SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Business Council’s Board of Directors voted to request a 10% budget increase from the state for the coming biennium to support a more robust economic diversification push during its quarterly meeting Wednesday.
The budget request reflects the WBC’s commitment to a new strategy, which the board adopted in May, that intends to focus on adding value to the state’s current core economic sectors and create programs and services to activate new economic sectors in the state.
The approach requires a shift in the WBC budget, however, WBC Chief Operating Officer Amy Grenfell said.
The WBC’s current budget allocates 60% of its total funding to the Business Ready Communities grant program and the remaining 40% to internal operations and payroll.
Executing the WBC’s new strategy would require either moving changing those allocations to create room for more economic diversification programs or requesting a larger overall budget to fund those new programs, Grenfell said.
The board of directors was initially presented with two budget options and settled on a compromise between those two options. The first proposed option would have reduced the amount of money the WBC allocates to the BRC program from 60% to 45%, to make room for the WBC’s new programs.
The second option would have required a 16% increase to the WBC’s standard budget and a slight reduction to the BRC program to fund the organization’s new direction.
Board members recognized that asking for a budget increase in the state’s current economic environment would be difficult, but, at the same time, feared that a drastic reduction to the BRC program would hurt communities in the state that still need those grants.
BRC grants provide funding for publicly-owned infrastructure that promotes economic development. At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Sheridan County Commission Chairman Tom Ringley said Sheridan County has benefited greatly from BRC grants since 2004. According to Ringley, BRC grants have helped develop 164 business ready acres locally, contributed to laying more than 30,000 linear feet of water and sewer lines and renovated more than 214,000 square feet of business-ready buildings.
The 10% budget increase the board settled on will still require a slight reduction to the BRC program, and board co-chair Megan Overmann Goetz asked that the board make its budget request contingent on hearing feedback from WBC stakeholders.
With Goetz’s amendment, the board could change allocations in its budget request based on stakeholder feedback by Sept. 30, when the request is due to Gov. Mark Gordon. Goetz also noted that the WBC has rarely asked for more money from the Legislature since its creation.
WBC Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Fitz-Gerald said WBC staff have spent the summer crafting programs designed to promote growth in several new sectors in the state — health care, finance, scientific professional services and advanced manufacturing.
“Those are the sectors we’re currently under-represented in compared to the rest of the U.S.,” Fitz-Gerald said. The Wyoming Legislature will ultimately make the final decision on the WBC’s budget request when it convenes for its budget session early next year.