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SHERIDAN — Sheridan’s Economic and Educational Development Authority is planning to approach the Wyoming Business Council to secure a grant aimed at diversifying the economy in Sheridan and Johnson counties. The initiative will target creative art enterprises, including visual, literary and performing arts.
SEEDA Board Member Dr. Susan Bigelow introduced the proposal during the group’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday. She prefaced the proposal by pointing out a 2008 Target Opportunities Study prepared for Forward Sheridan by the Wadley-Donovan Group identified creative arts as one of six industries in the local area with development potential.
Within the subset of creative arts, the consultants formulated six suggestions to strengthen the economic sector: take systemic actions to strengthen the economy, develop and preserve the physical environment for the arts and design, assist artists in marketing, expand the delivery of artistic programs and services at Sheridan College, use art and design more frequently in locally produced goods and services and promote the region’s creative assets more aggressively.
Bigelow said none of the suggestions have been explored, and would like to see a focus group prioritize and ultimately implement the goals outlined by Wadley-Donovan.
Bigelow said she hopes to see the creative arts become a pillar of the local economy, and hopes to enlist Johnson County in the project as well.
While Johnson County does not have a comparable economic development authority, the Bigelow said the initial proposal would likely go to the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce for consideration to be included on the grant application.
“One of the findings in the 2008 study was that our arts and culture economy really is a two-county economy,” Bigelow said. “It doesn’t stop at the county line.”
“The highway between Buffalo and Sheridan just gets shorter and shorter,” Sheridan Mayor and SEEDA Board Member Dave Kinskey agreed.
He added that there is already an abundance of economic activity that occurs between Sheridan and Johnson counties.
“I think you’ll see more, not less, of this, and it’s a good thing,” he said.
While SEEDA will be the main grant applicant, the group will be eligible for more funding if it is presented to the WBC as a multi-county endeavor. Bigelow said that for a maximum of $50,000 in grant funding, the local match would be $16,667.
“I hope they embrace it,” Board Chair John Heath said. “And if they don’t, we can carry that pail by ourselves.”
Kinskey noted SEEDA’s mission statement indicates the group is not designated to fashion strategies for economical development, but rather to facilitate a response from outside educational and economic entities.
“In an ideal world, we would have a champion — not SEEDA — to move this sector of the economic development strategy forward,” he said, adding that until a group steps forward to accept the task of economically developing the creative economy, it is necessary for the group to push the project forward.
“You have to keep doing this groundwork to make these sectors succeed,” he said.
The board unanimously agreed to approve the initiative. Bigelow said the grant application will be drafted and approved by the board prior to Dec. 1. If the grant is approved, SEEDA would be awarded the funds next June.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, SEEDA:
• agreed to redirect surplus grant funds into additional improvements for phase three project options of the High-Tech Business Park. City Project Manager Joe Schoen explained several projects were bid under the city engineer’s estimate, which leaves money free for additional enhancements of the future business site. The board agreed to build additional sidewalk in front of Vacutech and add grass, a sprinkler system and fencing in the area.
• heard an update from Kinskey regarding feedback from Joe Sharkey, a consultant from TMNG Global, regarding the city’s readiness to recruit a technical data center to open or relocate to the area. Sharkey’s detailed feedback regarding local infrastructure and business planning promoted Kinskey to write a letter to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead to initiate a dialogue on how to proceed with development. Kinskey has asked the governor for an indication regarding whether Sheridan may be considered for data center infrastructure funding.
• Unanimously voted to accept Ken Thorpe, president of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Powder River Heating and Air Conditioning, to serve as the board’s member at large.