GILLETTE, Wyo. — At its annual retreat April 28, the Energy Capital Economic Development board of directors decided to cement its goal to be self-funded by adding that strategy to its long-term strategic plan.
Currently, the organization, whose mission is to stimulate and facilitate a diverse economy for Campbell County through business retention, expansion and recruitment, relies on the county and the city of Gillette for funding.
CEO Phil Christopherson said that for roughly the past decade, the organization, which launched in 1984, has sought to be self-funded. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why he was brought on board, as he’d been involved in making IDEA Inc., which diversifies Riverton and Fremont counties’ economies, self-funded when he worked there. Campbell County’s organization had a lot of debt and expenses compared with its revenue. Board members realized that if the organization wasn’t stable financially, it couldn’t help other entities.
Campbell County and city of Gillette officials have also long wanted the organization to be self-funded, Christopherson said.
However, the challenge is that economic development takes time, Christopherson said. The organization’s work is comparable to Cheyenne LEADS‘s, and it took Cheyenne LEADS many years to become self-sustaining.
Energy Capital Economic Developments’ board, prior to April 28, had a strategy of “stable funding” under its Organizational Wellness goal, but now it’s spelled out.
Christopherson said the long-term strategic plan and its tasks and subtasks are something staff refer to “all the time,” and every year the board makes adjustments to its strategies. For example, the board next year might be able to remove “adequate housing,” which was another strategy added at the April 28 retreat, under “High Impact (Awesome) Projects,” he said.
“That’d be a great win,” Energy Capital Economic Development Vice President of Operations Mike Shober said.
In addition to the change in self-funding focus, the board decided to add a strategy of developing opportunities for the mines and change its “provide business grants and loans” strategy to “assist with business grants and loans,” as there are other organizations like the Small Business Administration that provide those grants and loans.
The board chose to remove the “provide grants and loans to community nonprofits” strategy. Campbell County Health CEO Matt Shahan, a board member, said that since the Energy Capital Economic Development organization itself is struggling, it sends a bad message if the organization’s trying to provide grants and loans to community nonprofits.
Energy Capital Economic Development’s 1% funding requests as of April 24 were $200,000 from the county and $200,000 from the city for the 2023–24 fiscal year. In 2022–23, the organization requested the same amounts, and received $135,000 from the county and $130,000 from the city, according to its funding application. For the 2021–22 fiscal year, it asked for $117,000 from the county and received $100,000. The city of Gillette provided $130,000 that year, matching the organization’s request.
Energy Capital Economic Development, which isn’t tax-exempt, said in its budget documents that it wanted the funds to more aggressively pursue projects to fulfill its economic growth and financial sustainability mission through the following means:
Miller said in a budget meeting with commissioners April 24 that until the Wyoming Innovation Center, a coal commercialization facility, is staffed up and running, the organization is relying on the city, the county and the private sector to each provide a third of its funding. The goal is to fill the facility with four tenants that can fund the organization.
The facility, which had its grand opening in June 2022, is located at Fort Union Industrial Park. The facility offers researchers a working space to advance the coal-to-product and rare earth element process.
Miller said National Engineering Technology Laboratory is supposed to become a tenant in the second quarter of this year.
Christopherson said at the April 24 meeting that there’s another, confidential business that’s coming and that two businesses were attracted to Campbell County because of the Wyoming Innovation Center.
The organization is working with Office of Economic Transformation Director Rusty Bell to address the housing issue, he said.
“We’re just getting started,” Christopherson said.