The last week has brought great news for all who have yearned for a more robust local economy.
JOCO First, the economic development arm of Kaycee, Buffalo and Johnson County, scored $1 million in Wyoming Business Council funding toward the cost of developing a shovel-ready business park.
They’d initially been denied, but persistence pays off. Mayor Mike Johnson and Commission Chair Bill Novotny led a delegation to Cheyenne to plead the case for reconsideration. It worked. They won the first installment on the cost of the project.
Days later, Wyoming leaders announced that a titan of the outdoor industry — Weatherby, Inc. — will establish a light manufacturing operation in Sheridan’s High-Tech Business Park. The park was built several years ago by the city of Sheridan with assistance from the Business Council. The purpose was to provide shovel-ready sites for precisely these kinds of business relocations.
Also of assistance was SEEDA — the Sheridan Economic and Educational Development Authority. SEEDA, a collaboration between the city of Sheridan and Sheridan College, was able to make a substantial financial contribution to the project, creating the vehicle for a $12 million loan from the State Loan and Investment Board for a 100,000-square-foot light manufacturing facility.
The two developments are related. The Weatherby project lends a sense of urgency to the efforts of JOCO First. JOCO First was able to argue that Buffalo, too, needed a shovel-ready business park and needed it sooner rather than later. Perhaps on the coattails of the Weatherby project, the entire region will benefit through job creation or business relocation in the area.
In many ways, Johnson and Sheridan counties share an employee and business base. Folks in Buffalo commute to jobs in Sheridan, and vice versa. Many people from Dayton and Ranchester and Clearmont and Kaycee travel to bigger communities for work. Some in Sheridan prefer to live in Buffalo, and others prefer Northeast Wyoming’s more rural settings. Economists regard the two counties as one labor market, not two.
Labor market studies show that the interstate between the communities grows shorter every day. There is one other finding that is important: The number of underemployed people far exceed the number of unemployed. Likewise, many people have withdrawn from the labor force due to a lack of work equal to their skills and training.
Collectively, this creates a deep pool of talent for the right kinds of jobs.
Light manufacturing is the holy grail of economic development. We have agriculture, energy and tourism, and we need to promote and nurture them. As dad says, “Don’t forget to dance with the gal that brung ya.”
But a fourth industry will help stabilize the ups and downs in other sectors. Manufacturing is America’s strength and is a good fit for rural Wyoming. There are no smokestacks — just good, steady jobs.
This industry segment is small but growing. Our community college and our high schools are critical to providing the training employers need to seriously consider growing in our area.
Hats off to all the dedicated people in Sheridan and Johnson counties — and in Cheyenne — who drove these efforts to fruition. They are helping build a better future for generations to follow.
Sen. Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22, which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan county. A businessperson and former mayor of Sheridan, Kinskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (307) 751-6428.