as competitive going forward as it is today,” he said.

Sankaran, meanwhile, added that the goal is not to close stores, but to divest them and keep a viable competitor going forward.

Increased Pay, Benefits

Sen. Padilla expressed skepticism about the answer, but moved on.

“The proposed merger announcement noted that the combined company expects to invest $1 billion to continue raising associate wages and comprehensive benefits after close,” he said. “I’d welcome more detail about the $1 billion investment; what it will look like in practice?”

McMullen said the increase to pay and benefits would phase in over a four-year time period and will be a combination of improvements in both areas.

“If you look at the benefits we offer, it would be world class across the U.S. in terms of retirement benefits,” he said. “Other health care benefits, and things like that. And we would expect to continue to do that, which many of our non-union competitors would not offer to the same degree.”

Spinoffs

Sen. Lee had a pointed redirect for the viability of spinning stores off into a much smaller chain.

“If Kroger and Albertsons, which each have over 2,000 stores currently, if they can’t compete with Walmart, then how would the spun-off companies survive with only a few hundred stores dispersed throughout the country?” Lee asked.

McMullen said it’s about “connecting with the local community” and a “combination of price, service and freshness.”

“There’s several competitors that would actually be smaller than what Spinco would be,” he added. 

Market share for small regional grocers has grown 25% to 33%, McMullen added, based on information from the National Grocers Association.

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No “Smash And Grabs” But Shoplifting In Wyoming Is Increasing And Driving Prices Up

in News/wyoming economy/Business
More and more, items popular with shoplifters are being kept behind plexiglass, like these games at Target in Cheyenne. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

A shoplifter took $500 in merchandise from the Lander Safeway store at 5 p.m. Nov. 5, getting away in a Jeep Cherokee. 

A vehicle matching that description turned up later in Riverton, where hundreds of dollars worth of meat were reported stolen from Smith’s grocery store.

A police chase ensued, and three people were taken into custody on separate charges, including shoplifting. 

In that instance, police were able to recover about $200 in meat for Smith’s. 

An investigation into meat missing from a Safeway store in Lander, meanwhile, is ongoing.

Holidays Prime For Shoplifters

As crazy as the incident may sound, it’s not necessarily an isolated occurrence. 

The shoplifting spree is a symptom of a growing and troubling trend. From Jackson to Cheyenne and all points in between, retailers face more and more shoplifting, particularly when the holidays hit. 

Nationwide, retailers report “shrinkage” is costing them big, big bucks.   

In its most recent earnings call, Target cited shoplifting as one of the reasons its profit fell by 50% in the third quarter of this year. 

Target Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington reported shoplifting at the big-box retailer has jumped 50% year over year, and has already cost the retailer $400 million in 2022. 

Target’s not alone. Many stores are putting more and more items behind plexiglass in attempts to slow these thefts, which ultimately force stores to raise prices to cover losses, adding an edge to what inflation is already doing to the consumer landscape.

Organized Crime Connections

In some communities, shoplifting has become part of organized crime. 

In Oregon, for example, KGW-TV in Portland showed video of people wheeling out whole carts of stolen clothes, power tools and other items, which then are fenced online through sites like Facebook Marketplace, or at flea markets.

The problem has not reached quite that level in Wyoming, but it is on the rise in many Cowboy State communities, including Cheyenne.

“Unfortunately, shoplifting and package theft incidents tend to increase during the holiday season,” Alexandra Farkas, Public Information Officer for the Cheyenne Police Department, told Cowboy State Daily. “In the city of Cheyenne, we have seen a recent uptick in larceny cases. 

“The CPD received reports of 223 cases in October, compared to 185 over the same period in 2021. The CPD has also seen an increase in shoplifting. Seventy-seven cases were reported in October 2022, compared to 57 cases in 2021.”

Scope Hard To Pin Down

Incoming Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily that shoplifting has been on the rise for some time. 

He recalls helping both the south Cheyenne and north Cheyenne Walmart stores implement measures to reduce shoplifting. The measures included security guards, as well as a police car that volunteers would move to different locations to make thieves think there were officers physically in the store.

It’s hard to know, however, just how expansive the problem is in Wyoming, Kozak said. 

“Walmart is a little bit of a different beast because they have a very proactive security detail,” he said. “And when they are fully staffed, our shoplifting numbers of course increase, because they are catching people.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Walmart has more shoplifting incidences than other stores though. They are just being more proactive about trying to catch thieves.

“If a store is not catching shoplifters, then it’s not reported,” Kozak said. “So, we just don’t know the true numbers. Other than their bottom line — they know when they do their accounting at the end of the month or at the end of the year how much loss they had. 

“But I know for a lot of these big-box stores, it’s over $1 million a year.”

Big Hit For Small Stores

Shoplifting is not just hitting large retailers and big-box retailers. Smaller stores are also taking a big hit. 

Palace Pharmacy in Lander, for example, estimates the problem is taking from 15% to 20% of its bottom line every month.

“We had a gal, who we finally kind of narrowed her down, who was stealing the guaifenesin and Musinex over the counter just like crazy,” Palace Pharmacy owner Jolene Osbeck told Cowboy State Daily. “We finally got her on camera and got her dialed in. So I just moved all the stuff behind the counter.”

Another Barrier

Moving items behind plexiglass, in fact, is a visibly rising trend in a lot of stores, big-box or otherwise.

“It’s getting to the point where I have to have everything locked up,” Osbeck said. “It just makes me so mad. And the other disturbing thing is it’s kids, a lot of younger adolescents, who are steeling.”

While Osbeck hasn’t seen anything that seems like it’s organized crime yet, she has noticed that shoplifting is often a group activity. 

“It’s like they’re doing it because they can look cool and phone their friends or whatever,” she said.

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Inflation Prompts Wyoming Shoppers To Go Smaller This Gift-Giving Season

in News/wyoming economy/Business
Jessica and daughter Isabella Ladelfa window shop at 307 Made in Cheyenne. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Although some communities reported record sales, crowds by and large felt thin at many stores in Wyoming for Black Friday, and even some Small Business Saturday shopping seemed to take a hit in some areas.

Val Martin with Art at The Hynds in Cheyenne told Cowboy State Daily its annual Small Business Saturday event, which gathers artisans together under one roof, felt like the slowest Shop Small Saturday she can recall. 

Fewer Shoppers, Buying Small

Vendors at the event also told Cowboy State Daily they felt there was much less foot traffic than usual — although the shoppers who did turn up seemed interested in buying, particularly small gifts.

Susan Londe, for example, quickly sold all of her little jeweled Christmas spiders and most of her jeweled scorpions and rockhound lizards, the latter of which were going for around $9 each. 

The small gift trend is something Tasha Messenger with Messenger Girls in Lander also echoed, where Black Friday sales were somewhat muted.

“We weren’t really expecting it to be that slow,” Messenger told Cowboy State Daily. “But Small Business Saturday was great. I talked to a bunch of other businesses, and we felt like people were really focused more on Small Business Saturday than Black Friday. They were trying to come out and support us on our day.”


Susan Londe makes a jeweled scorpion after selling out of all of them during Art at The Hynds’ Small Business Saturday event in Cheyenne. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Others Report Strong Turnout

In Gillette, meanwhile, Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jessica Seders reported record sales for Plaid Friday (an alternative to Black Friday) and Small Business Saturday.

In Casper, Elise Ellis with Target reports the store had a line of shoppers about 150 people long. 

Ellis admitted splurging on a Keurig that was 50% off, which she will put in her office for members of her team to use. 

“Electronics were a big hit,” Ellis said. “They’re always a big hit, and they definitely were this year. It was a fun and busy day for us here.”

It didn’t hurt, Ellis added, that Friday is payday for many.

“Some of these sales were happening earlier in the week, but people were waiting to get paid,” she said. “It was pretty busy for us up until later in the day. I would say that’s kind of when the snow started.”

The Inflation Effect

While traffic was brisk, many shoppers told Cowboy State Daily they plan to scale back their Christmas spending this year. Inflation is bearing down on them like a big green Grinch, which makes it hard to stick with the spending pattern of Christmases past. 

Many also talked about having a heart-to-heart with themselves or their family members. Christmas has become too commercial, and they want to pull back from that and bring the occasion back to more of its true meaning.

“It’s about family and love, not gifts,” Monika Lujan told Cowboy State Daily.

Priorities

Jessica and Isabella Ladelfa have also re-evaluated their Christmas priorities, and said they will do something that is more Hannukah-like. The family moved to Cheyenne from Arizona, seeking a smaller community, but not too small. The mother-daughter duo was among those browsing at 307 Made in Cheyenne on Saturday. 

We’re going to give gifts from the heart, I guess, and keep it a little smaller,” Jessica Ladelfa said. 

Christmas has become too commercial, she said, citing a year when Isabella received 56 gifts, including two of the same dollhouse.

“We’re still going to make crafts,” Jessica Ladelfa said. “And just, like, little thoughtful gifts.”

Crowds Not As Dense

Shelby and Mark Stankus, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily they all but skipped Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping altogether — although they used the occasion to buy a television they’d been wanting during Black Friday.

They also noted that crowds at the store where they bought the television seemed less than typical for Black Friday. Nationally, overall traffic has been reported as greater than last year, but perhaps still not at pre-pandemic levels now that there are so many deals leading up to the event itself, as well as online shopping.

Wait And See

“With inflation, everybody is kind of working on getting their Thanksgiving dinner and stuff,” Shelby Stankus said. “Not a lot of people have a lot of extra money for Black Friday shopping.”

“We’re just waiting to see what utilities are going to be looking like,” Mark Stankus added.

In the past, the Stankus family has typically done one big-ticket item and then a few smaller gifts. This year, the family plans to forget big-ticket items and stick with smaller gifts.

They still plan a traditional Christmas feast, though, with duck as the main course. 

“I just throw it in the roaster oven like I would do a turkey to cook it,” she said. 

But duck is not easier, she added. “You have to kind of slice the skin open, because it’s so oily.”

Inflation Not Holding Everyone Back

Not everyone is planning to cut back for Christmas. 

Jay Drew and his wife, Martha, are among families that say it’s business as usual this Christmas. 

“(Inflation) matters because I can’t buy a house,” Jay Drew said. “But it doesn’t matter as far as purchases and, you know, spending, and so Christmas will go on as scheduled.”

Jay added that his answer would probably be different if he had young children. 

“Our children are grown so there’s no, I mean the answer is much different if I have three little ones I’ve got to buy an Xbox or PlayStation,” he said. “I don’t have to do any of those things for anybody.”

Buy It Online

“We did all our shopping online,” Rachel Spargur told Cowboy State Daily. “I will admit, I’m even guilty of doing deliveries for food instead of going out.”

Spargur isn’t alone. While Black Friday sales may have been a little muted for many stores, online sales were better than good. 

According to Adobe Analytics, which has access to data covering 85% of purchases with the Internet’s top 100 retailers, consumers spent a record $9.12 billion online for Black Friday. Adobe Analytics also estimates Cyber Monday sales could top $11.2 billion.

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Teton County Duo Saves Legendary Nora’s Fish Creek Inn From Developers

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

Nora’s Fish Creek Inn is as much an institution one can find in the Teton County community of Wilson. There’s only a handful of buildings in the small town that have been there for decades, and Nora’s is one of them.

The wooden cross beams and antique decorations covering the walls of the restaurant provide a quaint, cabin-like feel that defines the Cowboy State. 

If one didn’t know better, they might think they took a time machine back to a simpler time while chowing down on fresh-caught trout and eggs and basking in the warm glow of a crackling fire nearby.

“That’s always been a staple here as far as I can remember, for 30 years,” new co-owner Tom Fay said of the trout.


Visitors at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn receive a Wyoming West welcome. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

No More Nora’s?

Nora’s was close to meeting its demise just a few months ago, but Fay and fellow co-owner Eddie Opler stepped in to buy and save the restaurant. Opler has a long history with the restaurant as his family has been eating meals there since it opened.

The café has existed in various forms since the early 1970s. For much of the ’70s it was a Wild West bar called Blackie’s Fish Creek Inn. Before that, it was a post office and general store dating to the late 1930s. 

State Rep. Jim Roscoe moved to Wilson in 1970 and remembers the square dances held in the rustic building before it became a restaurant. 

“It was really fun,” he said.

A National Rep

Nora Tygum took over the business in 1982 and built a legendary reputation, not only in Wyoming, but also throughout the country. 

Considered one of the best breakfasts around, Nora’s was featured on the Food Network hit television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri in 2014.

Over the decades, the restaurant became well known for its trout and classic stick-to-your-ribs fare, serving mouthwatering dishes like huevos rancheros and biscuits and gravy.


New Nora’s owners only had about two weeks to make renovations and upgrades before reopening the Wilson restaurant Friday. (Leo Woflson, Cowboy State Daily)

New Life

In 2021, Tygum’s daughter, Kathryn Taylor, put the restaurant and its property up for sale. Despite receiving several offers, Taylor took the property off the market this past spring. When Tygum died in September, the restaurant announced on social media that it would close Oct. 15.

“Bless her heart, it’s just she’s been doing it for 20-plus years, “Fay said of Taylor. “It was time to pass the baton.”

That’s when Fay and Opler gave Taylor an offer she couldn’t refuse. The deal was finalized Nov. 11.

“Kathryn really wanted to continue the legacy of Nora’s, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do as well,” Fay said. “We’re not wanting to steer away from what Nora’s has always been – just a fun, family friendly diner.”

A Wilson Icon

Fay said it’s what Nora represents for Wilson, a town of 1,492 people, that inspired him to buy the business.

“Kind of keeping this iconic Wilson building and restaurant alive and well,” Fay said. “Not letting any developers come in and turn Wilson upside down.”

Wilson isn’t exactly a boom town. Don’t blink when driving through, as you might miss the downtown corridor. 

Although it shares much of the same affluence as nearby Jackson, there are still many working-class people who call it home. 

Fay said it’s likely if they hadn’t bought the business, it would have been torn down and replaced with luxury condos, like so many other places in Teton County.

“Wilson is this little village that has a restaurant, a really good coffee shop, a good bicycle shop,” Roscoe said.



Classic, With A New Taste

Fay said he plans to continue Nora’s well-known breakfast and lunch staples while adding some new twists. 

They plan to offer grab-and-go items like breakfast burritos, sandwiches and coffee to better serve the many tourists and hard-working locals in the area.

“To get the community where they need to go,” Fay said.

Taylor is still going to be involved in the business as the baker, allowing her to focus on handcrafting Nora’s scrumptious banana bread and coffee cake.

Reopened Friday

The restaurant reopened Friday after receiving brighter lighting and a new ceiling during the whirlwind two weeks between its purchase and reopening. 

It’s also adding televisions and historic photos to the walls from local haunts such as the Wilson gas station and nearby Teton Pass, towering thousands of feet above it. 

“We really wanted to add some fun character, which was existing prior to us moving in,” Fay said. “Add some fun, kind of antiquey, historical parts of Wilson and Jackson Hole and give it that local vibe.”

They also renovated the bar area to, as Fay put it, “let it be known that we actually do have a liquor license.” 

Make Dinner Plans

They have plans to bring back dinner at the restaurant next summer, which would make it only the second business in Wilson to offer evening cuisine. Fay also wants to renovate the patio outside so Nora’s can host private parties and other events. 

As far as the restaurant’s legendary coffee is concerned, it’s already hosted several tastings in recent weeks to help decide some new blends.

“The community has been saying we’re somewhat local heroes,” Fay said. “I think we’re local lunatics. But we are excited to keep Nora’s open as well, obviously. It’s near and dear to our hearts and we want to give it the love and attention that it needs.” 

Preserving Wilson

The Wilson community can be rest assured it will continue to see both ends of the emerald green cartoon trout sticking out from Nora’s sign for years to come, blending in perfectly as it has for decades with the town’s general store, schoolhouse old barns and nearby Stagecoach Bar and Grill. 

Roscoe said there also is a public campaign underway among local residents to save another local favorite, Hungry Jack’s General Store.

“They want things to stay the same, but it’s really hard,” he said.

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Couple Overhauls Drab, Awful Interior Of Iconic Onion-Shaped Bank Building In Casper

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

Since 1964, the modern dome-shaped building has been a central feature in downtown Casper. Built to house Western National Bank, the building’s unique interior has over the years been covered by traditional flooring, ceiling work and decor.

That is, until Joe and Diane McGinley came along 13 years ago, when the McGinleys moved their family to Casper. Diane said she immediately noticed the mid-century modern, dome-shaped downtown building and thought it would be perfect as an office for their businesses.

“I’ve always loved the building,” Diane McGinley told Cowboy State Daily. “So, when it came up for sale, my husband Joe and I took a real serious look at it.”

The couple operate a multitude of businesses, including McKinley orthopedics, (an orthopedic device startup company) and the McGinley Clinic, Joe’s sports medicine, minimally invasive orthopedic care clinic.

“By purchasing the building, we were able to put both of those businesses on the second floor while we did the renovations for the rest of the building,” said Diane.

Ballerinas twirling in the rotunda last week signaled the grand opening of “The M,” as the McGinleys have named the building.

“I really felt like it was a vision realized,” said Diane.


Diane and Dr. Joe McKinley are close to unveiling the new renovated dome building in downtown Casper, which they’ve dubbed “The M.”

Before And After

Diane was aware she had a big job ahead of her when the couple first bought the building two years ago. Although she has no formal design training, Diane said she knew she needed to be the one to oversee the project.

“We early on worked with some architects,” said Diane. “But I realized that I was particular, and in the end I wanted to love every single choice that was in the space, so I just took over the design aspects of it.”

Diane said they had amazing partners in Casper Building Systems, the construction firm they chose to work with.  

“I definitely credit them for figuring out a lot of the ‘hows’ to me sort of spouting a lot of ideas,” she said.

Much of the work that needed to be done was behind the scenes, Diane said.

“It was built in 1964, so a lot of the things that were a challenge are the unseen things – the HVAC, the electrical, the plumbing,” she said. “So, upgrading those systems were the first priority.”

Diane pointed out that at the time they were put in, the systems were state of the art and had some unique features. So the McGinleys approached the project with the same intent. 

“We wanted to bring in the best and greatest and state of the art,” she said. “So all of our lighting systems and things like that, the whole building is controlled on this really wonderful iPad – down to even the lights in the fountain, there is an app for that.” 



Charles Deaton, Architect

The architect who designed the post-modern piece in the early 1960s has a unique style that is showcased in several other distinctive structures around the country.

Charles Deaton designed several athletic stadiums, including Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, and his futuristic Sculptured House was featured in the 1973 Woody Allen film “Sleeper.” He also designed an eccentric bank building in Englewood, Colorado.

Deaton’s eye-catching Casper building features 17 “blades,” the petal-shaped pieces that make up the exterior of the dome, held together by one small, 4-inch-thick disc at the top.

“It’s really, truly a feat of architectural engineering,” said Diane.

Diane said that one of the exclusive features of the 1964 Casper building was the lighting system that Deaton incorporated into the rotunda.

“He had the patent on the lighting system that was up at the top of the dome, and it was really unique at its time, because it made the entire ceiling look like it was glowing,” said Diane.

Because their companies hold a number of patents themselves (more than 126), they felt a kinship with the architect.

“We feel right at home in a place with somebody who was innovative from the beginning,” Diane said. 

But Deaton’s innovation meant that construction upgrades took some ingenuity.

“There isn’t a room or a wall that is square in the building,” she said. “So, a lot of the things that make it really beautiful aesthetically, definitely posed some contractual problems. But we worked through each of them and just are really thrilled with the result.”


The rotunda of “The M.”

The Rotunda

The defining feature of the interior of the building, Diane pointed out, is the rotunda. But over the years, and through numerous bank ownerships, the entire top of the space was covered by a dropped ceiling.

“We unwrapped it, we revealed it and put in a really cool new state-of-the-art lighting system that helps the dome glow again,” she said.

The center of the dome also features a large crystal chandelier that Diane said she was thrilled to design.

“It took over many, many hours of planning to hang the chandelier,” she said, “and several electricians a couple of weeks just to hang it.”

The floor, she said, was just as spectacular.

“A gentleman hand-sprinkled the gold flakes onto the black epoxy,” Diane said. 



Sharing The Space

Although the initial vision for the building was a one-stop-shop for orthopedic needs, Diane said once the renovations began to transform it, she knew it needed to be open to more than just their clients and patients.

“It was about creating a medical center where we could have comprehensive care,” she said. “But once the rotunda started taking shape, I knew we had to share it with the public and really be able to open it up to house events there, because it’s such a unique space.”

Now anyone can reserve space at the iconic building at eventsatthem.com. As many as 250 people can be accommodated comfortably at round-top tables, although more seating can be set up for larger events.

“We’re taking bookings for all different types of events, including weddings, corporate Christmas parties, nonprofit events, conventions,” said Diane.

And she said she’s looking forward to sharing the amazing space with the rest of the community. A formal ribbon cutting at “The M” will be Dec. 9, with a community open house Dec. 10.

“The more events and the more people that come in will really get to see that this is part of our town, and that it’s been restored, and that it’s going to be here to stay for many years to come,” said Diane.

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Wyoming Stores Overstocked Because Of Supply Chain Concerns; Could Be Bargains Out There

in News/Business
Photo Courtesy Messenger Girls
27902

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

More than two-thirds of holiday shoppers nationwide plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend this year, and many Wyoming businesses across the state are counting on those shoppers more than ever after more than two wild years of ups and downs for retailers.

A combination of difficult factors in play this year for the retail sector could mean some pretty sweet deals for alert shoppers in the mood to spend — although many retailers report they’re already seeing signs of caution from consumers as the holiday season approaches. 

“We had an exceptional year in 2021,” Tasha Messenger with Messenger Girls in Lander told Cowboy State Daily. “But this year has been really tough, to be honest. Like ever since March, collectively, the majority of businesses on Main Street, we’ve been down about 40%.”

Shopping Smaller

Messenger said many of her customers are looking for smaller gifts than usual.

“People are still trying to shop, but they can’t afford those bigger purchases,” she said. “They still want to get something, though, so we’ve been switching to where we get more affordable, as opposed to bigger, purchase items.”

Messenger’s store will be among those participating in Black Friday deals, Shop Small Saturday and Cyber Monday.

“We all kind of hit this weekend big because, honestly, this weekend is usually our biggest,” Messenger said. 

Deals won’t likely stop with the upcoming weekend, though, Messenger said. She plans a variety of promotions throughout the season to attract as many holiday shoppers as possible.


Shoppers look for deals at Messenger Girls in Lander. (Courtesy Photo)

Look For Themes

Jolene Osbeck with Palace Pharmacy in Lander meanwhile reports a similar situation. She has been looking toward events to draw customers into the store, with an eye toward fun first.

“We’re doing a ladies night, which we’ve been doing for a while now,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s catered and we have drinks and giveaways and I do a sale. It’s really fun.

“And even if they don’t buy a bunch of things that evening, at least they’ve been in here and then they’ll come back because, you know, there’s always the last-minute things to get or you’re going to a little party and you need to bring a gift.”

Stocked And Stoked

Other retailers are somewhat generously stocked for the season. 

For some, that’s because of orders made in 2021 that are now finally arriving. Others, meanwhile, had ordered more to ensure they’d have something to sell in anticipation of potential supply chain issues. 

To the extent retailers have ended up with more inventory than they need for the holidays could spur generous deals for consumers late in the fourth quarter, which is always make-or-break for most retail businesses that can expect as much as 60% of their annual income leading up to Thanksgiving and through Christmas.

‘We Have A Lot Of Inventory’

Walmart is among those stocked for the season, as is Target, and representatives of both stores told Cowboy State Daily they are planning big sales.

“I just know that we have a lot of inventory and we typically, just because of what happened with COVID, we have a lot more days of deals rather than just the one Black Friday event,” cashier Lexi Gonzales with Cheyenne Walmart told Cowboy State Daily. “We get a lot of good products in for deals for customers on different days rather than just the one Black Friday event.”

Target stores in Wyoming are offering 50% off a wide range of goods.

“They’ve announced, like, the biggest Black Friday week of deals that they’ve had in a while,” said Elisa Ellis with Target. “We’re well-stocked in all of our stores.”

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Momentum Gathers On Capitol Hill To Scrutinize Albertsons-Kroger Mega Merger

in News/wyoming economy/Business
Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
27893

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Momentum appears to be growing on Capitol Hill for bipartisan scrutiny of a proposed mega-merger that has been sharply criticized by Wyoming grocery workers. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have announced a congressional hearing next week into the multibillion-dollar merger of grocery giants Kroger and Albersons to examine consumer rights more closely. 

“As the chair and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, we have serious concerns about the proposed transaction between Kroger and Albertsons,” the senators say in a joint statement. “The grocery industry is essential, and we must ensure that it remains competitive so that American families can afford to put food on the table. 

“We will hold a hearing focused on this proposed merger and the consequences consumers may face if this deal moves forward.”

FTC Asked To Investigate

Klobuchar and two Democrat colleagues, meanwhile, also sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to thoroughly investigate the proposed merger.

“Too many American families are struggling to put food on the table for their families,” Klobuchar wrote. “These issues are worse for families in areas without access to affordable, nutritious food. And across the country, more than 6 million American children suffer from not having enough food.”

Record Inflation, Profits

The proposed merger comes amid some of the highest price increases for grocery prices on record — 11.2% higher in September that in September 2021, according to USDA data. 

Profits, meanwhile, have been healthy for grocery stores as well. Albertsons, for example, reported net income of $343 million in the second quarter of 2022, while Kroger reported operation profits of $954 million for the same period.

Kroger and Albertsons have said in earnings calls and investor materials that they will realize significant savings through the merger, allowing them to invest $500 million in lower prices, $1.3 billion to enhance consumer experience and $1 billion to raise associate wages and benefits. 

They also would be willing to divest up to 375 stores to preserve competition in the marketplace, and make the deal more palatable to anti-trust regulators.

Wait Just A Darn Minute

Wyoming Local 7 President Kim Cordova, representing 750 Wyoming workers affected by the merger, says those promises are a song and dance with an all-too-familiar — and discordant — refrain. 

In three past grocery mergers in recent memory, prices have not dropped, Cordova has told Cowboy State Daily. Not only that, but hundreds of workers have lost jobs, and in some cases faced devastating effects on their retirement plans. 

“If you go back and you look historically at all of these big chains in these mergers, there are those spin-off stores, but they never let those other chains operate,” Cordova said. “They’re not going to sell to a competitor. They’re not going to let competitors thrive. They sell them a lemon, basically.”

In 2014, when Albertsons acquired Safeway, it sold close to 150 stores off to Haggen, Cordova said. Those went bankrupt in 2015, leading to lost jobs and more food deserts.

Wyoming Food Deserts Expand

A USDA map of low-access, low-income areas shows more food deserts in Wyoming in 2019 than in 2015.

Cordova believes the merger of Kroger and Albertsons will make that worse by creating a duopoly, where just two entities control almost all of the nation’s food supply chain, along with fuel, pharmacies and other products. 

Local 7 and other grocery store unions representing Kroger and Albertson workers are banding together to fight the merger and are working on a study of the merger’s effect on the food supply chain. 

“We’re already suffering the high cost of inflation,” Cordova said. “And now you’re going to have just two giant behemoths in control of our whole country’s food supply chain.”

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Food Freedom Victory: Fremont County Farmers Market Store Can Sell Raw Milk

in News/Agriculture/Business
Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
27869

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The dairy gray market lives on in Riverton.  

Fremont Foods LLC fell under the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s scrutiny this month for offering raw milk to shoppers. The shop, a perpetual farmers market in downtown Riverton, sells frozen meat, canned goods, produce and treats.  

Store owner Jessica Lee Fritz told Cowboy State Daily that the store has agreed to get a vendor’s license to continue to sell its frozen meats – including yak and lamb.  

“We are back in business with selling all our frozen meats,” said Fritz on Tuesday.

An employee of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Consumer Health Services had just visited the store, said Fritz, and checked the meats to ensure that they’re “perfectly acceptable.” 

But raw milk is a different animal. 


Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Milk Money 

Under Wyoming law, home-grown products can be sold without a vendor’s license generally, but products that aren’t shelf-stable, such as raw milk, the producer must sell directly to the customer. No third party can conduct the transaction.  

Dairy farmers Tim and Bobbie Thornburg rent refrigerator space to offer their raw milk in the store, but Fritz can’t process money for the Thornburgs under the law. Doing so would make her an illegal “third party,” she said.  

As a workaround, the Thornburgs have left a “milk money” pail in the refrigerator next to their milk. Customers drop their cash into the pail and carry off a jar of milk and buoyed cream – all on an honor system.  

The Thornburgs also rely on their customers to return the jars.  

Discretion 

Tim Thornburg said it’s not feasible for him or for his wife Bobbie to remain at the store to sell milk throughout the day because Bobbie has a job, and he works on their farm in the tiny neighboring town of Pavillion.  

Neither the shop owner nor the Thornburgs were certain the method would pass state inspection.  

But it did.  

Derek Grant, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, told Cowboy State Daily in a Tuesday email that the state is leaving sale methods to the Thornburgs’ discretion.  

“Venmo, scheduled pick-up dates and honor pail were all options that were discussed with the producer,” said Grant. “It is up to the producers’ discretion of how the transaction takes place.” 

Confusion 

Tim Thornburg and Fritz took away differing impressions from their discussions with various department representatives. Fritz said she believed the pail method had been approved.  

Thornburg said he had the impression that Venmo was approved, but the pail was not.  

Fritz said she was pleased with the department’s patience toward her fledgling operation, which opened in early October.  

“I think it’s going pretty well, and honestly the Department of Agriculture, Consumer Health has been very patient with all of the questions we’ve had and everything we’ve been doing,” said Fritz. 

‘Not Changing A Thing’ 

Still, Thornburg and Fritz both said they’re hoping that the Food Freedom Act, the law addressing home-grown food markets in Wyoming, would soon be made more permissive.  

State Sen. Tim Salazar and Rep. Pepper Ottman, both of Riverton, have voiced interest in changing the law, Thornburg said. Wyoming’s lawmaking session begins in January.  

Thornburg said regardless of what happens in January, he will continue offering his milk at the market’s refrigerator.  

“I’m not changing a thing,” he said.  

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Wyoming Was Early Critic Of “Woke Capitalism” When Gordon Told Bank Of The West To Shove It

in News/wyoming economy/Business
27575

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming was an early critic of woke capitalism, as it’s sometimes called, but the problems that arise when mixing business and politics are coming to the forefront. 

This year, many state attorneys general and treasurers are taking a closer look at social credit scores in investing, and the role it played in facilitating the FTX digital currency scandal is likely to raise concerns about the ESG movement. 

Red Flags

The ESG movement rates funds on various markers of progressive-friendly policies related to protecting the environment, diversity in the workplace and community relations. Any association with fossil fuel industries quickly gets a fund rated down. 

In 2018, Bank of the West adopted Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) policies and announced it would divest from fossil fuel investments. Wyoming’s then-Treasurer Mark Gordon threatened to stop doing business with the San Francisco-based bank. U.S. Sen. John Barrasso wrote a letter to the CEO of the company, the AP reported, saying that it would hurt Wyoming’s economy. 

This past week, $1 billion in customer money went missing from FTX, a digital asset trading company that abruptly imploded into bankruptcy. 

Recent revelations show there were a number of visible red flags in interviews given by the company’s 30-year-old CEO and founder Sam Bankman-Fried, but these were largely ignored by investors and a fawning press dazzled by FTX’s do-good image. 

‘Perverted Beyond Recognition’

Bankman-Fried was a large donor to progressive causes. He is believed to have donated to the World Economic Forum and spoke at its annual conference last May. The WEF is a champion of the “Great Reset,” which is a post-pandemic economic recovery plan using ESG metrics. He was spoke at the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative in September. 

Bankman-Fried has since resigned and could face prison time for allegedly defrauding his customers. 

“I was on the cover of every magazine, and FTX was the darling of Silicon Valley. We got overconfident and careless,” he tweeted Wednesday. 

In a rather candid interview with a Vox reporter, he stated frankly that his ESG-friendly image shielded him from criticism. 

“ESG has been perverted beyond recognition,” he told Vox. 

Pushing Back

Wyoming’s early criticism of ESG came from the movement’s anti-fossil fuel stance. Other energy states are now pushing back against the movement as the federal government has been pushing new rules to enforce ESG compliance. 

In August, 19 states — Wyoming wasn’t among them — sent a letter to Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, who has been a vocal proponent of ESG, criticizing the firm’s use of ESG social criteria in managing state pension funds. 

In September 2021, Texas banned municipalities from doing business with firms that refuse to do business with the fossil fuel and gun industries. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in August approved a resolution that bars Florida’s pension fund from considering ESG factors in making investment decisions. 

Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia also have enacted similar ESG-limiting legislation with respect to public funds, and many other state legislatures are considering such bills.

Under Performing

It’s not just that the ESG agenda is politically objectionable. There are growing financial concerns about ESG as well. Studies are finding that ESG funds perform poorly in financial terms and don’t actually prove to accomplish the stated goals of the movement. 

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Finance found the highest ESG-rated funds attracted more capital than the lowest-rated, but none of the highest rated outperformed any of the lowest rated. 

Researchers at Columbia University found that companies in the ESG portfolios had worse compliance records for both labor and environmental rules. 

Just as FTX was shielded from criticism, many companies are able to appear environmentally friendly, and their ESG ratings maintain their images. 

“You have a lot of data and a lot of studies that have come out recently showing that ESG funds have underperformed the market,” Anson Frericks, co-founder and COO of Strive Asset Management, told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re charging higher fees and they’re underperforming,” 

Rent Seeking

Compliance with ESG is costly as well. Despite the fact it drives up the cost of business and the funds perform poorly, many large companies are champions of the investment philosophy. 

Alex Stevens, manager of policy and communications for the Institute for Energy Research, said ESG became a backdoor attempt at regulated oil and gas companies. 

It achieves “things that politicians and environmental activists couldn’t achieve through a democratic political process,” Stevens told Cowboy State Daily. 

Whereas lawmakers, especially those in energy states like Wyoming, might not go along with agendas that harm economies, Stevens said ESG is a new iteration of rent-seeking behavior, referring to an economic concept where companies gain added wealth through government-funded social programs rather than gains in productivity. They use ESG as a “corporate responsibility” disguise knowing that compliance drives up the cost of business, which can benefit large corporations that have teams of lawyers and compliance experts who can navigate complex rules.

“Startups and smaller companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage when more of these regulations are piled on,” Stevens explained. “Whenever I see businesses embracing regulation, it always raises a red flag.” 

Green Smuggling

Frericks founded Strive with a vision of doing business without considering political agendas leaning one direction or another. The strategy, Frericks said, brings more value to Strive’s clients. 

When it comes to public pension funds, Frericks said, incorporating ESG effectively appropriates voter support for causes they might not support. He calls it “green smuggling.”

In the same way ESG defunded fossalil fuel development and cut out policymakers from the discussion, incorporating ESG into public investments has allowed progressives to push policies in states like Wyoming, Texas, and Florida that wouldn’t have otherwise adopted the measures. 

Frericks said it’s likely there’s going to be even more pushback as people seek value for their investments and more appropriate venues for politics.  

“We need a better way forward, one that allows capitalism to be capitalism, and where complex political issues are decided at the ballot box,” Frericks said. 

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Wyoming Number One For Business Start-Ups But Labor Shortages Are Severe

in News/Business
Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily
27477

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

The hairy, 400-pound gorillas in the room Wednesday at the Governor’s Business Forum in Laramie were inflation and a 3-to-1 ratio of available jobs to workers in Wyoming.

“There’s a word for the economics we’ve been living through today, and that word is just ‘weird,” economist Anne Alexander said, summing up the situation succinctly.

Inflation Affects Everyone

Immense infusions of cash during the 2020 pandemic may have helped stop businesses from hemorrhaging available jobs and many workers from losing incomes, but it has since contributed – along with supply chain issues – to record price increases.

“Inflation is now global,” Alexander said.

In the United States, record high inflation has prompted the Federal Reserve to raise the roof on interest rates at a rapid clip.

“They’ve been very hawkish,” Alexander said. “They’re trying to cool down an overheated economy. They’re trying to cause a recession. And I’m sorry to tell you that that is their job right now, because inflation is a tax on everyone. Unemployment is painful, but doesn’t affect everyone.”


Business leaders from around Wyoming gather in Laramie to talk about affordable housing, challenges with the modern workplace, inflation and more during the Governor’s Business Forum. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Labor Market ‘Just Nuts’

Inflation expectations remain moderate, Alexander said, but the labor market is “just nuts.”

“Another highly technical economics term,” Alexander quipped. “The pandemic has accelerated the retirement of our baby boomer generation, and a lot of people have become just a lot more picky about the kinds of jobs they want to have.”

On top of that picky job syndrome is a shortage of child care, Alexander said.

“We’ve had 10% of the (national) workforce, so 100,000 people, got out of that profession,” she said. “That has real impacts on families who are working. So, we’re just here with lots of rays of sunshine.”

What’s Wrong With Millennials?

Meanwhile, Center for Work Ethic Development CEO Josh Davies put an uplifting perspective on the many problems business owners are facing. 

His talk centered around what his firm has found is the number one job requirement for employers — good work ethics.

Older generations don’t feel that younger people have a good work ethic, Davies said. 

“What is wrong with this generation?” Davies asked. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this generation. The problem is this generation is ‘privileged, narcissistic, entitled and spoiled!’”

Having said that, Davies revealed that the quotes he was citing did not come from the time period everyone may have been thinking.

Matter Of Perspective

Those descriptors of young workers were actually from Life Magazine in 1968.

“We’re not talking about millennials, we’re talking about what we now call baby boomers,” he said, adding that complaints about young people go back even further than that.

“Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room,” he continued. “They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannize their teachers.”

That quote is from Socrates.

Everyone, meanwhile, is still saying millennials when they’re talking about young people, Davies added.

“We need to stop doing that,” he said. “The oldest millennials turned 41 this year.”

Instead, if there’s a discussion to be had about young people in the workplace, it should be about Generation Z.

“What’s the number one word that millennials use to describe Gen. Z?” Davies asked. “Lazy.” 

Work Ethic Can Be Taught

Regardless of which generation one wants to point fingers at, work ethic is something that can be taught, Davies said. But not the same way we’ve all become used to.

“The old approach (is) we’d point fingers and we’d penalize people,” Davies said. “We’d tell them what not to do.”

But the motivation of fear is not as powerful as tapping into the core motivations that drive people. And in a labor market where jobs are so readily available, that approach also won’t do much to build loyalty. 

Not All Doom and Gloom

Meanwhile, Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, brought a little bit of good news with him to the forum, particularly for Wyoming.

“Over the last few years, the last two and a half years, we’ve seen the greatest number of business applications in the United States ever,” he said. 

That’s not the kind of trajectory the nation saw after the 2008 recession.

Then, “we saw new startups plummet,” Sullivan said. “It took 10 years to get the trajectory going back up. After COVID hit, it took four months – fourth months – to start an upward trajectory. 

“That is tremendous news; tremendous news to the innovation and ingenuity of Americans.”

Why is that good news for Wyoming? 

“When you dig a little bit deeper into the statistics, Wyoming leads the pack,” Sullivan said. “You are experiencing startup growth in this state at 85% higher than you were in 2019.”

Number two on that list is Delaware, Sullivan said.

“Given the energy in this room throughout this forum, I think that Delaware is going to be following you for a long, long time,” he said.

Bringing It Home

Participants, meanwhile, were taking it all in with optimism intact.

Wyoming Health Fairs Executive Director Tandi Rinker told Cowboy State Daily she particularly appreciated the work ethic panel.

“It’s refreshing to hear that some of the things that we’re dealing with aren’t really new,” she said. “These examples went all the way back to Socrates, that they were having trouble with work ethics. So the problems that we are having aren’t new. They’re just the same problems.”

She also appreciated advice from Laura Lehan during the Modern Workplace panel about re-recruitment of existing talent, and from Chris Brown that smart employers are finding spots for talented people, even if their skillsets might not be a perfect fit.

“I’m gonna re-recruit all of (my workers), not just my stars, because those people that need to be re-recruited may become a star,” Rinker said. “They just need an opportunity. So that’s one of the things I’m going to go back and do immediately.”

Rinker, like many employers today, is facing staffing shortages, which in turn causes extra demand on existing employees. 

“Everybody wants to travel – until they have to travel,” she said. 

She hopes to open offices in Rock Springs and Riverton to reduce the need to travel and alleviate a pressure she believes leads to more turnover.

She’s also no longer thinking in terms of how many positions she has open. 

“I wouldn’t stop hiring,” she said. “If you need three, hire five.”

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Better Mental Health System Could Save More Wyoming Lives

in News/Health care/Business
Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily
27462

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Brad and Jan Cundy lost their son 11 years ago.

The parents are painfully aware that Wyoming is ranked No. 1 in the nation per capita for suicide. For them, that’s not just cold statistic. It’s an all-too-close-to-home reality tied to someone personal and dear, someone who they have forever lost. 

A Growing Focus

The Cundy’s are part of a gathering momentum in Wyoming to boost mental health awareness and treatment, and help save the lives of Wyoming’s young people.

“I believe one of the most important things we can do is talk about it,” Jan Cundy said during the Wellness in the Workplace Symposium in Laramie this week. 

The goal of the event was to bring business leaders together to talk about issues important in Wyoming and what can be done to improve mental health care across the state.

“Wyoming was No. 1 the year that Matt died,” Jan Cundy said about the Cowboy State leading the nation in suicide rate. “And 11 years later, we’re still No. 1. We’ve talked about it a lot, but we haven’t moved the needle nearly as much as the needle needs to be moved.”


Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily

Too High A Cost

The cost of not doing so are the lives of people like her son, who is forever 27, she said.

“We knew he was struggling,” Brad Cundy said. “We tried to get our arms wrapped around it. And as hard as we were trying in the six weeks leading up to that moment, it didn’t come together. There was a total lack of options to try to get him some help, and we failed. Out of that we had to be resilient.”

Part of that resilience has been talking about what happened, acknowledging what led up to it and helping others understand that change truly is needed. 

“It’s a terrible loss to anybody who goes through it,” Brad Cundy said. “And you have to survive, and you have to try to keep it from happening to other people like yourself. 

“You do that by talking about it, getting involved in schools and not being afraid to share that there’s an issue out there.”

Her Friend, Hero, Horse Whisperer and Dad

Shelby McCamey Terrill, of Texas, meanwhile, lost her father to depression. 

“It started over 20 years ago when I lost that man,” she said. “My best friend, my hero, my horse whisperer, my dad. He lost his battle with depression and took his own life.” 

She didn’t understand the world’s outlook on her father’s death at the time, or the shame over what he had done. She only began to understand more as she experienced her own battles with anxiety, depression, guilt and shame.


Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Coordinator Melissa Lords, left, and Army National Guard Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Alyssa McCann of Cheyenne were among those attending the Mental Wellness in the Workplace Symposium in Laramie on Tuesday, which seeks to inform business and health leaders how they can help shape policy to improve mental health care in Wyoming. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

‘Suicide Is Real’

“Every 40 seconds, someone dies of suicide,” she said. “Depression is real, anxiety is real, suicide is real.”

The stigma needs to stop, she added.

“You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to just stop eating sugar, so don’t tell someone to just get happy,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Terrill has founded a nonprofit organization called Yellow Felt Soul and travels around the country talking about mental health and depression. Her yellow hat is a colorful symbol to help others understand what depression feels like.

“Yellow in the rodeo industry signifies bad luck,” she said. “You’re going to hit a barrel, you’re going to miss your steer, your calf, you’re not going to make 8 seconds in the rough stock, etc.”

Depression is a lot like wearing yellow, but not just in a rodeo, which ultimately ends so the riders can all go home.

“You feel like it’s 24/7, the world and everyone in it,” Terrill said.

Listen

Making a difference can be as simple as just listening, letting a person know someone cares. 

“I have had multiple people reach out through my website, through social media, just wanting someone to listen,” Terrill said. “That’s all it takes sometimes for them not to take that next step.”

Ask directly about suicide, Terrill added, and listen without judgement. 

“Show understanding and take their concerns seriously,” she said. “And the third (step) is to encourage them to seek help.”

‘They Don’t Want To Be Me’

State Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, meanwhile, talked about losing a respected colleague last year, Lt. Daniel Dundas of the Casper Police Department.

“To their credit, both the police department and Danny’s family courageously stepped forward and acknowledged his cause of death,” Washut said. “And that allowed for the open conversation to occur. 

“Far too often these cases occur, and they become whispers around the water cooler and conversations held in hushed tones. That’s not what we need with this issue.”

The death of such a well-respected police officer prompted Washut to recommend a budget amendment in 2021 that would provide support for a health and wellness conference, which happened in Casper this past summer.

Washut also met with Dundas’ widow to talk about some policy ideas.

“She told me how many dozens of phone calls she has received from spouses of officers and firefighters and others,” Washut said. “And she said in a very clear tone, ‘They don’t want to be me. They don’t want to be me.’ That just kind of hit me in the gut, and it really brought me to the table of being a policymaker.”

Become Policy-Shapers

Washut encourages business leaders to talk about the issues with lawmakers.

“We may be policymakers, but you could be policy-shapers by inviting us to see the world that you see,” he said. “To see the world that you experience every day in your workforce. That brings a level of awareness to your policymakers so that when we then meet in our official capacities, we have more than just empathy. We have some knowledge. We have some understanding that will guide our decisions.”

Unity, he added, also is important when making the case to lawmakers for change. Disagreement between factions of people who should be on the same side tends to cause lawmakers to hit the pause button. They can’t see a clear path forward.

“When we talk about suicide for a new mom, or suicide for a first responder, or suicide for an elderly person with cancer, the dynamics are going to be different, right?” Washut said. “They’re going to be different things, there will be different needs, perhaps different causes. 

“But, wherever possible, the more unified the voice that’s calling for change or calling for funding, the greater the likelihood that you will see change, and that you will receive the funding.”

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Fed Plan: Wyoming To Receive 17 EV Charging Stations For $19 Million; None Likely Profitable

in News/wyoming economy/Business
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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

If the Wyoming Department of Transportation were to follow all the federal guidelines laid out for a program that pays to build and operate more charging stations along the nation’s roadways, Wyoming would need 17 charging stations at a cost of about $19 million — and they wouldn’t be profitable.

Federal guidelines for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program require that charging stations be placed every 50 miles along the interstates and that they be located no more than a mile from an exit.

To meet those requirements, 17 charging stations would need to be built along Interstates 25, 80 and 90 through Wyoming, which would cost about $19 million of the $24 million available through the program over the next five years. 

The program requires a 20% match from private businesses that would build and operate the stations. No money would be required from the state of Wyoming. 

Charging Station Price Tag

With only a few hundred EVs registered in Wyoming, the stations would primarily serve out-of-state drivers for the benefit of the state’s tourism industry. With so few cars using the stations, though, they wouldn’t likely be profitable. 

Patrick Lawson, owner of Wild West EV, said there are a lot of variables that go into the costs of building a charging station, and inflation rates are raising that. Lawson said ballpark figures are about $500,000 per station, which means the feds would pay $400,000 per station. 

The Wyoming Department of Transportation did an analysis of costs for a fully compliant NEVI program in the state. Based on responses from six companies, the state’s plan estimated costs of construction would be between $478,000 and $725,000 per station, which doesn’t include costs associated with installing a 480-volt 3-phase power supply. 

One company estimated that the cost of construction and operation over a decade would be between $587,000 and $837,000, based on an average of 10 station visitors per day. 

“In the end, it would create a system that is not economically feasible for private industry, especially Wyoming-owned businesses and disadvantaged communities, two entities the program is designated to primarily support,” Luke Reiner, WYDOT director, wrote in the introduction of the state’s submitted plan. 

The plan, which the Federal Highway Administration approved in September, notes that many of the 17 stations would have no nearby services and be built in areas with population densities of less than 50 people per square mile. The plan WYDOT submitted requested 11 exemptions to present a charging station plan that makes more sense in Wyoming. The feds approved three of the exemptions.



Tesla Superchargers

Jordan Achs, a spokesperson with WYDOT, said the department still hasn’t received any guidance on why eight of the exemptions were denied or if there’s some kind of appeal process to get the Federal Highway Administration to reconsider. 

The plan Wyoming submitted includes options to pursue in case the feds denied the exemptions. Without the exemptions, the state plans to build four stations at Pine Bluffs, Buffalo, Douglas and Sundance.

Additionally, three more would be built depending on whether Tesla opens its Supercharger stations to non-Tesla drivers. The company announced last summer it would, but Achs said the department hasn’t heard any official announcement when this will happen. 

Assuming Tesla doesn’t make its stations available to all EV owners, federal NEVI money will be used to build three more stations at Sheridan, Wheatland and Laramie.

The highway department would then use remaining NEVI funding to support the stations’ operations over the next five years, which would cost $7 million to $12 million. 

Achs said the highway administration hasn’t finalized all the rules for the program, which may be a few months away, and WYDOT can’t issue requests for proposals until those rules are announced. The department also will need to submit plans annually to receive the full $24 million available for Wyoming’s program. 

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Judge Extends Injunction Blocking Albertsons’ $4 Billion Payout Ahead Of Proposed Kroger Merger

in News/wyoming economy
27195

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

A judge in Washington state has extended a temporary injunction blocking Albertson’s $4 billion payout to shareholders ahead of a proposed mega-merger with Kroger that has been sharply criticized by union leaders in Wyoming.

Local 7 President Kim Cordova, who represents about 750 Kroger and Albertsons workers in Wyoming, has previously told Cowboy State Daily she believes the payout is designed to weaken Albertsons, making it impossible to stop the proposed $25 billion monster merger.

“Kroger’s going to come and say, ‘Look FTC, you’re going to have to approve this because Albertsons just, you know, gave all their money back, and they’re going to file bankruptcy, and so you need to approve this,’” she said. “They’re just making the merger go through. They’re not going to operate both stores within the same parking lot.”

States Sue

Her criticism is similar to that in a case filed by the state of Washington’s attorney general in King County Superior Court, where judge Ken Schubert on Thursday extended the injunction on grounds the state’s case is likely to succeed on the merits. The order gives Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson more time to prepare his case. 

A new hearing date is 3 p.m. Nov. 17.

In his order, Schubert also noted that Albertsons disclosed in an Oct. 18 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it will fund the $4 billion payout with not just cash on hand, but a $1.5 billion loan.

“Once Albertsons distributes the dividend to shareholders, the money will be irrecoverable and plaintiff will be unable to carry out its constitutionally mandated statutory duty to protect commerce and consumers in the state of Washington,” Schubert wrote. 

Another State In The Mix

So far three other states also filed a lawsuit to block the dividend payout. 

Illinois, California and Washington D.C., filed in federal District Court, outlining a case very similar Washington’s.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenbaum, meanwhile, has joined the fray. She filed an amicus brief in the Washington state case, saying the outcome of the matter is crucial to protecting Oregon consumers from monopolies.

“The proposed acquisition of Albertsons has the potential to harm competition and consumers,” she wrote. “And these potential harms are of critical interest to Oregon, which depends on the economic dynamism that competition promotes, and for which the Organ Attorney General is tasked with protecting. The proposed merger of these major retailers presents a substantial matter of public interest.”

Rosenblum’s office also sent a letter to Albertsons notifying them that Oregon would be investigating the transaction in detail. 

The letter included a Civil Investigative Demand — essentially a request for any and all internal documents related to the transaction. 

Washington, too, has requested more details on the transaction, including board minutes and other internal board communications relating to dividend and its effect on Albertsons.

Impacts For Communities

Cordova has told Cowboy State Daily that consumers have already seen what happens in these big grocery store chain mergers, and it’s not the lower prices and higher wages that the two companies are promising right now in press kits and media releases.

“The map shows you how concentrated and how many stores overlap in the western part of the U.S.,” she said. “I mean, Southern California, (Colorado), Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas — Safeway and Albertsons control the market and Kroger. 

“In some of our areas throughout both states, they control almost 100% of the grocery market.”

Too Much Spin

She also is skeptical of a proposed spin-off grocery chain to be created as part of the merger to keep markets competitive. Spinco, she suggested, is mere spin to get the deal past federal regulators.

“They’re not going to let that competitor thrive,” Cordova said. “They sell them a lemon, basically.”

That’s what happened when Albertsons took over Safeway in 2015, she suggested. As part of that merger, Albertsons sold off 168 locations, many of them to Haggen Foods & Pharmacy.

Those stores were all bankrupt within a year, widening food deserts in the West and leading to hundreds of layoffs.

“We’re already suffering the high cost of inflation,” she said. “And now you’re going to have just two giant behemoths in control of our whole country’s food supply chain.”

Albertsons Responds

“Albertsons Cos. Is a thriving business, which has delivered over $75 billion in revenues in the rolling four quarters ended Sept. 10, 2022, following strong performance of $71.9 billion in revenues in fiscal 2021,” Albertsons has told Cowboy State Daily for a previous story on the proposed merger. “Albertsons Cos. Is well-capitalized, with limited debt and significant free cash flow, and is in a strong position financially. The size of the dividend reflects the Company’s strength, rather than the illogical and damaging accusation that it is an attempt to weaken the company.”

After it pays out the special dividend, the company will still have $3 billion in liquidity, including $500 million cash on hand and $2.5 billion in its lending facility.

“Albertsons Cos. Intends to argue vigorously based on the factual record, that there is simply no basis to continue restraining the payment of the Special Dividend,” the statement concluded.

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Wyoming Turkey Prices More Than Double Due To Inflation, Bird Flu; Shortages To Impact Thanksgiving

in News/wyoming economy/Thanksgiving
26948

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Nonprofits across the state are struggling to put together their traditional Thanksgiving boxes and community feasts amid inflation and a shortage of turkeys caused by avian influenza.

Bird flu has swept across the nation from Maine to Wyoming, forcing the destruction of more than 23 million turkeys, chickens and game birds, which has pushed prices up dramatically, according to figures from American Farm Bureau Federation.

Record Prices

In September, retail prices for fresh boneless, skinless turkey breast hit a new record at $6.70 per pound — 112% higher than the same time last year, when prices were just $3.16 a pound. 

The previous record was $5.88 a pound seen in November 2015, which also came after a widespread outbreak of avian influenza. 


Photo by Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily

A Fowl Dilemma

While Walmart recently announced that it’s rolling back prices to 2019 levels for selected holiday staples — including turkey — through Dec. 26, supply remains a significant barrier for many nonprofits. They seek out large numbers of turkeys all at once. 

In addition, the gap between retail and wholesale prices has narrowed significantly, removing a primary benefit of cash donations. That has many nonprofit leaders saying they prefer a bird in hand to cash donations this year. 

Among these is Josh Watanabe, executive director of Laramie Interfaith.

“We’ve got the storage issue kind of squared, and we think we can manage it,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “We’re working with a bunch of community partners here in Laramie that have freezers and have the ability to help store all those things. We kind of secured that in the past day or two. 

“So at this point, we really just would like to have the turkeys in hand so that we know we’ve got them to give out to our families.”

Offering a meat other than turkey is problematic, Watanabe said. Not only are hams also expensive, but the real issue in switching things around last minute are logistics.

“We have to let our retail partners know well in advance what we’re going to be sending people over there to get, so, you know, at this point, where (switching meat for) one or two wouldn’t be that big of a deal, I think shifting half of our load over to something else, I’m not sure they’d appreciate that,” he said.

Cost Crunch

Turkey is not the only trouble spot for nonprofits. Inflation has made just about everything in a traditional holiday feast more expensive than usual, whether it’s sweet potatoes and cranberries or gas to travel pick up and deliver donations.

Meanwhile, the need facing nonprofits is growing.

Tim Simeroth, captain of the Casper Salvation Army, told Cowboy State Daily he thinks his organization will likely need 600 birds this year, a significant increase from the 400 needed last year.

“In February, we were doing 30 families a day,” he said. “But now we’re anywhere from 90 to 100 a day.”

He’s looking at putting hams or “whatever we can get” into some holiday boxes if he cannot source enough turkeys.

“We’re just going to have to source other things besides turkeys this year,” he said.

‘I’ll Find Them’

Glen Chavez, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily he has reached out to every grocery store in the Cheyenne area for turkeys, with no luck so far.

“Right now, they’re telling me they can’t help me this year because there’s a shortage of turkeys,” he said. “In fact, they told me Walmart distribution isn’t even going to give their employees turkeys this year.”

Chavez has started calling national distribution centers in his search for the 300 turkeys he needs for an annual effort that feeds around 3,000 military personnel and family members in Cheyenne.

“I’ll find them,” Chavez said, determined. “I find them every year. I hear this actually every year, but not like this year. We’re in a different economy, a different state of mind than we have been in years past.”

Shoppers On The Lookout

Individual shoppers also are facing more obstacles than usual when it comes to their own family feasts.

Susan Lowrie at Walmart in Cheyenne on Tuesday afternoon was looking over the turkeys. She was pleasantly surprised to discover the store’s price rollback. 

“That’s a really good price,” she said. 

She usually shops at Sam’s Club, she told Cowboy State Daily, but hadn’t been able to buy a turkey there yet. There simply weren’t any. 

She has family coming in for both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year and has been shopping sales to stockpile what she will need ahead of time, concerned about supply chain issues.

“My son is coming in for Christmas in December and he likes turkey,” she said. “So I’m going to get two turkeys.”

Bird Flu 

The biggest reason for this year’s turkey shortage is not just supply chain issues and inflation that has ramped up input costs, though neither helps. 

The main reason for the shortage is the bird flu outbreak that’s swept across 24 states.

Tens of millions of birds have died since the first case was confirmed in February in Indiana. Since early April, health officials have reported the culling of 23 million turkeys, chickens and game birds.

Health experts have said avian influenza generally doesn’t enter the nation’s food supply, since contaminated flocks are isolated and destroyed the moment avian influenza is identified and confirmed. But the virus is also not transmissible from eating properly cooked poultry and eggs.

Wild birds, including wild turkeys, also are dying from bird flu.

Montana, for example, confirmed seven dead turkeys near Billings about a month ago. Not long after, Wyoming also found dead turkeys near Sheridan, which forced the depopulation of broodstock at a captive pheasant farm managed by Wyoming Game and Fish.

At least 38 wild birds have tested positive for H5N1 in Wyoming, according to state officials, but testing is not done on all dead wild birds because of the expense, so the numbers likely under-represent what is actually out there.

There also have been reports of the virus in high densities in the Big Horn Basin, the east side of Bighorn Mountains, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, in South Pass, east of Casper and near Cheyenne.

To report clusters of dead birds of three or more, call the Game and Fish wildlife health laboratory at 307-745-5865.

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California Sells $2 Billion Powerball Winner; Wyoming Shut Out Again

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
26923

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

The Cowboy State has again been shut out of a major national lottery jackpot, dashing the hopes of thousands of Wyomingites who’ve been sharing their not-so-serious hopes online that they could skip work Tuesday after a ticket sold in California won a record Powerball prize estimated at $2.04 billion. 

Wyoming is among four states that participate in the lottery that have never had a winner. The other three are North Dakota, Vermont and Maine. Utah, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Alabama do not participate directly in the lottery, though people from those states have been known to cross state lines to buy tickets.

Claims Of Conspiracy

Lottery officials announced that a winning jackpot ticket was sold in California after a 10-hour delay in drawing the Powerball numbers that quickly generated chains of conspiracy theories and jokes across social media.

Powerball USA said the delay was due to one state’s difficulty in completing all required security protocols. It wouldn’t name which state that was.

The winning ticket numbers were 10, 33, 41, 47, 56 and the Powerplay number was 10. 

The winning jackpot ticket is worth an estimated $2.04 billion, if the winner decided to take the prize as an annuity. Otherwise, the lump sum payout is $997.6 million — before taxes. 

$50,000 Winner In Green River

There were a few other winners in Monday night’s Powerball drawing, including a $50,000 ticket sold in Green River. The drawing before Monday night’s there also was a $150,000 winning ticket sold in Buffalo. 

No details are known about those winners. Neither of the winners has come forward, Cowboy State Daily was told. 

Wyomingites collectively won $178,000 playing Monday’s Powerball. Those who bought tickets are advised to verify their tickets at any lottery retailer. Winners can then claim their prizes. 

Other Winners

Winners in other states from Monday night’s drawing included a Florida ticket worth $2 mililon for the Power Play Match 5/5, and 22 players in various states — none of them Wyoming — who each won $1 million for the Powerball Match 5/5.

Wyoming Reacts

The odds of winning were 1 in 292.2 million. By comparison, getting hit by lightning is slightly less than 1 in 1 million odds, while being bitten by a shark is listed as 1 in 3.75 million by Petpedia.com.

Wyomingites were not immune to cracking a few off-color jokes about the delay and even some tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theories on WyoLotto’s Facebook page.

“I predict Hunter Biden wins the jackpot,” wrote Joe Zuback from Pinedale.

“Conspiracy theorists will have a hay day!!!” wrote Carla Bennick Norris of Lander.

“Great!!” exclaimed Randy Toohey of Gillette. “The same people counting votes are running Powerball!!!”

Others had more serious questions, such as whether they could still buy tickets — No, WyoLotto told them — and what would happen if all tickets were invalidated.

“We understand everyone’s concern, please hold on tight to those tickets!” Wyoming Lottery wrote in response. “You can check them online at our website; however, the ability to cash them out at retailers will become available as soon as possible.”

That post included a link to watch the numbers being drawn on YouTube. , at https://tinyurl.com/5ecwdjtw. 

Brisk Ticket Sales

Ticket sales across Wyoming were fast and furious Monday. The state overall pulled in more than $2.3 million in lottery sales Oct. 30 through Nov. 5. Average ticket sales, by comparison, are more like $154,000 per week, WyoLotto spokeswoman Ashley Pexton told Cowboy State Daily in an email. 

A sizable number of the state’s ticket sales came from people in Utah, which doesn’t participate in Powerball. Uinta County, where a lot of those ticket sales happen, took in $990,912 of the Oct. 30 through Nov. 5 ticket sales haul.

Back To ‘Only’ $20 Million

After all the hype of the record Powerball, the lottery game gos on, albeit with a new and dramatically lower jackpot. 

It’s now a paltry $20 million. 

Mega Millions, meanwhile, is worth an estimated $154 million. The next numbers for that game will be drawn Tuesday. 

Things To Know

Powerball tickets are $2 each, plus $1 to buy the Power Play, while Mega Millions is $2 for each set of six numbers and $1 per play for its Megaplier. 

Lottery tickets require cash, no checks or debit cards allowed, per state statute.

Those who win should make sure to keep the physical ticket. It must be scanned at a WyoLotto retailer or WyoLotto headquarters before it can be claimed. That is regardless of using the mobile App to “save” a ticket.

Powerball tickets are drawn every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 8:59 p.m. Ticket sales close one hour prior at 7:59 p.m., and then reopen shortly after the drawing concludes.

Mega Millions, meanwhile, is drawn Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 p.m., with ticket sales closing one hour prior at 8 p.m. Sales also reopen soon after the drawing concludes. The odds of winning that jackpot are even worse than Powerball at 1 in 302.6 million.

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Cheyenne Man Says He Loves Driving His Tesla So Much He Does Uber

in News/Transportation/Business
Kevin Killough, Cowboy State Daily
26828

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

While Teslas don’t appeal to many Wyoming drivers, those who own the high-end electronic vehicles love them. 

TJ Doan so enjoys driving his Tesla Model 3 that he works as an Uber and Lyft driver on weekends just for the fun of driving his car. 

“I get to have some fun, go out and meet new people, spread the Tesla love and make some money on the side,” Doan said, who works as an IT consultant with Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. for his day job.

3,000 Rides

In 2018, a coworker had a Tesla and let Doan take it for a drive. Within a week, Doan had one of his own. 

When he first got it, Doan said he’d just drive around for the fun of it. 

“I was driving around aimlessly,” Doan told Cowboy State Daily. 

Eventually, it dawned on him that he could make some money and have fun doing it. He estimates he’s given about 3,000 rides over the last three years. 

Doan puts his Tesla in service Friday and Saturday nights, and he’s had the car full of bar-goers having a good time. Despite some inebriated revelers, he said he’s never had a problem customer. It’s like he’s just part of the party. 

“I’m at home with that, just shooting the shit and cranking up the music for them,” Doan said. 

The Tesla is known for its acceleration, which for the Tesla 3 is about 0-60 in 3 seconds. When he has the chance, he’ll show his riders what the car can do. 

Doan said the weekend partiers he drives around Cheyenne always ask a lot of questions about the car — how it drives, what it costs, how fast it goes. The car itself acts as a great conversation piece. 

Little Brain

Tesla started out in 2008 with the Roadster. That model would set a buyer back about $200,000, putting the car well outside the budget for most people. The company followed the Roadster up with the Tesla Model S in 2012, which was half the price of the Roadster but still unaffordable for most new car buyers. 

In 2016, aiming to bring the purchase price within the range of more consumers’ budgets, Tesla released the Model 3, which retailed at about $47,000. 

Doan has the full self-driving (FSD) software installed in his Model 3, which contrary to its name is not really fully self-driving. When the car comes up to the Cheyenne intersection of Missile Drive and West 19th Street, for example, which is an odd merging of highway and city road, the car comes to a near stop and wobbles right and left. 

“You can see its little brain working,” Doan said with a chuckle. 

He takes the wheel and guides the Tesla through the intersection. He then presses a button to report the data back to Tesla so the company can continue to improve the software. It updates regularly, just like software on a laptop. 

There are a few other locations where the car can’t figure out what’s going on, but on a long drive Doan can hold the wheel and just let the car take him to his destination. When it sees a truck, it will put on the blinker, check the blind spot and maneuver around the truck and ahead of it. 

“It’s basically glorified cruise control,” Doan said. “You can just kind of sit here, keep your hand on the wheel and just watch the car go.”

Vegas Cures Anxiety

Doan said he never gets range anxiety, which is a term that electric vehicle (EV) drivers give to the fear their car will run out of juice. Unlike a gas-powered car, when an EV’s battery drains to zero charge, the car has to be towed and it harms the battery. 

He said he used to get range anxiety, but then he took the car to Las Vegas.

“It was an eye-opener,” Doan said. 

Not only was it easy to find charging stations all along the way, with its self-driving modes, there was no road strain that comes from long hours of driving. 

Typically, an EV driver wants to keep the charge between 20% and 80%. Going over 80% doesn’t hurt the battery, but it does take a very long time to charge from 80% to 100%. 

This ideal charge range is what creates some misperceptions about long-distance driving in an EV, Doan explained. You’re not looking for a place to charge the car to 100%. Instead, you pull over to the fast charging stations and charge just enough to get to the next one. So, charging from a low charge to 80% can take 20-40 minutes, or longer. But you don’t necessarily have charge to 80%. . 

Sitting in Cheyenne with a batter at 46%, Doan plugs into the car’s app a destination to Salt Lake City, which would take about 6.5 hours in a gas-powered car. It would take about eight hours in Doan’s half-charged Tesla. For a long trip like that, Doan would start out with 100%, so it would be closer to 7-7.5 hours.

Impressed Customers

He said his Uber and Lyft customers are often so impressed with the car and ride that they’ve asked how they might request him specifically. In the interest of safety, rideshare apps don’t allow for that and Doan doesn’t give out his cellphone number. 

“It’s a bummer. I feel bad for having to tell them that, but it’s for insurance purposes,” he said

Doan said there’s a lot more competition for riders now as well, so some weekends he gets no hits. When there are no customers, he can sit back and watch Netflix through the car’s software. Or he just goes back to driving around aimlessly while waiting for another customer. 

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Wyoming Powerball Sales Breaking Records In Chance To Win $1.9 Billion Jackpot

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
26848

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

An unknown WyoLotto player in Buffalo won $150,000 in Saturday’s Powerball drawing by matching four of five numbers and taking the Power Play, but an overall winner was not drawn.

That pushes the next Powerball jackpot at a cool $1.9 billion — yes billion with a ‘B’ — for those taking the annuity. The next drawing is Monday night.

It’s a record, and from Oct. 30 through Nov. 5, the huge Powerball jackpot has pulled more than $2.3 million in ticket sales from convenience and liquor stores across Wyoming. Average ticket sales, by comparison, are $154,000 per week, WyoLotto spokeswoman Ashley Pexton told Cowboy State Daily in an email.

Some of those ticket sales are Utah residents who cannot buy Powerball tickets in their state. A lot of those ticket sales happen in Uinta County, which has reported $990,912 in sales Oct. 30 through Nov. 5.


Photo by Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Feeling Lucky

Ticket sales were brisk throughout Wyoming on Monday and appeared to be trending more quickly now that the lottery has ballooned to such a huge jackpot.

Will Cramer, owner of the Rodeo West Exxon in Cody, told Cowboy State Daily his ticket sales Monday are about double what he usually sells. He’s had customers buying a ticket every other minute or so.

He bought five tickets himself, and like most plyers, doesn’t expect to win.

But Cramer already has some ideas what he’d do if he does.

“I would make a lot of improvements to the store, and we’ll keep the store going,” he said. “I’d buy a vacation home. I don’t have a lot of thoughts beyond that, but I would definitely give to charities and, you know, take care of my employees and family.”

So, You’re Telling Us There’s A Chance …

The odds of winning the jackpot are beyond miniscule at a chance of 1 in 292.2 million for each ticket, Pexton said.

Or, as Kim Bo of Gillette says in a post on the WyoLotto Facebook page, “You got a better chance of getting hit in the head by a meteorite.”

On the other hand, as Pat Colgan of Cheyenne put it to Cowboy State Daily, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

Colgan bought six tickets at Town and Country Supermarket Liquors on Monday morning, a spur-of-the-moment decision.

He told Cowboy State Daily he would try to keep it a big secret if he were to score the jackpot. 

Not that he’s expecting to win. 

“I don’t have any idea what I’d do with the money,” he said with a shrug. “I haven’t thought about it.”

Buying In Bulk

Chatima Hughes, on the other hand, has a long list of things she would do with her slice of the jackpot if her office pool wins.

“I’d buy a bigger house, get out of debt and set up our kids for life,” she said. “Hopefully, hopefully, we’ll be able to bring it to fruition.”

Hughes bought 138 Powerball tickets for her office pool during a lunch break at a Maverik Adventure’s First Stop in Cheyenne on Monday. Each person in the pool chipped in $10 for the bulk buy.

The consensus of Hughes’ office pool is that they would want a lump-sum payout rather than an annuity. That would slice a significant chunk of change out of the jackpot, which is only $1.9 billion for those taking the annuity.

‘Better Than A Stick In The Eye’

The cash value of the prize is $929.1 million as a lump sum, Pexton said. That’s before Uncle Sam takes his share of federal and/or jurisdictional taxes. 

It’s still a healthy sum for each person in the pool, Hughes pointed out. 

“It’s better than a stick in the eye,” she said.

As far as how the group would accept the prize if it wins, Hughes said no one has really thought about that yet. It’s a bridge to cross if and when they are so lucky.

“I know that they’re looking forward to hopefully being the big winner,” she said while acknowledging the odds are not necessarily in their favor despite a rather large purchase of tickets.

“I think the odds are probably still 230 out of 3 million or so,” she said. 

Hughes, Colgan and Cramer all confirmed they don’t normally play the lottery. 

“Unless the pot gets really big,” Hughes said. “Then I go in with a bunch of friends.”

Powerball 101

Powerball tickets are $2 each, plus $1 if you buy the Power Play. The tickets must be paid for with cold hard cash. No checks or debit cards allowed, per state statue.

Should you buy a winning ticket, it’s important to keep the physical ticket even if you are using the mobile App to “save” your ticket. The physical ticket must be scanned at either a WyoLotto retailer or the WyoLotto Headquarters.

Powerball is not the only jackpot that’s high. Mega Millions has reached $154 million and Wyoming’s own Cowboy Draw is at an estimated $1.15 million payout. There’a also Keno, which offers up to $200,000, and 2by2 is $22,000 or double that on Tuesday. Lucky for Life participants, meanwhile, can win $1,000 every day for life.

The Wyoming Lottery was established in 2014 to generate revenue for the state. It has since generated more than $28.29 million since then to the state, which then distributes the money to Wyoming cities, towns and counties as unrestricted funds. The October distribution was $1.412 million.

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A Room Full Of Tarantulas? Wyoming Firefighter Says ‘Absolutely!’

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
greg@cowboystatedaily.com

Twilight Sparkle is by far Emmalynn Johnson’s favorite. 

She’s small, energetic and very colorful – which is why the Rawlins 4-year-old decided on Twilight Sparkle when naming her.

Emmalynn’s father smiles as he coaxes Twilight Sparkle out, her eight hairy legs skittering around a tiny terrarium to perch atop the burrow she’s built.

“This is by far the most colorful tarantula we have here,” said KeeGan Johnson standing in front of a glass-doored cabinet in the family’s “spider room.”


Michaela Johnson holds her 5-year-old tarantula, Mazarin, in a room dedicated to spiders in her Rawlins home. Her husband, KeeGan Johnson, raises tarantulas and jumping spiders and estimates he has about 15 species, ranging from tiny dwarf tarantulas to a large goliath. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

More Than A Hobby

While Twilight Sparkle is a favorite of his young children, the Rawlins firefighter said he usually doesn’t name any of the dozens of tarantulas and jumping spiders he breeds and sells online.

Twilight Sparkle is better known as a candy shop spider, or more formally typhochlaena seladonia, an extremely rare and endangered tarantula found in parts of the Brazilian rainforest.

“I’ve always been into bugs and frogs and anything I could catch when I was growing up,” Johnson told Cowboy State Daily. “I think it was my eighth grade year when I ended up stumbling across a video of this really beautiful tarantula.”

That started what’s become a passion for all things tarantula.

KeeGan has studied the dozens of species and can pronounce their Latin names with ease: poecilotheria subfusca, morposutogry balfouri and cyriocosmus elegens to name a few.

“I started watching this guy’s videos and he was pronouncing all the Latin names for the,” he said. “I was thinking that’s super cool, and the tarantulas he had were all super-colorful and all sorts of different sizes and body types.”

Now KeeGan and his wife Michaela not only keep tarantulas as pets, they’ve begun breeding and selling them.



‘My Biggest Phobia’

Today, they make a super Wyoming spider team. But that wasn’t the case to start.

“When we first got together, KeeGan said that his favorite things he wanted to get into was tarantulas,” Michaela said. “And that, at the time, was my biggest phobia.

“I remember thinking that of all the men on this earth, I had to pick the one that wanted specifically the one thing I’m most terrified of.”

But marriage is about compromise, right? 

Michaela said she wanted to support her husband’s passion and made a deal with him: “I got something and he got the tarantula.”

When that first spider died soon after getting it, she’d turned the corner a bit on her arachnophobia.

“Seeing him have it and how happy he was about having it, I was like, ‘Well, I guess we can get another one,’” she said. “And then it just didn’t stop.”

His Business Has Legs

That’s when the collecting really began, which evolved into the Johnsons’ tarantula breeding business, Outhouse Oddities.

They connect with people all over the United States and have sold and shipped spiders as far away as Florida. It’s mostly an online business through their Facebook page and a message board for arachnophiles.

And yes, you can send tarantulas through the mail, KeeGan said. He usually ships overnight and uses crush-proof boxes equipped with either hot or cold packs, depending on the season so the spiderlings (or “lings” as he calls them) don’t die of cold or heat en route.

“They’re so small that temperatures really affect them,” he said.

The cost of a tarantula varies widely depending on species, breed and sex, KeeGan said. That’s because some species are more sought-after and females often live many times longer than males.

He’s raising about 15 species now in the back bedroom of his home, including some that are rare and endangered.

“I’ve been trying to breed (the endangered specimens) to preserve them because we can’t get them anymore,” he said.


This tiny tarantula is a Cyriocosmus elegans, also known as a Trinidad dwarf tarantula and displays distinctive gold markings. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Queen of the Cluster

While her husband has a very scientific take on their tarantulas, Michaela is the one who names them. And while she’s no longer scared of having dozens of tarantulas in her house, she’s also not a total arachnophile convert either.

“Not once did I think that a whole room in my house would be dedicated to spiders,” she said. “These in here are OK.

“But normal house spiders? If there’s a random house spider, that does freak me out. Some of the tarantulas scare me, but it depends on. What their personality is.”

Although she’s fine with having the tarantulas, Michaela will only hold one, her own personal pet Mazarin.

The morposutogry balfouri, or blue baboon, tarantula is 5 years old and about the size of Michaela’s palm. She’s docile enough and is easily handled.

“That’s my spider,” she said, adding that Mazarin “is just the biggest old sweetheart.”


About the size of KeeGan Johnson’s open hand, this Theraphosa apophysis, aka pink foot Goliath, can grow to have legs as long as 13 inches. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Respect, Don’t Fear

While spiders are often depicted as malevolent monsters by movie-makers who capitalize on humans’ fears of arachnids, KeeGan said there’s really no reason to fear them – even giants like some species of tarantula.

“Everybody thinks that they’re, like, out to get them,” he said. “But in reality, they’re scared of you. They’re definitely more afraid than you are. Most of them are pretty decent on tolerating a lot of things. They’re teddy bears.”

That said, it’s still not a good idea to antagonize a tarantula.

“Some just have a shorter fuse than others,” KeeGan said. “Some of them have very, very bad reputations, but I don’t disturb them and I don’t try to antagonize them.

“There are some spicy ones out there, and for the most part, they’re just being defensive, but some of them have shorter fuses.”



The Hollywood Treatment

About those Hollywood spiders, KeeGan said he finds himself analyzing them, especially the tarantulas, like Aragog from the “Harry Potter” franchise and the tarantula in “Home Alone.”

Then there’s Shelob, the giant spider that tries to eat Frodo and Sam on their way into Mordor in “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” KeeGan said it’s not really a spider at all.

While a critical of Hollywood spiders, there’s one arachno-friendly fantasy treatment he’s a big fan of.

“I love Spider-Man!” he said. “It’s just a beautiful concept. It would be nice to have some super strength and be able to shoot webs and climb walls.”

As long as KeeGan sticks to his tarantulas and jumping spiders, Michaela is 100% supportive of her husband’s passion and budding business.

“But if he caught a black widow outside, I would NOT be OK with that,” she said.

Michaela may not still be a total convert to all things with eight legs, her children seem to be. Along with Emmalynn and her favorite Twilight Sparkle, 2-year-old Ryleigh also has no fear, wanting to hold and handle anything her daddy does.

That’s OK for the most part, KeeGan said, shutting the door so she wouldn’t get too close to the theraphosa apophysis.

To the layperson, that’s his pinkfoot goliath tarantula, which can grow to have legs as long as 13 inches. While KeeGan’s is still relatively small – about the size of his open hand – it seems docile this day, content to just sit on top of its burrow.

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Wyoming Has Highest Rate of $1,000-Per-Month Car Payments

in News/wyoming economy/Business
26739

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Between July 1 and Sept. 30, more than one in four Wyomingites financed a new car purchase with payments over $1,000 per month, according to research by Edmunds, an online car shopping resource. That’s the highest ration in the nation.

High prices and interest rates are part of the reason, but it’s also the popularity of big trucks that put the Cowboy State in the highest position. 

Temporary Inventory

Buying a new car has been a challenge this year because inventories are slim, which also has kept prices high. 

Chris Shelledy, new car manager at White’s Frontier Motors in Gillette — a Buick, Chevrolet, GMC dealership — said the company has 18 trucks on the lot currently, up from three last month.

Shelledy said new trucks are always in demand and typically don’t stay on the lot long. 

“They’re typically sold before they get here. Somebody has a hold on it, puts a deposit on it and wants it as soon as it arrives,” Shelledy said. 

Scott Larsen, marketing director for Yellowstone Motors LLC in Powell, a Toyota dealership, said the inventory there is “incrementally better.” 

As with many dealerships, demand is ready to pounce on any supply. 

“We have some new Toyotas on the lot, and we expect that to be a temporary situation,” Larsen said. 

He said auto inventories are nowhere near the levels they were three years ago before the pandemic scrambled supply chains. 

“Yeah, inventories are up, because when your inventory is zero, everything’s up from there,” Larsen said. 

Big Truck States

Texas had the second highest rate, at 20.8% of new car purchases with monthly payments over $1,000, and Utah came in third at 19.1%. Like Wyoming, consumers in Utah and Texas like large trucks. 

Rhode Island had the lowest percentage in that category. 

Across the nation, 14.3% of consumers agreed to $1,000 monthly payments for their new car purchases during the three-month period, which was the highest percentage ever recorded in Edmunds’ data. Whether consumers are buying a new F-150 or a Nissan Leaf, prices and interest rates are up for everyone. 

Average 72-month APR in Wyoming for October was 6.33%, which was about average for the nation. Nationally, the rate was up from 5.1% in May. 

Despite the high interest rates, purchase price and gas prices, Americans want big vehicles. 

“In the past decade, we’ve seen Americans embrace a bigger-is-better mindset by gravitating toward larger vehicles with more creature comforts, technology-heavy features and, more recently, electrified powertrains — but that all comes with added cost,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights, in a statement on the report. 

Makes And Models

The Ford F-150, Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Tahoe topped the list of models by market share of all vehicles with monthly payments over $1,000 on new purchases. 

The BMW X5 was the top of the list for the percentage of the model in which new purchases were financed at the $1,000 per month mark, followed closely by the Chevrolet Suburban. 

When it comes to models in the $1,000 club, Porsche topped the list, followed by Land Rover. 

According to Edmunds, the $1,000 per month payment on new car financing is likely to become the new normal. 

“With few lease or finance incentives expected from automakers in the coming months, and yet another rate hike by the Fed anticipated in November, we expect that monthly payments topping $1,000 will become even more common,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ director of insights. 

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High Voltage Hogs: Some Wyoming Riders Warming Up To Electric Motorcycles

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Harley-Davidson Inc.’s electric brand, LiveWire, first hit the market in 2019. Before Harley broke off LiveWire into a separate brand this year, High Country Harley of Cheyenne was the only electric motorcycle dealer in the state. 

“We actually did quite well with them. The guys that have them really love them,” said Reed Holmes, sales manager for High Country. 

Holmes said Harley’s entrance into the EV motorcycle market positioned the company to be ahead of its time. 

High Country continues to service the LiveWire brand and built a charging station for the bikes. Supply chain issues have kept the station down for a few months now, and he said a lot of electric bikers show up disappointed to see the station out of service. 

Holmes said many of the electric customers were people who would not have otherwise come into a Harley-Davidson store, but he had a few longtime Harley riders who decided to go EV. 

That was one of the reasons it was disappointing that LiveWire spun off into a separate identity, he said. It brought more potential motorcycle riders into the store who wouldn’t have otherwise stopped in.  

“Everybody was really just in love with this thing. Even the naysayers. If they really gave it a chance, and they rode one, they couldn’t believe it,” Holmes said. 



Struggling Brand

While the bikes did well at Wyoming’s only dealer, the brand has been struggling overall. In an effort to secure investors, the brand separated from Harley and, rather than going public through an initial public offering, it raised funding through a special purpose acquisition company (SPEC). Sometimes called blank check companies, SPECs are formed to raise capital without commercial operations. 

RideApart, an motorcycle publication, reported that of the $400 million that initial investors put into LiveWire, they’ve since withdrawn $370 million of that. 

The first bikes sold for $30,000, which was comparable to a lot of Harley models, but still out of the budget for the younger riders who would most be interested in the electric models. 

‘Righteous Rumble’

Jack Speight has been riding motorcycles most of his life. The 82-year-old has seen a million miles of highways on two wheels. He regularly rides with friends in biker clubs. 

He’s never seen an electric motorcycle among the riders he’s had the pleasure to ride with, and he remains skeptical of their potential.  

The EV’s electric whir doesn’t quite have the powerful sound that attracts many Harley riders. 

Speight calls it a “righteous rumble,” and he said it’s pretty important to the overall experience of riding a Harley. 

Holmes said most people think the sound of the electric bike would be a turn off, but when people ride one, they realize how much ambient sound they miss out on when riding a gas-powered bike. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound and that melody of the motor,” Holmes said. “But many people came back from a test ride and went, ‘You know, it’s – it was kind of weird at first, but then it was kind of refreshing.”

Short Range, Slow Charge

The first model of LiveWires had a 100- to 150-mile range, which Speight said would cover about half the distance of his group’s typical rides. With a DC fast charger, which are few and far between in Wyoming, the bikes take an hour to charge up. 

“There better be a damn good gift shop next to the charging station,” Speight said. 

The LiveWire’s acceleration is 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, which is about 1.5 seconds faster than most new Harleys. 

Tesla lovers seeking the thrill of motorcycles are out of luck. Elon Musk’s company produced a concept electric motorcycle called the Tesla Model M. Musk said that in his younger years, he rode dirt bikes a lot. When he was 17, he was nearly killed in an accident. As a result, Musk has stated the company will not get into the electric motorcycle market. 

Sold Out

The newer LiveWire models, the Del Mar series, sold out within minutes of their release. They have a shorter range and longer charge time, but they’re selling for $17,000. 

Holmes was sad to see the line leave Harley. High Country had paid to have the charging station and paid to have its mechanics certified in servicing the line. 

“We’re still happy that we’re an authorized service center, and we still work on them,” Holmes said. “Hopefully I’ll have that part for my charging station here in the next couple of weeks. And we’ll be back doing our thing.”

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Four State Attorneys General Are Suing Over Albertsons – Kroger Merger

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26647

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Four states have filed lawsuits to stop payment of a dividend from Albertsons that a local union representative has said is a ploy to cripple the grocery chain and ensure a planned mega-merger with Kroger goes through.

The attorneys general for Illinois, California and Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to stop payout of a $4 billion dividend to Albertsons shareholders. 

The suit follows another filed in state court by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Both Albertsons and Kroger operate grocery stores across the nation, including Wyoming. Cowboy State Daily reached out to Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill about whether she may consider a similar move. She didn’t respond prior to posting.

Union Rep Skeptical

UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova has been vocal about what she believes the monster merger of Kroger and Albertsons will mean for consumers and workers. She told Cowboy State Daily they should expect more food deserts, higher prices and layoffs. 

She also said the dividend payout is a way to ensure that the investment into the merger of the two giant grocery chains becomes too big to fail.

“Kroger’s going to come and say, ‘Look FTC, you’re going to have to approve this because Albertsons just, you know, gave all their money back and they’re going to file bankruptcy, and so you need to approve this,’” she has told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re just making the merger go through. They’re not going to operate both stores within the same parking lot.”

Dividend Will Be Paid

Kroger and Albertsons have meanwhile said the lawsuits against the dividend are meritless and provide no legal basis for canceling or postponing a dividend that has already been unanimously approved by the Albertsons board of directors as part of a “strategic alternative” to “enhance growth and maximize shareholder value.”

“The special dividend announced on Oct. 14 is the means by which we are independently executing our longstanding capital return strategy and is scheduled to be paid to Albertsons Cos.’ Stockholders on Nov. 7,” an Albertsons Companies spokesperson said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. “It is not contingent on our merger with Kroger, and is not in any way a condition to Albertsons Cos.’ Or Kroger’s obligation to consummate the proposed merger. It will be paid regardless of whether the merger is completed.”

The statement also says that Albertsons has great financial strength and a positive businesses outlook. 

“Payment of the special dividend will not hinder Albertsons Cos.’ ability to continue investing in our stores and technology to provide an even better shopping experience while we continue to operate as an independent company,” the statement continues. “It will not impact the agreements we have made with unions representing our associates to increase wages and benefits. 

“Our planned combination with Kroger will provide significant benefits to consumers, associates and communities, and offers a compelling alternative to larger and non-union competitors.”

Purposeful Bankruptcy?

In his lawsuit, Ferguson details a different view of the dividend payout, which he said will include a $1.5 billion loan.

“Surprisingly, Albertsons plans to pay $4 billion not from its surplus profits, but rather out of critical operating margins it needs to stay afloat over the next 12 months,” Ferguson wrote in his state’s lawsuit, which outlines similar concerns as Illinois, California and D.C. “Albertsons publicly disclosed that it will use $2.5 billion in cash on hand and will finance the remaining $1.5 billion through loans.”

That reduces Albertson’s cash on hand by almost 75%, Ferguson claims.

“Albertsons already has low credit and liquidity ratings, and announcing payment of the Special Cash Dividend already has lowered its liquidity rating even further,” Ferguson’s filing continues. “In further downgrading Albertsons’ non-investment grade liquidity rating on Oc.t 14, 2022, Moody’s noted that it reflected ‘Albertsons lower cash balances and reduced revolver availability following the payment of the dividend.’” 

The payout will also lessen Albertsons ability to obtain financing to maintain and expand infrastructure, stock shelves, and pay employees, Ferguson suggested, before going on to criticize the overall merger as well. 

More Questions

Divesting 100 to 375 stores as part of the merger won’t create a viable competitor to address the concerns about a monopolistic structure in what are a very large number of markets, Ferguson said, particularly when the argument the companies make for merging in the first place is that they must merge to effectively compete in the grocery industry. 

“There are serious reasons to be skeptical (of this claim),” the suit states. “Washington’s experience with Albertsons’ 2014 acquisition of Safeway pursuant to a similar proposal, serves as a cautionary tale for allowing future similar deal structures to proceed.”

Ferguson is referring to a spinoff created during a previous Safeway merger, the Haggen grocery stores. These were supposed to be the answer to retaining competitiveness in the grocery store market for that merger. But, as both Ferguson and Cordova pointed out, those stores no longer exist. They were ultimately unable to meaningfully compete and declared bankruptcy. 

That has both Cordova and Ferguson suggesting the Spinco spinoff that’s proposed for this merger is just spin to make the deal seem palatable to federal regulators. 

“All of that was a debacle,” Cordova previously told Cowboy State Daily. “These big companies, they’re going to divest low-performing stores or sell those stores off. They’re selling them to themselves. It’s just a way to get this merger to go through.”

With the overlap between existing stores, and the likely closure and, Cordova believes, inevitable bankruptcy of the spin-off Spinco, she expects the Albertsons-Kroger merger to lead to more food deserts and higher prices, as well as layoffs of grocery store workers.

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Forced to Diversify, Wyoming Ranchers Launch USDA-Certified Meat Processing Plant

in News/wyoming economy/Business
26516

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Cathryn Kerns is not living the ranching life she thought she would be when she married her husband Taylor six years ago.

In 2016, the couple thought they’d be raising their family on the Kerns ranch near Sheridan, the sixth generation to work that piece of land and herd beef cattle.

But that dream never fully materialized. Instead, Taylor, Cathryn and other members of the Kerns family have had to shift gears to survive.

They first branched out into dude ranching and tourism-oriented cattle drives, and the Kerns now operate one of just three USDA-certified meat processing plants in Wyoming.

The Double Rafter Ranch

Located near Ranchester, the Double Rafter Ranch was established before Wyoming was even a state. The family legacy was passed down for four generations before economic conditions caught up with Taylor’s father, Dana, and his brothers, who 30 years ago made the difficult decision to sell off large segments of land, Cathryn said.

“Between ranches breaking up through the generations and always having to provide for three families instead of just one, but what really did it was those years with those 18% interest rates,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It killed the family business. And in one generation we went down from about 15,000 acres to about 1,000.”


Wyoming meat is processed at Western Heritage Meats in Sheridan County. (Courtesy Photo)

‘Real-Deal’ Experience

Cathryn said Dana and his brothers realized they had to do more than just sell off land – they needed to change their business model. So they came up with the Double Rafter Cattle Drives, an intense, immersive “real-deal” experience in which tourists from around the world herd cattle from one pasture to another.

“We move the cattle about 30 to 50 miles, just the way that we have been doing for 130 years,” said Cathryn. “It’s kept our family ranch alive to provide for generation six, and now our (2-year-old) son is the second youngest of generation seven.”

Truly Beef

Opening the family’s ranching operation to tourists was just one of the initiatives the Kerns family employed to keep the Double Rafter Ranch alive. In 2017, Cathryn and Taylor launched “Truly Beef,” a farm-to-table operation in which the pair sold their beef to guests on cattle drives.

However, they soon realized that from an economic standpoint, the costs of processing was not sustainable, and in June 2020, the Kerns found out that the processor they had to drive three hours to use was going out of business.

“The closest processor to us retired, and the new owners had their own business, and so they had to cancel everybody on the books,” said Cathryn. “Which left a whole bunch of us farm-to-table producers kind of scratching our heads and wondering what do we do now?”


Wyoming meat is processed at Western Heritage Meats in Sheridan County. (Courtesy Photo)

Western Heritage Meats

The answer, it seemed, was to diversify the ranch even further.

Last year, with the help of investors, the Kerns launched Western Heritage Meats, which became the third USDA-certified meat processing plant in the state of Wyoming. The plant serves hundreds of small operation ranchers and livestock growers from around the region, processing beef, pork, lamb and even yak.

“Our meat processing customers are farm-to-table people looking for a USDA-inspected meat processing plant that will allow them to sell their own products,” said Cathryn. “So all of our customers are selling their own products to grocery stores, restaurants, customers nationwide.”

In addition to the peace of mind that comes with knowing their meat is processed to the highest levels of safety and health standards, Cathryn said there are other benefits for customers.

“We actually have kind of a DIY shipping station with a room that’s cold, it’s clean and people can lay out their beef on the table, put little bundles together – and we have all of the shipping supplies they need in that room,” she said. “That is a free service for all of our Western Heritage customers.”

But what Cathryn calls the “coolest” part of the DIY shipping operation is the discounted shipping rates the operation negotiated on behalf of customers. 

“It was costing $400 to ship 20 pounds of meat to California, which was one of the cheaper places to ship and from,” she said. “We have been able to get those prices down to $100, which allows our customers to actually maybe build some of that price into their business model. So it opens up a lot of doors for a lot of people.”

Every Percentage Point Matters

The “Big Four” meat packing plants (Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Marfrig) do more than 80% of the processing in the United States, Taylor said. 

“Because they have an oligopoly in the market, they can pretty much set the price,” he said.

And because there are thousands of small ranching operations in the United States, ranchers are often forced to take whatever price is being offered. 

“It is so extreme that the 2017 Wyoming census showed that Wyoming ranchers operate on a 2% margin,” said Taylor.

“In 2017, if you look at what the market was about that point in time, say a 5 1/2-weight calf would have brought you around $800,” Cathryn explained. “So 2% would be $16. How many cows do you need to keep your electric bill on?” 

Strength In Numbers

Which is why the Kerns chose to go through the rigorous hoops required to set up a USDA-certified meat processing plant in Sheridan County to benefit more than just the family operation. Their mission became helping other small ranches to survive.

“Since 1980, 40% of the family ranches have gone out of business,” said Taylor. “And so, for there to be any sort of long-term sustainability in agriculture, the power needs to go back to the rancher to be able to actually make a living.”

Cathryn said that from her experience, she has learned that small ranching operations cannot make it in the industry without an outside source of income. And for a lot of family ranchers, selling farm to table is that outside source of income.

“The ranch did not pay for itself,” she said. “We could not make our land payment off of cows alone. We had to diversify to survive – and we diversified with the cattle drives, with Truly Beef and with Western Heritage Meat Co.”

Miracles

Cathryn said she also believes divine intervention played a role in saving the family ranch.

“We had a couple of cattle drive guests in August of 2019, the year before we started this company, who asked if they could pray for us,” she said. “And in that prayer, they said that the Lord wanted to say that you’re going to be leaving the family ranch for a time, and that your family will pick up the slack while you start something else.”

With no plans to leave the land they loved, the statement seemed ludicrous. But less than a year later, their meat processor retired and the Kerns were at a crossroads – leave the ranch to start something new or witness the end of their family’s legacy.

“We were desperate for something, and it just so happened that Taylor had a draft of a business plan for a meat processing plant,” Cathryn said. “And it just so happened that a retired USDA inspector (who had become a) consultant became available, and they fell out of the sky. We had the right investors with the right heart fall out of the sky. The right property became available within the right price point that checked all of the boxes for everything that we needed.”

That “miracle” has become a blessing for not only the Kerns family, but for dozens of other small operators who are now able to use the USDA-certified facility at cost savings, allowing family ranches like theirs to continue to exist.

“It’s just a miracle that it came to be, especially under the timeline,” she continued. “I know a lot of other plants that are looking to come under USDA inspection that have been trying for years, and we did it in months. So, it just is mind-blowing to me.”

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Monitoring Workers A Growing Trend, But Wyoming Researcher Finds It Often Backfires

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Employers have doubled their purchases of electronic monitoring software since the COVID-19 pandemic began, while employees doubled down on a phenomenon that’s become known as “quiet quitting.”

That might not be just a coincidence.

Always Watching

A Wyoming researcher has been studying the effects of companies electronically monitoring their employees – in their places of business and remotely – and has found that it can backfire in a big way, leading workers to break the rules more often than they otherwise might.

“We’re kind of seeing that quiet-quitting phenomenon now,” University of Wyoming’s business professor Dr. Chase Thiel told Cowboy State Daily. “You know, everybody went home, monitoring went up. 

“And I don’t think it’s coincidental that you’re seeing that now – not just because employers have monitored their employees, but I think, you know, that’s one indication that (employees) are not trusted and treated well. And because of those types of practices, you’re seeing a lot of passive behavior.”

While some employees may feel that monitoring enhances fairness by catching bad apples or making performance more objective, Thiel said most of those in his study have reacted negatively, particularly if monitoring is used punitively.

“They don’t trust me, they don’t value me, they don’t think I’m going to do good work, so why should I do good work?” Thiel said. “I mean, essentially, we’ve taken away someone’s natural drive to be good by monitoring them and these other types of repressive practices, so they have no internal drive to be a good employee anymore.”


University of Wyoming business professor Dr. Chase Theil has been studying electronic monitoring of employees.

Monitoring and Monitored

Johnathan Williams has been on both sides of employee monitoring in various jobs. In his position as a manager for Love’s in Laramie, he is both monitored and involved in monitoring others.

“It’s a two-fold issue, because there is that sense of security,” Williams told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s like OK, the time clock didn’t record my clock-in, but here’s the proof that I was on the clock and working at that time.”

But he’s also seen some of the negative impacts of electronic monitoring and believes that Thiel’s research is spot-on. In his experience, employees who feel that management is heavy-handed with the tools will provoke a lot of passive-aggressive behaviors that can be hard to catch. 

“If you understand the system, you can break the system,” Williams said. 

‘Stuff Can Happen’

He’s also noticed that his mechanics tend to head straight for the bathroom anytime they’ve finished a job. 

This is something Thiel’s research notes as a potential consequence when employees are uncomfortable with constantly being watched.

“Some of my employees have voiced that it’s bad for their morale and that they don’t like being recorded every second they’re on the clock,” Williams said. “It makes them feel an undue pressure.”

Those messages aren’t necessarily coming from employees who are under-performing or just average performers either. Even some of his best employees have expressed unease, Williams said.

“I understand the principle behind it, I do,” he said. “They’re trying to make sure that everything is covered, not only for making sure that people aren’t doing what they’re not supposed to do, but also for the security of their employees. I mean it’s a big truck stop, and stuff can happen in the shadows out there.”

Reached by Cowboy State Daily about their employee monitoring, Love’s sent an email statement: “Like other major retailers and employers, Love’s systems, networks, devices and data are monitored for standard regulatory compliance and information security purposes.”

About the Research

Thiel started his research with a small survey of 100 employees across the United States, some who were monitored and some who weren’t. 

What he found was monitored employees reported taking more unapproved breaks, disregarding instructions, damaging workplace property, stealing equipment, purposely working at a slower pace and other types of passive-aggressive behavior designed to even the score with the employer.

The study shows only correlation, however, not causation, so Thiel did a second study with 200 U.S.-based employees, half of whom were told they would be electronically monitored.

The study participants were all given a series of tasks as well as an opportunity to cheat. Those who had been told they would be watched were more likely to take advantage of opportunities to cheat than those who didn’t know they were being watched.

For his next study, Thiel plans to dig in on the day-to-day experience of being monitored and explore questions like, what prompted managers to monitor and how did they use it? And, how did employees feel about it?

He hopes digging into the details about the day-to-day experiences will help him formulate evidence-based best practices. 

“(Monitoring) is a multi-, probably billion-dollar industry at this point,” Thiel said. “So, it’s not going to go anywhere. 

“But my hope is that through phenomena like quiet quitting, like we’re seeing now, and the great resignation, employers will recognize that they have to do things more humanely. Whereas monitoring is inherently an inhumane practice, I think they have to become very intentionally humane about how they administer it.”

Monitoring Not Always Bad

While Thiel’s research shows that employee monitoring can backfire, he ultimately believes not only that the trend is likely to stick, but that it could actually be a good thing in the end. 

It all depends on how monitoring workers is presented and used.

“Make it very clear what will and won’t be monitored,” Thiel said. “Make it clear what rights employees have in the monitoring process. Make it clear the data will not be reviewed by certain groups of people that could be threatening to employees, and the data won’t be used to punish employees rather than promote good behavior.”

Don’t Assume the Worst

Motive also matters. Monitoring employees to catch them acting bad is the wrong motive, he said.

“If that’s your motivation, then you have the wrong set of assumptions about the people you’ve hired,” he said. “You should assume that the people you hire want to do good work and are good people. If you don’t, then you’re hiring incorrectly. 

“And if that’s your motivation, people will experience monitoring in a punitive way, and they will feel threatened by it, so that should never be the reason.”

Another key, Thiel said, is to focus less on inputs and more on outputs. That way minor imperfections don’t become a detrimental focal point that leaves employees feeling powerless, even though they may already be meeting the bottom line.

“When we’re in school, we don’t send the message that everybody should be doing their work the same way at the same pace,” Thiel said. “But in a lot of workplaces, we send that message by monitoring people and kind of sending this message that you need to be working all the time, according to the standards we’ve set.

But that’s, No. 1, unrealistic and No. 2, it ignores the fact that some people just have, we all have different kinds of work approaches and learning styles.”

Focusing on outputs also lessens the need to monitor daily inputs and can help focus it on more helpful areas.

“Companies that measure inputs tend to micromanage,” he said. “But companies that measure outputs tend to put more trust in their employees and focus on, you know, figure out how you get it done, but here’s what I need from you.”

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Report: Wyoming Most Tax-Friendly For Business

in News/wyoming economy/Business
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Wyoming has the best tax climate in the nation for doing businesses, The Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy nonprofit, announced on Wednesday.

Wyoming does not levy individual or corporate income taxes, and its state sales tax rate is low at 4%. Local sales taxes, meanwhile, are capped at 2%. And the average combined sales tax rate statewide is 5.22%.

Other states that ranked in the top five with Wyoming are South Dakota, Alaska, Florida and Montana. The states with the worst tax climates are New Jersey, New York, District of Columbia, California and Connecticut.

Not Surprising

Wyoming’s tax climate rank is not too surprising given the large amount of revenue that comes in from its severance tax, economist Dr. Robert Godby told Cowboy State Daily. Godby is an associate professor with University of Wyoming in the Department of Economics.

“The state to basically exports its taxes, because most of the energy produced in Wyoming is exported elsewhere, so the consumers who end up paying that tax live outside of the state,” Godby said.

An average family of three in Casper pays about $3,000 in taxes a year, but receives close to $30,000 in public services, Godby said.

“That’s including the cost of education that their child would incur,” he said. 

Dependence On Severance

But over-reliance on severance taxes has become a double-edged sword for Wyoming’s economy.

“The boom-and-bust cycle is very much alive in Wyoming,” Godby said of the state’s dominant extraction industries. “In fact, our tax system kind of amplifies that, right, because the state’s economy is very dependent on energy.” 

On the plus side, high energy prices tend to warm the economy in Wyoming while other parts of the nation are cooling off, Godby said. 

Wyoming’s Chief Economist Wenlin Liu, meanwhile, has told Cowboy State Daily energy prices have helped shield the state’s economy during times of recession.

Public Services

But global prices are at the mercy of geopolitical events, as well as sometimes the whim of unfriendly nations. When there’s a big downturn in the energy sector — a bust — state revenues also take a big hit. 

That, in turn, puts a wide range of public services on the chopping block. Once times are good again, some services don’t always get restored.

“The boom-bust cycle leads to a very conservative state,” Godby said. “They’re less likely to invest, for example, in public services that require ongoing expenditures. They’re more likely to invest in one-time expenditures when times are good, but there’s always this kind of incentive to squirrel away funds for a rainy day, because you never know when the rain is going to come.”

Efforts To Diversify

The dynamic can make it challenging to get public services that would be attractive to economic development, Godby said. It’s a factor that works against state efforts to diversify.

“Very often, companies that are looking to locate somewhere aren’t necessarily looking for low taxes, but good public services, so that’s kind of the flip side of the coin,” Godby said. “Sometimes I’II say to people that, you know, if taxes were everything in economic development, Wyoming would be California, and California would be Wyoming.”

California has some of the highest tax rates in the nation. In fact, it ranks 48th on Tax Foundation’s list for states with a business-friendly tax climate.

“Despite that, economic development occurs (in California),” Godby said. “And why is that? Because they have other public services, they have amenities. Maybe California is an extreme example, but there is a happy medium, and (low) taxes are not everything when it comes to economic development.”

‘Fix The Roof While The Sun Shines’

Changing the tax structure in Wyoming is a topic that has come up before with the Legislature, Godby said, but politically has proven to be a very steep, uphill climb. People talk about it most whenever there’s a downturn.

“That’s the worst possible time to raise taxes on people by implementing a new tax, but the opposite occurs in boom times like right now,” Godby said. “You might say, you know, maybe we should fix the roof while the sun shines, which is kind of where we are, possibly, right now. 

“The sun is shining with these high energy prices, creating kind of windfall revenues. But, of course, when you’re doing well, people don’t feel like there really is any kind of incentive to change tax policy.”

That’s led state lawmakers to create a lot of “rainy day” reserve funds and trust funds in an attempt keep state services on a more even keel. 

“Those are kind of the coffee cans where the nuts get squirreled away, waiting for that next bust,” Godby said. “But, you know, then the question becomes when is it raining hard enough that you break them open to use them? 

“Because they’re always afraid that if you use them, then they won’t be available in future years. Those reserve funds allow the state to postpone the tough decisions about, do we need to change the tax system here? When the sun is shining, there’s lots of other things you’d rather do.”

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Wyoming Joins States Clapping Back Against ‘Woke’ Companies

in News/Business
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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier has signed his name to a letter to AT&T board of directors demanding to know if politics, and not business, were behind a decision by its former subsidiary DirecTV to remove the far-right One American News Network (OAN) from the company’s offerings. 

More and more states, as well as some companies, are pushing back against a movement that has inserted social causes into business practices, arguing that such practices are not always in the best interest of customers, clients and shareholders. 

Maximize Profits

Meier was one of four state treasurers — the treasurers of Louisiana, South Carolina, and West Virginia were the others — to sign the letter, which alleges that DirecTV’s decision to remove OAN was politically motivated and driven by a Democratic politicians and liberal activists. 

“Corporate officers and directors are legally obligated to act in the best interest of the corporation and its shareholders,” the letter says. “Decision makers must act to maximize profit for the company; they may not subordinate the financial well-being of the company for some political or personal end.”

DirecTV split from AT&T in August 2021. A DirecTV spokesperson told Cowboy State Daily the decision was a routine one. 

“Earlier this year, we informed Herring Networks months ahead of time that, following a routine internal review, we did not plan to enter into a new contract after the prior one expired,” the spokesperson said. 

Herring Networks is the media company that owns OAN.

Freedom Of The Press

Meier told Cowboy State Daily that his decision to sign the letter was primarily motivated by a concern over censorship. 

The treasurer said he’s never watched OAN and doesn’t subscribe to DirecTV, but he’s concerned about large companies — and this includes social media companies like Twitter and Facebook — engaging in censorship. Meier said he believes they have a duty, like a public utility, to be politically neutral as to what content they carry. 

Meier said his position wouldn’t have been any different CNN or MSNBC has been removed. 

“It’s dang near un-American, you know? A free press is a free press,” he said. “And if you guys [the media] don’t have access to the public, then are you still a free press?”

Money Is Not Red Or Blue

Meier said that when it comes to the state’s finances, he wants to see companies Wyoming does business with to act in the most politically neutral way. 

“I can tell you that our cash is green. It’s not red or blue, and we’re always working for you,” Meier said. 

Outside Wyoming’s retirement fund investments, the state has $6.4 million invested in AT&T — 364,125 shares as of Monday.

Wyoming is not the only state pushing back against businesses that adopt “social credit” scores and engage in “woke investing.” This includes the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) scores that many companies, including those doing business in Wyoming such as Bank of the West, have adopted. 

When Bank of the West announced in 2018 it would adopt ESG values, then-treasurer Mark Gordon promised to divest Wyoming of any holdings it had with the bank. Bank of the West still maintains a commitment to refusing to do business with oil companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing or coal-fired electrical generation.

Fox Business reported last week that Missouri’s state treasurer said that state’s employee retirement fund sold all public investments managed by ESG-focused BlackRock. Earlier this month, Louisiana’s treasurer said it would pull more than $700 million in investments with the company over its hostile stance against oil and gas, which the treasurer said was crippling the state’s economy. 

West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Arkansas and North Dakota have all made moves to stop doing business with companies that engage in ESG or other politically motivated activities, according to Fox Business. 

Bad For Business

Accounting firm KPMG released its 2022 U.S. CEO Outlook earlier this month that showed CEO’s of major companies are also reconsidering ESG. Of the 1,300 CEOs surveyed for the report, 59% said they plan to pause or reconsider their ESG efforts in the next six months. However, 79% claimed ESG improved their financial performance. 

Meier disagrees. He said the treasurer’s office did an analysis of the performance of ESG funds versus the S&P 500 and found the S&P performed better than ESG funds by 50%. 

He said the winds of politics shift too easily to tie them to good business practices. 

“That’s what we’re looking at. We’re long-term investors,” Meier said. 

Leave Politics ‘To The Politicians’

Anson Frericks, co-founder and COO of Strive Asset Management, told Cowboy State Daily that there’s more to the claims of good performance from companies practicing ESG. 

They often use data in one way or another that isn’t statistically sound in financial analysis, such as using a narrow time frame, he said. It also matters that what makes a company ESG friendly is not always easy to pin down.  

“Since ESG isn’t well-defined, it’s hard to tell if it’s performed,” Frericks said. 

Tech companies tend to have small carbon footprints, so they can easily achieve the ESG-friendly label. Between 2010 and 2020, these companies, in a period of low inflation and low interest rates, performed well. That may have made ESG companies appear higher performing than they actually were, Frericks said. 

Now that inflation is going up and interest rates down, companies with good cash flows, such as those in the oil and gas industry, are performing better, he said. 

Frericks and his partners founded Strive as a company that is focused solely on bringing value to their clients and that politics “should be left to the politicians. Let companies just focus on driving shareholder value.” 

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Wyoming Company Pioneers Tech, Fed Investment Program

in News/Health care/Business
Photo Courtesy Dr. Joseph McGinley
25917

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By Renée Jean, Tourism and Business Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

A Wyoming company is trying not just one grand new concept, but two in the orthopedics sector. Both have game-changing potential for the medical and business financial industries.

McGinley Orthopedics in Casper has developed a smartphone approach for traditional orthopedics equipment. Two products using the concept are already available, but the company has 125 patents issued or pending overall, so many more are on the way.

Improved Tools

The company’s flagship product is the Intellisense Drill. It is a regular orthopedic drill like a surgeon would use to repair a broken bone, but what makes it unique is robotics, owner Joseph McGinley told Cowboy State Daily.

Repairing bones as a process has not significantly changed for decades. Essentially, a surgeon manually drills through bone with the equivalent of an ordinary power drill so that screws can be set to hold the bones together, he said.

Through experience — which also means some trial and error — the surgeon learns the right feel for when the drill has just made it through the bone. After that, the surgeon manually measures the correct size of screws that will be needed by placing a tiny hook through the hole and reading a ruler, he said.

“Right now, that’s the standard of care everywhere,” McGinley said. “So, if you look at the standard error rate on these particular surgeries, published studies show that about 20 to 25% of screws are misplaced. They’re either too long or too short. 

“That’s considered standard of care – if you can imagine that in any other industry, where you have an acceptable error rate of 20 to 25%.”



Improving Standard Of Care

McGinley’s smart drill, meanwhile, integrates sensors into the handheld tool so it can automatically sense when to stop, he said. There’s no more guessing.

“There’s no plunging and damage of tissue on the other side,” McGinley said. “And then it tells the surgeon exactly what size screw they need. It’s accurate to two-tenths of a millimeter, so there’s no more error.”

The process is not only better for patients, it’s less time-consuming for the surgeon by eliminating some of the steps that used to be required, such as using a depth gauge to select the right size screw.

“A lot of times (doctors) will bring in fluoroscopy or X-rays to check the screws to see if they’re right,” McGinley said. “That’s radiation to everyone. That’s radiation to the patient and radiation to the ER staff. 

“With our products, what we’re seeing is the surgeons, over time, trust the product and they diminish the use, or completely eliminate, the use of X-ray in the operating room to check the screws.”


Dr. Ben Francisco and McGinley Orthopedics at the first surgery in Wyoming to use McGinley Orthopedics’ latest technologies at Hot Spring County Memorial Hospital in Lander. (Photo Courtesy Dr. Joseph McGinley)

Stepping Up For Wrist Fractures

The other product McGinley has released is a plate to better align bones after a wrist fracture. 

Wrist fractures are the most common fracture, McGinley said, as people naturally reach out with a hand to break a fall.

“Right now, if you have a fracture at the wrist, it’s based on the skillset of the surgeon how well the outcomes are after that case,” McGinley said. “A lot of it is fairly complicated getting those fractures realigned perfectly, right where your joints move or your wrist moves. That’s actually a hard task.”

If the alignment is not perfect, it can cause debilitating pain and restriction of movement in the wrist long-term. It also can cause early onset of arthritis.

McGinley’s device has levering blades that go into the fragments, after which the surgeon can fine-tune the alignment with the twist of a screwdriver.

“With our plate for wrist fractures, or lever-action distal radius plates, you can essentially get near perfect alignment every time, when used correctly,” he said. 

One orthopedic surgeon in Wyoming is already using both products, Dr. Ben Francisco, who works for Fremont Orthopedics. He told Cowboy State Daily he’s been happy with what he’s seen from the tools. 

“To my knowledge there’s nothing else like this on the market,” he said. “I would hope that use would be widespread.”

Main Street Becomes Wall Street

The devices themselves are innovative enough, but the company also is the first in Wyoming to take advantage of a relatively new federal Securities and Exchange Commission structure that lets Main Street invest directly in privately held companies.

Minimum investments under this Main Street model can begin as low as $100, while the Wall Street approach generally requires a minimum investment of six figures or more.

Typically, a new company like McGinley Orthopedics would start with personal funding, as well as loans from family and friends, to get off the ground, McGinley said. After that, the business would seek money from private equity investment bankers. 

“They would come in and own a large portion of the company and grow it from there,” he said of the equity bankers.

That leaves Main Street investors out in the cold for these types of lucrative deals, which generally require minimum investments of six figures or more.

New Way To Invest

The Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act has a little-known provision allowing businesses to go through an almost-public process so they can raise money directly from the Main Street investors, bypassing Wall Street altogether.

“Essentially, you put in the infrastructure as if you were going public, but you don’t go public,” McGinley explained. “You’re still a privately held company. You register with the SEC, they review the application and make sure everything’s legitimate, and then they sign off on it.”

That means the money raised still has SEC oversight, unlike crowdfunding online. That oversight includes the customary auditing of financials as well as regulatory scrutiny, McGinley said. 

“We run this as if we’re publicly traded,” he said. “That’s why when someone registers (to invest) they have to enter their information, because it is an SEC-registered security.”


Dr. Dan A Zlotolow of Shriners Children’s Philadelphia and Hospital of Special Surgery implanting the Lever Action Plate System earlier this year. The Lever Action Plate System is being used across the country. (Photo Courtesy Dr. Joseph McGinley)

Retains Full Control

The benefit, McGinley said, for companies doing it this way is the owner retains full control of the business. 

Wall Street equity owners generally gain large amounts of control over the businesses they invest in. They could, for example, order a business like McGinley’s to choose a new headquarters closer to a large metropolitan market.

That would make some business sense, at least initially, by giving the company instant access to a larger metropolitan markets and better logistics for certain supply chains. 

But McGinley wants his company to remain in Wyoming so it can benefit his state. 

He also believes that, ultimately, Wyoming will be a good spot for a distribution center. In fact, other companies have recently selected the Cowboy State for distribution centers, such as Laube Inc., which manufactures high-end pet-grooming equipment. California-based Laube has confirmed it’s looking at Riverton for a distribution center to cut shipping cost.

Doing His Part

McGinley also likes the idea that he’s helping alleviate wealth inequities with this approach and hopes to see more businesses try it.

“I mean, we are essentially opening up access to everyone to have the opportunity to invest in an early stage startup,” he said. “This is a small step, but if things go in this direction on a large scale, this will help with that, because, you know, if all companies head this direction, then you, as an investor, can invest in the early stage.”

McGinley also sees where this could give his business a marketing advantage. As people hear about how much better the outcomes are with his smart orthopedic products, they can ask their surgeons or seek out surgeons who agree to use them.

Wyoming First

McGinley says his company is the first in Wyoming to use this financing structure, and he’s very proud of that.

“Our company has approximately 30 employees, and another cool thing about it is that all these products are made in Wyoming,” he said. “We have manufacturing in Glenrock, Wyoming, so an FDA-registered facility right over in Glenrock that makes all of these products we’re talking about. You literally can design the product, prototype it, build it and use it all within the state.”

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Wyoming Appliance Seller Says Biden Has Declared War On Dishwashers

in News/Business
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
25766

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Dishwashers today have a lot of new features. They’re quieter, they dispose of hard food easier, and they sanitize better. The one thing they haven’t improved on is the time it takes for a cycle to complete. 

Federal energy standards have doubled the time it takes a dishwasher to wash and dry dishes. 

Bruce Gettman, general manager at B&B Appliance & TV in Cheyenne, said the new models of dishwashers that comply with new federal guidelines still sell, but they are definitely slower. 

For many, the dishwashing regulations trigger flashbacks to 1992, when President George H.W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, which cut down on the water use of toilets and sparked the rise of low-flow commodes. 

“Manufacturers have to meet certain water consumption guidelines that the government has set forth,” Gettman said. “So, we cut back on the amount of water that we use in the cycle. To accomplish the same results, we wash longer and rinse longer.”

Saving Suburbia 

The Trump administration attempted to undo some of the standards so people could get dishwashers that run through a cycle in less than an hour, but the Biden administration reimposed the rules. 

“You know what bothers me?” Donald Trump said on the campaign trail in October 2020. “You go into a new hotel or a new house, and you turn on these faucets. And no water comes out.”  

Trump said that, while some places have plenty of water, the federal government comes up with a single rule that determines how much water appliances across the entire country can use. 

“The dishwashers had a little problem. They didn’t get enough water,” Trump said. “So people would run them 10 times. So they end up using more water.”

At the time, the Trump administration’s relaxing of the rules was paving the way for faster dishwashers, and in the speech, Trump encouraged his supporters to go out and buy a dishwasher. 

“Suburban women, please vote for me,” Trump said. “I’m saving your house. I’m saving your community.”

Too Slow

In 2018, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian think tank, petitioned the Department of Energy for a new class of dishwashers with cycles under an hour, and the rule was being finalized when Trump gave that campaign speech. Under Trump, the DOE was receptive to the petition. 

That’s all changed with the Biden administration. 

“They repealed the rules. And there are now a dozen states suing the Biden administration,” Devin Watkins, attorney with CEI, told Cowboy State Daily. 

Trump’s style of speaking was filled with bravado, but there was some truth to the claim that the rules were actually increasing water use. It wasn’t because they were cycling their dishwashers repeatedly. It was because they were electing to wash dishes by hand. 

CEI conducted a survey that found that 23% of people always hand wash their dishes because of the slowness of their dishwashers. Of those surveyed, 27% often wash by hand and 37% sometimes do. 

The results of the survey were similar to those of a 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the Energy Information Administration. That survey didn’t ask why households forgo their appliance, but it found that out of 80 million whot have a dishwasher, 16 million did not use their dishwasher in 2015. 

‘Stupid Rule!’

During the rulemaking process, the DOE got an earful from thousands of people about the faster class of dishwasher. 

“It’s time to make dishwashers do the job they were meant to do … actually clean dishes … Let’s change the regulations to make them better,” read one comment submitted to the department. 

One woman, who identified herself as a mother of four married children and 13 grandchildren, said her household spends hours every day trying to wash dishes after the family’s big meals. 

“IT IS TIME TO WASH AWAY THIS STUPID RULE! If this type of a rule applied to the space program, we would still be trying to send chimpanzees into orbit!” the woman wrote in her comment. 

Of the 2,244 individuals who submitted comments concerning the faster class of dishwasher, 98% were fully in support of the rule.

Lawsuit

In rescinding the rule creating the faster class of dishwasher, the DOE argued that it has a statutory obligation to always improve efficiency, and if consumers don’t like it they have to take it up with Congress, according to a lawsuit filed by 13 states against the department. 

The lawsuit, which includes washing machines, argues that the department’s reasoning doesn’t hold water and that the DOE is misunderstanding its own authority. 

“Moreover, diminished cleaning performance often means that dishwasher and laundry cycles have to be re-run, since they often fail to clean dishes and clothes adequately the first time — lessening or outright defeating the efficiency that the standards are designed to serve,” the suit states. 

Status Quo

Watkins said manufacturers have been very supportive of the DOE’s efficiency standards. 

“They’ve been opposing change from the beginning,” Watkins said. 

It took a lot of investment in research and development to meet the federal government’s standards, Watkins explained. The last thing manufacturers want is relaxed rules that open up consumers to more choices. That means more research and development into appliances that compete with other manufacturers’ offerings. Watkins said, companies tend to prefer the status quo, where the rules stay the same. 

“In their view of things, they don’t really care if they’re selling the best dishwasher. As long as their competitors can’t steal the market from them. The only people really harmed are the consumers,” Watkins said. 

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Internet Company Entering Wyoming Market Says 1GB Is Minimum Speed, 10GB For Business

in News/Technology/Business
25728

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By Renee Jean, business and tourism reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Spending up to $80 million to build out high-speed fiber-to-home networks in four Wyoming communities is just the tip of a multimillion-dollar spear aimed at piercing an internet veil for Western and Midwestern states.

Wyoming ranks near the bottom of the nation for overall internet coverage, speed, availability and costs, according to broadband.com, which lists the Cowboy State as 47th in the United States. Average internet speeds in the state also are slower than average at about 200 Mbps.

Bluepeak’s speed is 1 gigabyte per second, the company’s Cheyenne representative Travis French told Cowboy State Daily. It can range up to 10 gigabytes per second for businesses, according to the company’s website.

Fiber To Homes

Bluepeak’s fiber-to-home network is a potential game-changer for Wyoming and five other states on the company’s list for major broadband investment – Oklahoma, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. 

Along with high-speed Internet, Bluepeak also offers Internet-based television bundles, and French said it’s also considering potential cellphone services as well, although that is not yet part of any of its packages.

French was at a recent Cheyenne Business to Business Expo with a booth showing off the company’s plans. He told Cowboy State Daily he believes the high speeds alone are a big selling point for Bluepeak in Cheyenne, despite a relatively crowded field there. 

Industry powerhouses Spectrum, Verizon and CenturyLink all offer combinations of internet, phone and television services. 

“(Those companies) do offer higher speeds, depending on how much you want to pay,” French said. “But our minimum speed is 1 gigabit per second, and that’s upload and download speed. And that’s with everything included — installation, equipment and all that for just $55 a month. That price is also locked in for five years as well.”

Another selling point is fiber is more durable and reliable, French said. 

“Because it is glass, it’s not going to degrade. It’s not prone to water damage or anything like that,” he said. “Fiber lines last much longer (than coaxial), and if there is trouble or anything, if a line breaks, we just switch it out.”


Getty Images

Aggressive Expansion

French estimates Bluepeak is connecting 10-15 homes or businesses a day in Cheyenne and has reached at least 1,000 subscribers. The company hopes to reach all of Cheyenne by 2024. 

The timetable also calls for being in most, if not all, of Laramie, Casper and Sheridan by 2025, after which French said the company will begin looking at its next opportunities in Wyoming and other states.

Bluepeak’s investment is all private money, French said. Grants from federal funds like the American Rescue Plan Act are not paying for the buildout in any of the states or cities the company is actively building lines right now, he said.

Filling Service Gaps

Laramie Chamber Business Alliance President and CEO Brad Enzi told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming is aware of gaps in the state’s broadband services. It’s something officials have been working hard to improve, recognizing that the next generation workforce is going to demand it.

“I think when COVID hit, what we saw in Wyoming were the gaps that we had,” he said. “Kids switched to online school and businesses went remote and everybody who didn’t know anything about Zoom now knows about Zoom. 

“And we all found out what it looks like when Zoom doesn’t work well with the speed of the Internet and where our gaps in services are in the state.”

Vital Service

Enzi and other economic leaders in the state believe improving Wyoming’s high-speed connectivity and access is not just important for future economic development, but vital.

“If we don’t have it, you can be sure we won’t get them,” Enzi said about the potential to miss out on economic opportunities. “The more that we can, you know, capitalize on the ability to move remote workers to places that have higher speed internet in Wyoming, that will build our workforce and the depth and breadth of our technological expansion. 

“Because the workforce will move here, you know. I think what we learned with COVID is nobody’s tethered to a location anymore.”

Open Spaces

Wyoming’s sparse population has at times been a barrier to putting in more expensive fiber connections, Enzi said.

“When companies look at where can we deploy capital and get the largest return, yeah, Wyoming’s not going to always be the first answer,” he said. “So, you have to look at, you know, how we augment that, to have the services there to allow us to participate in the … next generation of the workforce.”

French, meanwhile, said Bluepeak is seeing economies of scale working for states like Wyoming. 

“Fiber is very, very expensive,” he said. “But as the cost of producing fiber lines goes down, it’s more economically feasible for us to put it in smaller communities like Cheyenne, Casper and Sheridan as well.”

Enzi added he’s been impressed by the level of Bluepeak’s investment in Wyoming and other states.

“It’s staggering when you look at the rollout that they’re doing and the level,” he said. “I’ve had a crew in my driveway for the last four, five working days boring in the different lines and they’re still there today. 

“It’s an incredible investment being done at the private level and in partnership with the state, so we’re excited about it. We think it will continue to provide opportunity in Wyoming, and I think it starts to mirror what we know about the changing workforce.”

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Riverton Lands High-End National Pet Grooming Supplier Company

in wyoming economy/Business
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Riverton appears to have landed another big fish for its economic development scene. 

High-end pet grooming supplier Laube, which calls itself “King of Clippers,” has recently filed paperwork with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office listing a Riverton address, the Cowboy State Daily has confirmed.

The paperwork is signed by Cole Laube, president and principle for the California-based company that makes equipment and supplies for the pet grooming industry. 

A Good Location

Cole Laube told Cowboy State Daily that his company considering building a distribution point in Riverton to save on costs.

“Look at the trucking costs, shipping costs … and shipping heavy products and things like that, it’s definitely going to be a cost savings with trucking, shipping and the like,” he said about having a Wyoming center. “So, I think that, you know, we’re looking forward to getting into the Midwest.”

Laube said Riverton has geographical advantages.

“It’s a nice spot in the middle of the United States that seems to be a good distribution point for our particular company and customers,” he said.

Cowboy State Friendly

It also doesn’t hurt that Wyoming has one of the friendliest business climates in the nation.

“Absolutely,” Laube said. “There’s a lot there that we looked at Riverton and there seems to be a good a good workforce there – low taxes, and seems to be very friendly people.”

At this point, there are no projections on how many people a Riverton distribution center could employ.

“It’s kind of difficult for us to say,” Laube said. “We’re not really ready to go viral with this or public with it because we don’t want to we just really don’t want to get it out there and around yet, until we’re kind of set up.”

He declined to go into more detail as plans are still in the works.

Not giving too many details “gives us a strategic advantage and we want to kind of preserve that, so that’s kind of where we’re at,” Laube said. “So, that will be it for the interview.”

Laube promised he would have more details on the enterprise’s plans for Riverton in the future after plans have taken more solid shape.

Industry Standard

Laube Co.’s clippers operate at up to 10,000 strokes per minute but weigh in at a light 9 ounces. The next nearest competitor’s products operate at 4,400 strokes per minute, according to Laube’s website, and weighs in at 16 ounces. 

As a result, Laube’s clippers save not only time, but also produce less wear and tear on the shoulders and wrists of the groomer.

Laube also manufactures highly concentrated, biodegradable and pH-balanced shampoos. A gallon of 128 ounces makes 6,528 diluted ounces and can shampoo up to 435 dirty dogs, the website advertises.

That prices out to 9 cents per washed dog.

Well-kept secret

Laube as a company has so far played its cards very close to the vest. So close, in fact, that even Riverton Mayor Richard Gard told Cowboy State Daily he was unaware of its plans to locate there.

The distribution center would be welcome, the mayor said.

“I’ll call them and say I heard they’re moving to Riverton and see if there’s anything we can do for them,” Gard said.

Laube Pet Supplies is mentioned briefly in a legislative report on housing as having also considered Shoshoni, 21 miles north of Riverton, as a potential spot. The entry notes that the city doesn’t have enough infrastructure or housing to accommodate the distribution center.

Wyoming is in the midst of a housing crunch in many of its communities.

On a Roll

Laube would be another recent economic success for Riverton as it’s not the first high-end manufacturer to announce interest in the town, Gard said. 

Kifaru International opened its doors in Wyoming on Aug. 13, moving there from Colorado. Gard said the high-end manufacturer of outdoor equipment is bringing 30 to 35 jobs for now and talking about as many as 200 more in the future.

Riverton City Council previously agreed to provide Kifaru with $80,000 from a 0.5% sales tax for economic development, as long as Kifaru maintains at least 25 full-time employees.

Kifaru also plans to help build housing for staff to help cushion the Riverton housing market from an influx of new employees.

“I think people are kind of recognizing (Riverton) as up in the mountains and a good place to be,” Gard said. “We’re kind of the economic center of Fremont (County).”

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Q&A: Cheyenne Bucks State Trend With Record Tourism

in News/Tourism/Business
Photo by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily
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By Renée Jean, Tourism and Business Reporter
Renee@cowboystatedaily.com

With summer tourism numbers down across much of Wyoming, Cheyenne set a new record for visitation despite a sluggish turnout for Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Cheyenne saw record business for its tourism industry in July, which is highlighted by Frontier Days, said Visit Cheyenne President and CEO Domenic Bravo. Even so, attendance for this year’s CFD was down given last year’s event was an anniversary, he said.

Cowboy State Daily sat down with Bravo to talk Cheyenne tourism and find out what the Visit Cheyenne and Downtown Development Authority are doing to collar more of Wyoming’s multi-million-dollar tourism market.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Visit Cheyenne President/CEO Domenic Bravo

CSD: Talk to us about what’s behind growing tourism in Cheyenne.

Bravo: During the pandemic, we started to become event creators. In the past, we had always supported events. We’d sponsor events or provide marketing grants across our community. But we then started actually creating events, like our Hell on Wheels Rodeo series, and we created things that go on throughout the summer in partnership with our Downtown Development Authority, since we’re in an operational partnership. 

We kept a lot of those activities we created during the pandemic in place. So, everything that we have that has come back online is now additive. 

During the pandemic, we were only down 19% occupancy, so for 2020, and only down about 30% in revenue. So we just kept the successful pieces going while everything was recovering and, of course, that just added to everything that we are able to do to bring folks in to visit us, and still have a whole bunch of fun things for residents to do as well.

CSD: What are some of these new pandemic-inspired opportunities for fun?

Bravo: We were just thinking at the time, obviously because of the sheer size of Cheyenne Frontier Days, they’d have to cancel for 2020. So we were trying to figure out, working with our local health department and everything, what we could do within the criteria they set. 

So that’s basically how we created the Hell on Wheels Rodeo series to start, was with the capacity and making sure it was outdoors and, you know, all the cleaning that had to go on and all the criteria that was set from the Health Department. 

During that time we also created Cheyenne Days, Legendary Nights and we did a couple of other events, micro events during the summer that we carried forward, which other folks have now taken on themselves.

Another big thing we focused on during the pandemic is how we can work with the farms and ranchers on the eastern side of the county to really come up with some pretty impressive things. 

So they have, like, be a farmer for a day over in Carpenter. You can work with a family out there to milk a goat, churn some butter, bake some bread, which is pretty awesome.

And we did some outdoor recreation stuff in partnership with our state parks and the Pine Bluff Recreation area. 

We just created as many events as we could humanly create that were within that category that we were allowed to do. Those that were successful, we just carried them forward, and they’ve just been additive to everything we can do.

CSD: How big is the economic effect of tourism for Laramie County?

Bravo: It’s pretty big. I mean, I can spew off a whole bunch of different numbers, but it’s anywhere between 10 and 20% of sales taxes that can be attributed to travelers coming into the economy. 

If I remember right, it’s like a $400 million economic impact. 

When you look at it, like what we kind of gauge is with the sales tax alone, it saves Laramie County families about $700 a year that they don’t have to pay in taxes that we get covered by visitors.

CSD: Are these visitors mostly in-state or out-of-state?

Bravo: All of our visitors for the most part, on a pretty substantial level, are out-of-state or international visitors. 

Obviously, being the capital city when we do have a (legislative) session in place, we have a lot of folks from around the state that come to us in the January, February, March timeline. 

But that only makes up, the last number I remember we looked at, probably 15% of our visitors.

CSD: How does visitation here compare to other areas of the state like Teton County?

Bravo: We usually will never probably be to the level of visitation of Teton County. That one usually ranks No. 1 for visitation, but we usually battle Park County for visitation. So, Park County and us, we usually – sometimes they’re second and sometimes we’re second. It just depends on the year. 

I’m hoping, I’m pretty optimistic, that we’ll come in second again this year. It will take me a little bit of effort to get the kind of visitation that Teton County gets, but that’s always a goal to work toward. 

If we can develop some of our visitor assets that we’re currently working on from our master plan, that’ll definitely put added levels of visitation to what we could do in the past.

CSD: What are some of these new things you’re working on to create more tourism interest in Cheyenne?

Bravo: The 15th Street Project is a pretty amazing one that we’re hoping to get going. Hopefully, construction documents will get done here in the spring and then maybe even some of the construction could be done next summer. 

Being able to bring some of the rail cars and steam locomotives to 15th Street, in partnership with our 15th Street businesses, making sure that we’re thinking about what that street looks like, I think it will just help add another layer of amazingness to the great stuff that’s already offered. 

We have a lot of amazing retail and unique places, breweries and stuff. Right now, it’s still kind of in the planning phase, so there’s still a lot of time for input and modification, but I think it’ll be kind of fun. We’re trying to do some out-of-the-box things where … one of the engines could actually steam every, like, hour on the hour, kind of like an Old Faithful concept. And we’d blow the whistle three times a day. 

A few of them would be museum quality, so it’d be something where you could just experience it as if it was historically restored. Others could be presented as some type of retail space or tasting room for bourbon and whiskey or ice cream. 

Obviously, those would be public-private partnerships. We don’t want to compete with any of the already great businesses that exist. The goal is to enhance what already exists. 

And then, of course, matching the themes, like I mentioned. I think all of those cars can be decorated for the holidays. I think it could be a pretty nice all-around attraction piece for us. We would turn 15th Street into an attraction street similar to 17th and some of the other side streets we’re currently working on to just kind of make it feel like you’re walking in a wonderland.

CSD: What else are you working on for Cheyenne tourism in the future?

Bravo: We’re also in partnership with the city and Union Pacific, we’re trying to get the Belvoir Ranch open because, again, we have amazing outdoor resources here all the way from Pine Bluffs to Curt Gowdy State Park. There’s been contemplation of parks and reservoirs and other things (at Belvoir), but our concept through our tourism master is just let’s try a phase one where we can at least get public access onto this property. 

CSD: What makes Belvoir Ranch special?

Bravo: There’s a unique geological or geographical type feature known as the Big Hole. It’s like … (a) mini-Grand Canyon sounds pretty awesome, and I’m not gonna say it’s not awesome, but that’s kind of what it reminds me of when you stand on top of it and you can’t really see some parts at the bottom. 

It’s this really beautiful reddish color in some places, so it’s just a cool little area, and we’re trying to get access to that from Wyoming. Right now, you can get access from the Colorado side, and there’s actually trails around there right now, but it’s a far trip.

There’s a lot of possibilities (for the site), but we figured we’d start with phase one, just getting public access to get folks the ability to experience the Big Hole and … add some outdoor recreation capacity for visitors. 

That would be kind of a proof of concept, to see how folks enjoy it and what we’re doing, and then there’s always opportunities to expand.

CSD: Is hunting and fishing allowed at Belvoir?

Bravo: Right now, and again I don’t want to speak on behalf of the city, but if I’m right I think you can ask permission to hunt, but I don’t think it’s technically open to the public right now. I think it’s mostly fenced and gated. 

Belvoir Ranch still has active grazing leases on it, so there’s grazing that goes on, and obviously the windmills. There are windmill roads out there, which is why we think it should be pretty easy to get access to certain areas. We can actually improve some of the windmill roads that are already out there. 

But to my knowledge, I’m not exactly sure that it’s open to the public, and that’s why we’re trying to create this system that would actually make it a public access space. 

The most effective and efficient way to get across would be a pedestrian bridge, which has to go over Union Pacific’s track, so we have to work with them to get approval to be able to do that. Depending on the cost and what the approvals are for that pedestrian bridge, that kind of makes everything hinge on that.

CSD: That sounds expensive.

Bravo: We have applied for some grants through outdoor recreation and some other things that will help with some components like the trail construction and trailhead construction and signage and those types of things, but we’ll have to also then figure out just funding of the bridge to make sure it all makes sense. 

And so there’s some moving parts to that as well. It’s not as easy as some of the places when I used to work for state parks and we were able to get access to. It’s definitely not as easy as those, because there’s some other owners involved in getting approvals and all of that type of stuff.

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New Zealand’s Livestock “Fart Tax” Is Disastrous Policy Says Wyoming Ag Expert

in News/Agriculture/Business
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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
greg@cowboystatedaily.com

A lifelong Wyoming rancher says a proposal in New Zealand to tax the greenhouse emission of farm animals could set a dangerous and irresponsible precedent of politicizing agriculture policy.

New Zealand’s government moved forward Tuesday with a plan that would make the country the world’s first to enact a tax on the climate impacts from animal emissions, including their methane-infused burps and urination. Arguments in favor of the tax include claims it would be an economic boon for the nation and that the money collected could be funneled into more climate change-related research.

To use a phrase people in the Cowboy State would understand, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna essentially calls the proposal a pile of meadow muffins.

“It’s not possible,” he said of the New Zealand claims that taxing livestock emissions would be economical. “The mechanics of this are unthinkable and it’s not practical at all.”

He also pooh-poohed claims that cattle and livestock are major contributors to climate change.

“The impact of grazing animals on the environment with carbon and methane, in the United States, it’s really negligible,” Magagna said. “In the U.S., the way we handle our animals, the true data shows in terms of methane (emissions) are somewhere in the neighborhood of 2%.”

‘Competitive Advantage?’

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern touted the tax on farm animals as a “competitive advantage” for her country because consumers are more climate-conscious and will choose to buy products raised in more responsible ways.

“New Zealand’s farmers are set to be the first in the world to reduce agriculture emissions, positioning our biggest export market for the competitive advantage that brings in a world increasingly discerning about the provenance of their food,” Adern said, according to The Associated Press.

The country’s agriculture minister also touted the tax as an incentive for farmers and ranchers to address their industry’s impact on the environment.

“Farmers are already experiencing the impact of climate change with more regular drought and flooding,” said Damien O’Connor via The Associated Press. “Taking the lead on agriculture emissions is both good for the environment and our economy.”

Opposite Impacts For Wyoming

New Zealand’s claims that taxing livestock emissions would be economical don’t hold much water for Wyoming’s ranching families, Magagna said.

“There’s no real profitability in the livestock business today as it is,” he said, adding that an extra tax could put a lot of family operations out of business. “These people are dedicated to their lifestyle and their industry. 

“And any tax like that would spell the end of a viable livestock industry in Wyoming.”

Politics vs. Practicality

Not only would a similar move in the United States put a lot of family ranchers out of business, it actually could lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, Magagna said.

That’s because with fewer independent cattle and other livestock producers, more large feedlots would emerge to fill that void, and feedlots are much worse climate offenders than traditional range ranching, he said.

“There are people in this country too who have suggested (what New Zealand is doing),” Magagna said. “They talk about greenhouse gas emissions from cattle more than sheep because of the burping cattle.

“They’re going to emit more in a feed lot than they would in the open range, so the mechanics of this are unthinkable and not practical at all.”

He also said an environment tax on livestock would “exacerbate what already concerns us,” which is retaining future generations of ranchers to continue their family operations. It also would speed up the loss of sustainable ranchland to development.

Responsible Ranching

Because Wyoming ranchers would resist any similar efforts here doesn’t mean they’re anti-environment or don’t care about the impacts of their industry on climate change, Magagna said.

“The focus should be on good grazing practices, not taxing (emissions),” he said. “Grazing animals and properly managed animals are positive contributors to carbon sequestration.

“There are practices in ranching that are more favorable than others. Most people aren’t running their livestock operations the way their grandparents did. We’ve learned a lot about soil management, and all of those things are making ranching and livestock producing more responsible.”

The ‘Fart Tax’

New Zealand’s latest attempt to become the global leader for taxing livestock emissions isn’t its first. A similar effort failed in 2003 when farmers were adamantly opposed and dubbed it a “fart tax,” according to AP.

While disappointed, Magagna said he’s not surprised at New Zealand’s efforts to tax the emissions of its estimated 36 million beef, dairy cattle and sheep.

“There are so many ridiculous ideas being tossed around today,” he said, adding that Wyoming ranchers need to pay attention to global trends like what’s happening in New Zealand.

Aside from genetically engineering a methane-free breed of cattle, local power comes from being informed, he said.

“That would be my advice,” Magagna said. “Always be open to new ideas and innovations that will benefit your operations. Sustainability has to have three elements. It has to be environmentally sustainable, socially sustainable and the third one, which some people ignore, is it has to be economically sustainable.”

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Better With Age: Wyoming Whiskey Named A Top 10 Distiller In US

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By Renée Jean
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Wyoming Whiskey got its start nearly a decade ago on a 1,000-acre ranch in Kirby. At the time, it was the state’s only distillery and a complete unknown player in the whiskey world. In December, the business will celebrate its 10-year anniversary with quite a feather in its cap as one of the nation’s top whisky-makers.

USA Today has named Wyoming Whiskey as one of the top 10 craft whiskey distilleries in the nation.

That puts the Wyoming newcomer in distinguished company with the likes of Heaven Hill in Kentucky and Stranahans in Denver.

“We’re not sure who nominated us, but we are really excited about it,” Wyoming Whiskey’s Assistant Store Manager Nichole Martens told Cowboy State Daily. “We actually now have the Small Batch, which was our flagship product, in all 50 states now. So, we are nationwide in our distribution. And just from here in Kirby, we definitely have had people from all over the country trying Wyoming Whiskey, spreading the word about it.”

It Began On The Ranch

The business got its start from an unexpected turn. Brad and Kate Mead were fourth-generation ranchers in Jackson Hole in the early 2000s very near the Grand Tetons. After their cattle caught brucellosis, the ranchers decided to buy 1,200 acres in Kirby for wintering their herd.

With that much land, though, they also began to dream about what else they could do with the new property.

They first considered a winery, but didn’t feel confident about the climate and grapes. There were plenty of grains, though, so they started to chase a brand-new dream.

“They went to a bourbon festival in Kentucky, and they also had another friend, David DeFazio who’s the other founder of Wyoming Whiskey,” Martens said. “From there, that is where we bought our 38-foot copper still, and then that is how we also got our first master distiller to work for us, which was Steve Nally.”



Mastering The Craft

Nally is a world-class master distiller who had worked at Maker’s Mark for a little more than 30 years and was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2007.

Nally had recently retired, but was convinced to come out of retirement by the enthusiasm of the Meads and DeFazio. He even moved to Thermopolis, which is about a dozen miles from Kirby, to help the business during the first five of its fledgling years.

It’s All About The Water

Wyoming Whiskey is 100% made-in-Wyoming. 

“Believe it or not, people will ask us, ‘Well, do you just get your products and slap your label on it?’” Martens said. “No, we do not. Everything is grown here, filled here, aged here and bottled here.”

In fact, even the water used to make Wyoming Whiskey is a little-known state specialty. It comes from a limestone aquifer about a mile underground Manderson that is also used by Pepsi Cola.

Limestone aquifers are frequently touted as a key element in the world-famous whiskies produced in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

“The limestone acts as a natural filter,” Martens said. “It reduces the irons in the water and helps to soften it.”

At first the water was trucked in, but now it comes by pipeline so the special water is on tap.

5-Year Aging

The grains used by Wyoming Whiskey also are sourced locally from a farmer in Byron. The grains get made into the traditional mash that’s fermented and distilled before aging in barrels for a minimum of five years.

Federal rules only require aging bourbon at least two years, but Wyoming Whiskey takes a little longer.

“We don’t use climate-controlled warehouses,” Martens said. “And because it gets so cold here in Wyoming, our bourbon will actually go into a dormant state. When our bourbon goes into a dormant state, you can’t age it. So, we do everything for a minimum of five years to make up for the really cold winters and the very hot summers.”

Time To Celebrate

Wyoming Whiskey will mark its 10-year anniversary Dec. 1, and is planning something special for the occasion at its Kirby headquarters. There will be an open house, as well as the first release of a 10-year aged bourbon. 

Wyoming Whiskey also is looking to the future, making plans to grow and improve its business and product.

“We’re moving into bigger buildings and making more product,” Martens said. “We are nationwide, and we are definitely picking up popularity.”



Things to know

Whiskey is an umbrella term that refers to any type of distilled grain. There are many different types of whiskey, including Scotch, Irish whiskey and the bourbon that Wyoming Whiskey makes. To qualify as bourbon, corn must be at least 51% of the recipe, and the product must be made in the United States, just as Champagne must be made in France and Scotch must be made in Scotland.

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Frankenstein Of Wyoming Taxidermy Tests Nature With Out-Of-This-World Creations

in Wyoming Life/Business
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

At Nature’s Design Taxidermy in Cody, Ray Hatfield has dozens of unique animals on display. Mixed in with the grizzly bears and elk one would expect from a Wyoming taxidermy shop are warthogs, musk ox, lions and other exotic species.

But Hatfield also has other creatures in his showroom that nature didn’t design.

Take the Scorpiobeast made from parts of a black wildebeest that was once a damaged shoulder mount. The legs are from an ostrich formerly in a trophy room in Texas, where its feathers were all eaten off by rats.

As much as testing the imagination, Hatfield said his piecemeal taxidermy also is prompted by a drive instinctive to most hunters in not wasting any of the animal. 

“If the mounts are falling apart, we try to use them up instead of throwing them away,“ he said.

Hatfaield said the spines on the side of the Scorpiobeast – which has a price tag of $5,500 – are mountain goat horns and cave bear claws he sculpted out of from epoxy putty.

“It depends on what comes in,” Hatfield said about where his ideas come from.


Scorpiobeast

Crazy Creatures

Hatfield said he began making his crazy creatures about five years ago out of pieces from abandoned projects. So far he’s also created a Minotaur and an Elkosaurus, both of which he’s already sold. 



“We had the Elkosaurus, which isn’t here anymore, up at the Montana fair,” he said. “And it got thousands of pictures up there.”

The creature now in the works is something Hatfield calls a Crocosaurus.

“The Crocosaurus is going to be an alligator head with an ostrich body, and it’ll have a long dinosaur-type tail,” he said.


Crocosaurus

He holds up another twist of nature; a turtle mannequin on which he has attached an armadillo shell.

“We’ll mount him to fit on a wall,” Hatfield said of his Turtledillo. “It’ll look like he’s swimming.”


Turtledillo

Hatfield says it only takes himself and his staff a couple of days to put together the unique creations – and they’ll do special orders as well.

“We’ve got a request for a 7-foot Jackalope, so we’ll do that,” he said.

Drawing A Crowd

Hatfield said although he and his crew sell a number of mounts in their showroom, the odd creatures that they make in the Cody workshop are a draw for walk-in traffic.

“We do use them to draw people in the store,” he said.

But if you can’t make it to his showroom in Cody, you might be able to catch Hatfield’s show on the road. 

“I think we’ve got 20 ‘oddities’ shows set up for next year all over the U.S., from Philadelphia to Portland,” he said.

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Pursuit Of Happiness: Good Luck Finding An Adult Happy Meal In Wyoming

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
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By Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Many people can remember growing up begging their parents to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Turns out the Happy Meal concept isn’t something one can easily outgrow.

A burger (or Chicken McNuggets), fries and a drink in a colorful cardboard box rings that nostalgia bell. And, of course, there are the toys, which over the years have become serious collectables.

Seems McDonald’s underestimated the appeal of the company’s new Adult Happy Meals.

Released Oct. 3, Adult Happy Meals were supposed to be available to customers through Oct. 31, or while supplies last.

Turns out “while supplies last” wasn’t very long for many McDonald’s outlets around Wyoming and the United States.

That’s much to the chagrin of those who hope to nab their own fleeting, 15 minutes of happiness-in-a-box as the promotion is already a sold-out show at most McDonald’s stores. 

Many May Be Out Of Luck

The toys in the Adult Happy Meals is the unexpectedly popular Cactus Plant Flea Market promotion announced Sept. 27 in conjunction with Cynthia Lu’s streetwear brand. There are four Cactus Plant toys available.

While many national media chains panned the announcement for one reason or another, one Cheyenne-based McDonald’s told Cowboy State Daily its Adult Happy Meal boxes sold out within an eye-popping eight hours of release.

“I don’t know if we have any more coming,” said the store’s general manager, Logan Connor. “Not to my knowledge at this point, but I think they are planning on maybe a December release.”

Connor said even he missed out on the promotion. 

“By the time I even realized what was happening, they were already gone,” he said.

Ditto for Dom Osiris at the Dell Range McDonald’s in Cheyenne.  

Her store also ran out in, “like, the first two days we had them,” she said. “As far as I know, everybody’s done.”

Managers at both the Dell Range and the Yellowstone stores said they have some of the empty boxes on hand — just not the all-important toys that go inside.

In Laramie, a worker at the McDonald’s on Grand Avenue said it ran out of the Adult Happy Meal toys within hours of the promotion beginning.

By Tuesday afternoon, nearly all the Wyoming outlets contacted by Cowboy State Daily reported being out of the Adult Happy Meal toys with the exception of the Rawlins McDonald’s and the outlet in Rock Springs. However, the Rock Springs store said it only had about 10 toys left and anticipated them not lasting long.



Adult Happy Meal Scalping

While it’s difficult to get Adult Happy Meal toys from a McDonald’s store, complete sets of the toys are available for anyone willing to pay a premium. 

Sellers on eBay were listing toys for prices ranging from a starting bid of $3.25 for a Cactus Buddy to as much as $551 for a complete set of all four figurines. 

There also were empty Adult Happy Meal boxes on offer for as little as a $14.99 starting bid.

It’s often said money can’t buy happiness, but at least online it can buy coveted Adult Happy Meal memorabilia. 

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Chinese Company Looks To Sell Four Seasons Resort In Jackson

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The high-priced Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Jackson Hole is among the assets a Chinese company is looking to divest itself of. 

The sale by Dajia Insurance Group Co. also includes luxury properties in Laguna Beach, California, and Scottsdale, Arizona, according to Fox Business. The asking price for the three properties is a combined is $1.3 billion.

In Jackson, the Four Seasons is a luxury destination where guests will pay anywhere from $1,010 a night for the least expensive suite to nearly $13,500 a night for its 4,355-square-foot five-bedroom penthouse resort “residence,” according to the Four Seasons website.

Chinese companies have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Wyoming. A 2015 report by the Rhodium Group and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations estimates the state’s direct investment from Chinese companies at about $770 million.

Lawmakers Concerned

Chinese-ownership of U.S. properties has prompted some lawmakers to attempt to reign in those investments. 

In June, Republican members of Congress introduced legislation to curb China’s investment in U.S. agriculture. The Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act would ban China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from buying U.S. agricultural companies.  

In Wyoming, Republican U.S. House candidate Harriet Hageman has circulated a petition targeting Chinese companies and restricting them from investing in farmland in Wyoming and the United States. 

“Chinese corporations are buying up American farmland at an alarming rate,” read Hageman’s petition. “This is a threat to Wyoming, to America, and on our way of life.”

‘A Real Threat To The Nation’ 

On Wednesday, Hageman campaign manager Carly Miller told Cowboy State Daily that China’s real estate investments pose a real threat to the nation. 

“No American should think it’s OK that China owns real estate investments in America because it means a real foothold in this country by the Communist Party of China,” Miller said. “It represents a threat to our economy and to our agriculture industry when they own farmland as well.”

Miller said that should Hageman be elected, she will work to block investments by “countries who seek to destroy us.” 

Why Wyoming?

Chinese investors have been interested in the Jackson area for some time. In 2014, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported on efforts by area realtors to court Chinese investment. 

Jackson Hole Realtor Bruce Simon organized a tour of Wyoming and Idaho for Adam Wu, COO of China Business Network. Wu was reportedly impressed with the area’s resorts and farmland in Idaho. 

The Wall Street Journal also reported on the trend, citing data from MSCI Real Assets that Chinese companies bought nearly $52 billion in U.S. commercial properties from 2013-19. Since the start of 2019, these companies have divested a net $23.6 billion worth of their U.S. real estate.

Daija Divests

Daija has 15 luxury U.S. resorts and hotels in its portfolio, Fox Business reports, and had nearly sold them to a South Korean company in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed tourism and lodging revenues. 

According to the Jackson Chamber of Commerce’s economic insight data, lodging in Jackson in August 2019 was at 86%. That declined in August 2020 to 71%, then was up again in August 2021 to 86.7%. This past August, the lodging occupancy rate was 93.4%. 

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Weed Management: Is Wyoming’s Hemp Industry Losing Its Buzz?

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Since the Wyoming Legislature cleared the way for hemp farming in the Cowboy State, it appears something may be harshing the fledgling industry’s buzz.

To grow hemp in Wyoming, a farmer needs a license from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and just 22 operations are licensed to grow hemp in the state this year. That’s down from 25 in 2021 and 28 in 2020. 

The number of acres licensed for hemp was a little less than 314 this year compared to 789 in 2021. Official figures on how many licensees grew a hemp crop this year won’t be known until next year, but of the 25 operations licensed in 2021, only 12 actually planted hemp. 

Weeding Out Amateurs 

Justin Loeffler with GreenTree Ag LLC said the industry faces some challenges, but the decline in licenses doesn’t signal that the Wyoming hemp industry is failing. 

“It’s going through its trial-and-error period, that’s for darn sure. What we’re seeing is the industry is finally starting to weed itself out,” Loeffler said. 

Ron Rabou, owner of Rabou Farms, helped push the legislation that pushed forward the state’s hemp program. He grows hemp for grain used in foods, which he said is high in protein and nutritional value. 

He said that a lot of farmers who got into hemp the first year didn’t manage their expectations well or do enough research to know how to be successful. 

“I think when they see an opportunity, they say to themselves, ‘Oh, this is a way for me to make a quick dollar,’” Rabou said. 

Rabou said that the industry is so far behind in development and discovery compared to other crops that it’s going to be years before it’s positioned to be a serious, competitive industry. 

Shredded Weed 

Loeffler said that hemp grown for CBD was a market that got saturated, and what the industry should be focused on is hemp grown for its fiber and grain. 

“Large-scale CBD growing is gone. It just doesn’t pay, and the risk isn’t worth the reward,” Loeffler said. 

David Northrup, who farms in Willwood south of Powell, rented out some of his land last year to a hemp operation. 

He said the farmers struggled with weed management. Since they were avoiding any chemical herbicides, much of the weeding had to be done by hand. They laid plastic down, and getting the plastic back up off the soil was difficult. 

“I would never do that again,” Northrup said. 

Once the crop was harvested, the growers couldn’t find a buyer. 

“There was such a glut on the market that nobody wanted it,” Northrup said. 

The entire crop was shredded and put back into the ground. 

In the first year of Wyoming’s program, some crops had to be destroyed when they exceeded the 0.3% limit on THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. No crops in 2021 busted the limit, and none tested this year so far were too high. 

Legwork

Loeffler said it’s going to be hard to tap into markets until infrastructure is in place to support large-scale production. 

He said hemp grown for fiber has huge potential. The problem is that a building material manufacturer or a textile company’s supply of raw material needs to come by the trainload. No one will switch to hemp as a fiber source when it’s being produced in small operations producing a truckload or two a year. 

They also need to have better communication between hemp producers and industries, Loeffler said, so the proper processing facilities can be built. 

“We need to start working with … construction companies, the lumber people and the plastic industry,” he said. “When we find out what their specifications and their needs are, we can start designing equipment that will meet their needs.”

Rabou said the decline in licenses is temporary. Farmers like himself and Loeffler, Rabou said, will continue to do the legwork, to improve the process and figure out how to make it scalable. Then, other players will start jumping on board. 

Rabou said his farm operation has never had a problem finding a market for their hemp produce, but while they’re working out the challenges, they’re keeping the operation small-scale. Though small, they’re proceeding steadily. 

Hemp is “very expensive to grow. We’re not just going to jump off the cliff and raise as much of it on every acre of land that we have. That just wouldn’t be smart,” Rabou said. 

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Wyoming Rare Earth Refinery Demonstration Pushes Ahead

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Rare Element Resources has announced it’s making progress on a rare earth refining demonstration project that will be built near Upton. The company has completed 60% of the plant design and is expecting to complete final detailed engineering later this year.

“We are very pleased that our rare earth demonstration plant project is progressing toward planned construction next summer. Permitting and licensing are now underway with several permits already received and others under agency review,” said Randy Scott, the company’s CEO and president of Rare Element Resources, in a Monday announcement on the project’s progress. 

The company began pursuing a rare earth mining operation in 2012. The Bear Lodge Project, as the company calls it, included the Bull Hill Mine 12 miles north of Sundance and a processing plant to refine the ore near Upton.

By 2015, while still winding through the decade-long federal permitting process, the company ran out of money and suspended the process. 

Rare Element Resources then began pursuing a small demonstration project, using $22 million of its own money to match another $22 million granted from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Proof Of Concept

The demonstration won’t quite be the commercial scale operation the company had originally pursued, but Scott said it could prove a new rare earth refining process that will attract investors. Conventional processes leave behind tailings piles that are expensive to manage and reclaim. If Rare Element’s process is proven, that won’t be a problem for the Bear Lodge operation. 

“One of the aspects of the demonstration plant is that we will not leave any waste material,” Scott told Cowboy State Daily. 

Scott said specifics about the process and how it differs from conventional means are proprietary, and he declined to give further details. 

“We don’t want everybody, including the Chinese, to know what it is that we’re doing,” Scott said. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 80% of rare earth imports in 2019 came from China. 

There is a small amount of minor radiation at the site, so the company needs permits from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before operations can begin. Scott hopes that will take no more than a year, but nothing is for certain when it comes to federal agencies. 

Once the demonstration gets going, Scott said the plant will employ 15 to 25 people, including skilled maintenance technicians, technologists and people with chemical processing backgrounds. 

“I think it will contribute nicely to the state of Wyoming’s efforts to diversify its employment opportunities for everybody,” Scott said. 

As the company waits for federal approval, Scott said it’s working with the community of Upton to build positive and mutually beneficial relationships. It’s also conducting early expenditures for equipment and services with long lead times, minimizing the effect of inflation and supply-chain bottlenecks.

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Wyoming Brewery Offers Free Beer For A Year To Artist Who Designs Labels For Their Beer

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By Joshua Wood, tourism/business reporter
josh@cowboystatedaily.com

Snowy Mountain Brewery in Saratoga is looking to combine the art of their brewing with the artistic talents of Wyoming residents through a new contest open to all Wyoming artists until October 1.

The brewery has launched “Canvas on a Can” in a quest to find label designs for the four varieties of beer the brewery cans and distributes throughout Wyoming.

“We want to do this to give Wyoming artists a chance to showcase their talents,” said Annie Wood, brewery operations manager. “We just thought it would be a fun way to get the community of Wyoming together and support a fun project.”

And if the artist is a fan of the brewery’s beer, they’re in luck as the winner gets a year’s supply of Snowy Mountain Brewery beer plus $1,000.

While Snowy Mountain Brewery has a variety of flavors on tap, they have just four beers that are canned and distributed across the state. Those beers are Aspen Alley Amber, Treasure Island IPA, White Buffalo Stout and Altitude Apricot Wheat.

It is for these four beers artists will be creating either individual illustrations or a universal design. The universal design must have something to identify the different styles.

“We wanted to give our cans a little bit of a change, have something that’s fun and really pops and catches the eye,” said Wood.

Snowy Mountain Brewery isn’t the first microbrewery in Wyoming to utilize the creative talents of artists. Melvin Brewing in Alpine has artists who create eye-catching and unique artwork for its cans and merchandise.

Wood told Cowboy State Daily there aren’t any limitations on what medium artists use. She said she is excited to see if submissions range from black and white charcoal or graphite to colorful pastel or watercolor.

“We love absolutely anything that the artist brings to the table. We’re not restricting it to any sort of style,” said Wood. “There’s so many different things that artists can craft and we just wanted to give people the opportunity to really bring to the table anything that they may be talented in.”

The contest opened on August 15 and artists have until 5 p.m. on October 1 to submit their illustrations. Final judging will be held on October 15 with a VIP artist party in November. The new can designs will be released in December.

“I grew up in Wyoming and I have some friends here that are just absolutely amazing, talented artists and we just thought it would be a fun opportunity to put the two pieces together and see what we can get,” said Wood.

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Park County Businesses Honored As Wyoming’s Small & Large Employers Of The Year

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

When the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and its partners recently selected the large and small employers of the year, they chose a pair of Park County businesses.

The HumbleBee Shop, a clothing boutique located in downtown Powell, was named the top small employer, while Sierra Trading Post, which operates a store and call center in Cody, was named the best large employer.

Black Hills Energy — a gas company whose territory includes Park County — was named the Veteran-friendly Employer of the Year, while Delta Wye of Gillette was honored for its efforts to recruit and hire youth.

The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and the Wyoming Workforce Development Council honored the four employers for “excellence in workforce practices” on Oct. 20, during the 2021 Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit.

DWS Director Robin Sessions Cooley said the awards are an important way to recognize outstanding employers around Wyoming.

“Each year we get the honor of presenting these awards to employers who are truly passionate about creating exceptional workplaces,” said Director Cooley. “The department and its partners are grateful to these employers and workers for their leadership and contributions toward a thriving business climate in Wyoming.”

Given the innovative employers operating in the state, “we remain very optimistic about the future of Wyoming’s workforce,” said Wyoming Workforce Development Council Chairman Fabian Lobera.

The HumbleBee Shop, which opened over the summer, was chosen in part because of its efforts to collaborate with other local businesses. The women- and employee-owned boutique offers free advertising and business development assistance to its vendors — largely made up of single parents, women and children — and doesn’t charge a consignment/vendor fee, owner Mallory Riley said. 

Riley said the business works to train and assist other aspiring entrepreneurs and “intends to lead the way in creating a collaborative business environment to encourage local businesses to cooperate and become problem-solvers for the economic hurdles facing business owners in Wyoming.”

The shop encourages community members to support other local stores; during its grand opening, the HumbleBee held a block party and gave prizes to customers who visited other businesses. The approach struck a chord with the Department of Workforce Services and Workforce Development Council.

“We appreciate their efforts to raise the tide in their community,” Lobera said during the awards presentation.

As for Sierra Trading Post, which is a division of TJ Maxx, the department praised the way the company responded to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing employees with laptops to enable them to work from home.

“Rather than close down and lay off the many employees who worked in the Cody and Cheyenne call centers, they kept the business open and those employees working by finding a way to make it work,” Lobera said.

To qualify as a large employer, a business must have at least 250 employees.

Black Hills Energy, meanwhile, was praised for the way it recruits, hires and supports U.S. military veterans. The Department of Workforce Services presentation noted that Blacks Hill Energy has participated in various initiatives to show support for veterans and offers military members paid time off. The energy company — which serves some 1.3 million customers in Wyoming and seven other states — has more than 450 veterans on its payroll.

Lobera said the Department of Workforce Services received more nominations for its 2021 awards than it has in years, with all nominees worthy of being honored. He said many of the applications were “super inspiring.”

“Because we have so many wonderful people, we also have a great many wonderful places to work,” Lobera said. “And it’s just one of the reasons we stay through those winter storms and spring winds.”

He added that, “It’s not just the people involved — it’s these organizations that are doing great things.”

The annual Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit includes sessions aimed at improving safety practices and strengthening Wyoming’s workforce. Topics included cryptocurrency/blockchain technology, safety success stories, how to create secure and comfortable home offices, combating burnout, COVID-19 regulations and “the vanishing workforce.”

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