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Wyoming Innovation Center receives regional ‘Overcoming Adversity’ award

Energy Capital Economic Development CEO Phil Christopherson (left) receives an award on behalf of the Wyoming Innovation Center from Mid-America Economic Development Council Board President Keith Gillenwater. (Mid-America Economic Development Council and Carbon Valley)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Gillette’s Wyoming Innovation Center coal commercialization facility at Fort Union Industrial Park received the Mid-America Economic Development Council‘s small division “Overcoming Adversity” award at a conference last week in Chicago.

The Council bestowed the award to the “Moving Wyoming Forward – Piloting Advanced Carbon Manufacturing Gillette, Wyoming” project at the Mid-America Competitiveness Conference. The conference took place at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. The small division included award entries from communities with no more than 50,000 residents, the Council’s news release said. The large division included more highly populated communities.

The Overcoming Adversity award recognizes a project or best practices a community, region or state utilized to overcome a challenge. Those challenges could relate to budget, supply chain disruptions, COVID-19 setbacks or natural disasters.

Energy Capital Economic Development CEO Phil Christopherson said in a statement that the Wyoming Innovation Center faced most of those challenges.

“Coal utilization is an essential component of Carbon Valley’s economy, so the completion of this project, although sometimes challenging, was imperative to our community and the industry as a whole,” he said in a Dec. 5 news release regarding the award. “Despite budget setbacks and disruptions from supply chain and COVID-19, the Wyoming Innovation Center team was determined to finish the project on time and within budget, which allowed for the successful opening of the center and, most notably, progress within the coal commercialization industry.”

Wyoming Innovation Center (Carbon Valley)

Nationally, coal production and its workforce have steeply decreased, partly because of increased regulations that limit the release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Yet the Carbon Valley holds 165 billion tons of recoverable coal and a robust mining workforce. Energy Capital Economic Development developed the Wyoming Innovation Center to use the coal and sustain the workforce, in a cleaner way, the release said.

The Wyoming Business Council awarded the project a $1.5 million grant, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration matched that with a $1.46 million grant. The City of Gillette and Campbell County each contributed about $250,000 towards the project, according to Energy Capital Economic Development’s project description.

“Facing challenges from Covid, supply chain disruptions, weather, and other factors, the project was completed later than planned, but still within budget,” the release said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony in June marked the facility’s completion.

Wyoming Innovation Center has seven demonstration sites for pilot plants, for private companies and researchers to advance coal-to-product and rare earth element processes. (Carbon Valley)

“Our community is determined to create proactive solutions to maintain our coal industry and the Wyoming Innovation Center is the perfect example of this,” Campbell County Commissioner Rusty Bell said in the release. “Carbon Valley’s sustainable coal-related projects will continue to pave the way for our economy.”

The Center houses companies and researchers developing commodities from coal and coal byproducts. Those commodities include asphalt, graphene, graphite, agricultural char and carbon fiber.

The Center’s first tenants are supposed to begin working there in the second quarter of 2023, Energy Capital Economic Development’s project description said. Future tenants include University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources advance carbon projects and the National Engineering Technology Laboratory Rare Earth Element project.

Christopherson applied for the award, Violet PR Account Executive Sam Brancato told County 17 Dec. 7.

The Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority’s Creative Placemaking From Community Pride project received the Council’s Large Division Placemaking award, which recognizes projects or programs that transform underutilized public spaces into vibrant community places. Within the past two years, Cheyenne installed eight crosswalk murals in the west edge district, 275 banners with unique images that highlight six categories of businesses and a Cheyenne sign of 6-foot tall metal letters in an underutilized part of the city. Cheyenne reported more than 62 new business openings between January 2021 and July 2022.

The Council is a professional association that includes Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, the Dec. 5 news release said. It represents more than 20% of the nation’s workforce.

See other award winners here.