SHERIDAN — The University of Wyoming has paused plans to convert Sheridan County’s Wyoming Technology Business Center into an “innovation center” while the university conducts an internal assessment of its programs and departments.
Sheridan County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller said she was notified last week that UW’s acting-President Neil Theobald — who was appointed in late May — asked to review all of the university’s programs before major changes are made.
The innovation center concept would remove WTBCs from UW’s control.
That decision puts a hold on a project that local officials hoped to have completed in the next few months. The Wyoming Business Council was scheduled to consider a grant application that would have facilitated the creation of a local innovation center at its Sept. 11 meeting in Sheridan.
“It’s certainly disappointing because we’ve spent a lot of time and resources on moving down that road and a year later nothing has happened,” Obermueller said.
The innovation center concept emerged from legislation passed as part of former-Gov. Matt Mead’s Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming initiative during the state Legislature’s 2018 budget session.
The proposed model would give local officials more control over their community business incubators and allow the incubators themselves more access to resources through the WBC and ENDOW Council.
ENDOW selected the WTBCs in Sheridan and Casper to serve as pilot innovation centers and offered $125,000 to the communities to facilitate the transition of their local incubators.
Obermueller said UW has also hit pause on the plans for Casper’s WTBC.
While local officials had spent time sorting out how that new management structure would function, Obermueller said she believed the broad concept would be an improvement over the WTBC model.
“It’s hard to envelop a local community’s economic development process into a larger bureaucracy that is not in the community…the engagement is just kind of lost,” Obermueller said.
Sheridan WTBC Director Scot Rendall said the pause will have no impact on the center’s present operations, though he has also supported the idea of transitioning to an innovation center.
Obermueller and Rendall both said UW has not given them an estimated timeline on how long the program review will take, but they hope to know soon. Rendall said he plans to attend a meeting with university officials in Laramie next week, where he said he hopes he will learn more.
If the WBC had approved Sheridan County’s grant application next month, Rendall said the transition to an innovation center would have began Oct. 1. The county explored co-locating the innovation center with other local economic development organizations in an office in downtown Sheridan.
Obermueller said all of the plans local officials have discussed are still in play, but discussions about the future of the local WTBC are pending more information from UW.
“We just want more of a definite timeline, and that’s what we’re going to ask for,” Obermueller said. “That gives us an opportunity to at least set our timeline in motion and help us evaluate the program and what we need to do on our side.”