Gillette College Foundation, Campbell County receive $3.4 million to promote business growth

A stack of hundred-dollar bills on a wooden table.
(Ervins Strauhmanis)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — New federal grants will support Campbell County’s economic recovery from the pandemic and the declining use of coal.

Gillette College Foundation and Campbell County will receive a combined $3.4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s  Coal Communities Commitment, an EDA news release said.

Gillette College Foundation will get $579,840 to create an Office of Transformation and develop a diversification plan and implementation strategy for the regional economy. This EDA investment will be matched with $144,960 in local funds.

Gillette College Foundation Executive Director Heidi Gross said she believes the funding will help the college make the best decisions regarding programs and workforce development strategies. She said she hopes the Office of Transformation will encourage new companies, especially those in carbon-based technologies, to begin operating in Campbell County.

The office will collaborate with Campbell County, the State of Wyoming, the City of Gillette and other entities to identify workforce and economic development opportunities that can bolster Campbell County’s economy. Gillette College will help with any identified programming needs, Gross said.

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First, the foundation will establish an advisory council and create job descriptions for two grant-funded positions: an implementation manager and a project coordinator. Then, they’ll advertise and hire for the positions. As it’s a three-year grant, Gross said she anticipates that though they’ll get started as soon as they can, it will take a few years for Gillette College students to experience a direct effect of the office’s work.

Gross said the foundation has been working to get the grant for almost a year.

“I was very hopeful [to receive the grant] because the information we had gotten from [EDA] seemed pretty positive,” she said. “So, it was a very nice surprise, but not a total surprise [that we received the grant] because we’ve been working on this for so long and giving them additional information periodically, as they needed it.”

She said it’s really exciting to receive the funding, especially since Campbell County also received financial support for infrastructure improvements at the Pronghorn Industrial Park.

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“I think it’s going to work very nicely, hand in hand,” she said.

Campbell County will receive $2.8 million. The EDA’s release said the local funding match is $593,423 and the project is expected to create and retain 90 jobs and generate $25 million in private investment, according to grantee estimates.

Campbell County Commission Chairman Del Shelstad said the county will be preparing the industrial park for businesses that want to come to the county. Shelstad, who owns an industrial park, said that the county didn’t want to compete with already available industrial parks but there just weren’t shovel-ready sites of the size necessary for businesses that would use the Wyoming Innovation Center. The county wants to encourage those businesses to operate in Campbell County, he said.

The grants Gillette College Foundation and Campbell County received are part of the EDA’s Coal Communities Commitment. Nationally, this commitment is $300 million of the EDA’s $3 billion American Rescue Plan appropriation to support communities’ economic pandemic recovery, including through the creation or expansion of a new industry sector. The EDA has dedicated $100 million of its Build Back Better Regional Challenge funds and $200 million of its Economic Adjustment Assistance funds to directly support coal communities.