SHERIDAN — Sheridan County Commissioners approved a set of agreements last week that will give local officials more flexibility to transition Sheridan’s Wyoming Technology Business Center to a new model.
Sheridan County’s agreements with the University of Wyoming concerning the local WTBC were scheduled to expire in January. The latest set of agreements will maintain the partnership between the county and UW through July and the contract will need to be renewed monthly after that.
The set of agreements also includes a memorandum of understanding between Sheridan County and the city of Sheridan on funding for the facility.
The new agreement gives both Sheridan County and UW more flexibility as they consider a number of potential changes to the WTBC. Sheridan County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller said UW hopes to limit its involvement with the local business incubator in the future and the city of Sheridan and Sheridan County will have to consider how the facility will operate once UW has withdrawn.
“I’m not sure that it’s going to be the structure we have right now with the university, which is why we didn’t want to lock ourselves in for another year,” Obermueller said.
City and county officials have met with representatives from the Wyoming Business Council and the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming Council about transforming the local facility into an “innovation center,” a concept detailed in legislation passed as part of the ENDOW initiative during the latest budget session. Innovation centers would essentially function as more robust versions of the current WTBCs with backing from the WBC and ENDOW.
The ENDOW council identified the WTBCs in Sheridan and Casper as ideal candidates for pilot innovation centers and allocated $125,000 to facilitate the transition from a WTBC to a pilot innovation center.
During a meeting about the innovation center concept last month, city and county officials said they were concerned they would surrender too much local control over the facility if they partnered with the WBC and ENDOW on a local innovation center.
Sarah Fitz-Gerald, chief strategy officer with the WBC, said the WBC’s goal with the innovation center model is to enhance local control over the facilities while giving them access to more resources. She admitted, however, that the details of the model have not been established, which is why local officials have been reluctant to commit to an agreement on a local innovation center.
Local officials have also considered using the local incubator facility as an economic development hub that would house all of the local economic development organizations under one roof, allowing them to share resources while remaining distinct entities.
“I think we’re going to have to do something locally regardless and then participate in that statewide nonprofit as well,” Obermueller said.
The exact timeline for when a new direction for the local incubator will start to take shape is still unclear, but Obermueller estimated the county will have a better idea by the end of the new year’s first quarter.
“There’s just a lot of unknowns at the state level (right now),” Obermueller said. “But we are certainly excited to move forward and maybe tap into some of the additional funding to grow our thoughts behind this innovation center and economic development hub.”