Pronghorn Industrial Park grant denied

The open view from the Gillette College Rodeo facility that would house the proposed Pronghorn Industrial Park. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

The third time is not a charm. The grant money anticipated to build a massive industrial park east of town has been denied once again.

The news is the most surprising of the three rejections to county officials who felt this was their best shot to land the money. It would have kickstarted development for the Pronghorn Industrial Park, a project designed to attract large companies by developing industrial infrastructure that could have benefited the Gillette area for decades.

“We asked for too much money,” Commissioner Rusty Bell said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The county applied for a $11.3 million American Rescue Plan (ARP) grant, with the county pitching in about a $2.8-million match, or 20 percent. The grant is part of rebuilding American initiative whereas the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency was authorized to spend more than $300 million of the multi-billion-dollar ARP to support coal communities suffering or recovering from the pandemic and its lingering effects.

Had the grant been successful this time, engineering work would have begun in July 2022. Construction would have started in late spring 2023, with an anticipated completion date in fall of 2024.

Commissioners hope to stick with that timetable even as officials move back to square one and gear up to solicit grant money from the Wyoming Business Council again with a Dec. 1 deadline for the application, a process that Bell confirmed will happen.

The preliminary plans for Pronghorn Industrial Park would feature eight shovel-ready locations for companies to build. (Graphic courtesy of Public Works Director Matt Olsen)

“There are a lot of discussions going on because we are running out of time this year,” Bell said. “We have a lot of the verbiage done from past applications, it’s just a matter of getting the numbers together and the plan. Unlike when we first applied for grant money, we actually have beneficiaries on board this time.”

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Pronghorn Industrial Park is slated to feature eight shovel-ready sites, ranging between 10 and 25 acres complete with utilities, sewer and access off Highway 51.

The county has been let down a couple times over the last 15 months. Officials applied last summer for CARES money through the same Economic Development Administration, but it was denied because the project could not be tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Months later, the county went a different angle and applied for a much smaller grant of just under $400,000 from the Wyoming Business Council. The attempt was rejected because the county did not show there was an immediate need for such a project with no beneficiaries.

Bell said there are two committed beneficiaries so far, one being local, but they can’t be identified this early in the process. The interest confirms to the county that the industrial park is more than a dream. Officials agree it’s something needed immediately before the county losses out like it has in the past.

The county can also reapply for ARP grant again before Feb. 1, 2022. Bell said that is enough time for local officials to crunch more numbers.

“We have to lower the ask and find other ways or partners to complete the funding,” Bell said. “What’s really not an option is phasing the project because the infrastructure can’t really go in just phases.”

Bell did say the project may have to be scaled back in other ways, such as eliminating the cost for the multiple roadway access to Pronghorn Park and settle on one for now.

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For now, it’s the same story, fourth verse, as Campbell County heads back to the drawing board and looks for ways to get the industrial park in motion.

The history

Campbell County bought 247 acres of land on the east side of Cam-Plex in 2014. A portion of that is now the Gillette College rodeo facility, but the rest of the open land was to be the future home of an industrial park on about 170 acres. The county would invest in just the infrastructure while the committed beneficiaries would be responsible for their own construction work.

“We have to be ready for the Carbon needs because it’s coming whether we are ready or not,” Bell said.

The Pronghorn Industrial Park is also expected to provide a future location for successes from the new Wyoming Innovation Center, which will provide research space and technology to assist in the scaling-up of technologies that use coal to produce new products , Bell explained

There has been little pushback locally about the Pronghorn Industrial Park which is expected to bring industry and jobs to the area. Only republican senator Troy McKeown (District 24) has voiced significant problems with the idea of the project.

“It is my belief that the government does not belong in economic development, let alone property development,” McKeown said. He said if there was a need for such large facilities, such locations would already exist in Campbell County.