Sheridan County boasts multiple entities working to recruit, retain and grow businesses in the area. Earlier this month, at least three of those organizations signed on to begin advertising a request for proposals to review the structure of economic development groups in the area and help them achieve greater impact.
The RFP indicates that the three entities — Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, Forward Sheridan and Sheridan Innovation Center — “believe it is time to assess the way economic development is accomplished in Sheridan.”
The three entities have notified and worked with other economic development groups in the community but indicated that gaining approval from each for the request would have been time consuming due to varying board meeting schedules.
In the interest of expediting the process, leaders within the three groups opted to move ahead with the understanding that groups like Downtown Sheridan Association, North Main Association and others would be a part of the study moving forward.
Dixie Johnson, CEO of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, said the request for proposals has origins in a variety of conversations that have taken place over the last several years.
“What was brought to light in those conversations were not just questions about all of the economic development organizations, but as a community whether we’ve looked at our structure to see if it’s the best model and best fit,” Johnson said Wednesday.
She added that those conversations — along with changes within the Wyoming Business Council and Sheridan Innovation Center (formerly known as the Wyoming Technology Business Center) and the opportunity to co-locate with other economic organizations in town — led to leaders within each group opting to reflect on what more they could be doing and under what structure.
Scot Rendall, director of Sheridan Innovation Center, said the study will provide a chance to take a step back and assess.
“I believe through this process we’ll have more clarity and know what needs to happen in the future,” Rendall said.
The RFP seeks the answers to a number of questions, including:
• Is there a reasonable return on time and monetary investments, and how should the return be measured?
• How could economic development groups be organized and managed, and what are the best ways to break down communication barriers?
• How should economic development activities be funded?
• Is there a long-term strategic plan that will channel efforts, participation and investment into the activities that achieve the highest return and benefit?
Johnson noted that all of the organizations typically work well together, but there are always ways to improve. In addition, the RFP notes, individuals seeking assistance are often confused by the number and variety of groups in the community. The RFP outlines two phases of the project.
Phase one would focus on data and input gathering that would result in recommendations for organization of economic development efforts alongside an overall project plan. The second phase would center on plans for a private-sector fundraising campaign. Rendall noted that phase two likely won’t be completed by the end of the year.
While Johnson acknowledged that the results of the study may not be met with applause, she does not anticipate the study being completed without “next steps” being planned and executed.
“If we are all digging our heels in, afraid of what might happen to us or our organizations and not keeping what’s best for entire community in mind, if we’re unwilling to be open to possibilities of doing things differently, then it’s only a matter of time before we become irrelevant,” Johnson said. “We have to be willing to change and evolve.”
RFPs for the project are due by Aug. 30.