SHERIDAN — A University of Wyoming official announced a university proposal to immediately invest roughly $560,000 into the Sheridan and Casper Wyoming Technology Business Centers during the Wyoming Business Council’s quarterly Board of Directors meeting Thursday.
UW Vice President of Research and Economic Development Ed Synakowski said the proposal stems from a review of the university’s economic development programs ordered by acting-President Neil Theobald and conversations with the leaders of the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs.
Last month, the university announced it would halt plans to transition the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs into pilot innovation centers while it conducted its internal assessment.
The innovation center concept emerged from legislation passed as part of the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 session. The concept was designed to give local officials more control over the WTBCs and give the business incubators access to more researchers through the WBC.
Right now, the two WTBCs are co-operated by UW and public officials in Sheridan and Casper. UW would not have a stake in the incubators under the innovation center concept.
Synakowski said the directors of the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs had supported the transition because working as remote university operations have proven difficult.
After meeting with the directors of the two incubators during UW’s internal assessment, however, UW officials concluded that the university would benefit from correcting those difficulties and staying involved with the WTBCs instead of giving up their stake in the centers.
“The strong consensus view was that — with proper, well-run processes — this relationship is a net asset, with no ambiguity,” Synakowski said.
The money UW has proposed investing into the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs would go toward streamlining their work with the university and meeting local needs.
Synakowski said UW would make a one-time payment of $40,000 to the Sheridan WTBC to fund the purchase of the equipment and infrastructure necessary to build a “maker’s space” in the local center.
The university would also pledge $160,000 to the Sheridan incubator to pay the salaries of UW employees at the Sheridan WTBC with the intention of freeing up the contributions the city of Sheridan and Sheridan County make to the local WTBC to be reallocated toward funding marketing and new programming for the local incubator.
The remaining money would be split between the two centers and include: $95,000 to create a position that would directly support the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs and work to streamline their communications and work with UW; $40,000 for marketing support to the two incubators; $40,000 to fund additional professional services at the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs; $100,000 to host an Entrepreneurship Summit in the summer of 2020, which would most likely be held at the Casper WTBC; $25,000 for transportation support that will allow UW students and faculty to travel between the university’s Laramie campus and the Sheridan and Casper WTBCs during the school year to work on internships and local business opportunities; and $60,000 for accounting staff support, centralizing the budget operations of the Casper and Sheridan WTBCs.
Sheridan WTBC Director Scot Rendall said the proposal still has to be discussed with local officials but believes UW’s increased investment would address difficulties the center has experienced working as part of UW in the past.
“A lot of this is still unfolding, but I believe we have a plan that will result in a benefit to both Sheridan and Casper,” Rendall said.
Synakowski said the community stakeholders in the local WTBCs learned about the university’s proposal for the first time Thursday and would be meeting with UW representatives later in the day.