SHERIDAN — A new effort to better diversify and grow Wyoming’s economy and workforce will receive a major boost with the allocation of $27 million in federal funding by Gov. Mark Gordon.
The American Rescue Plan funding will help cover the first year of the newly launched Wyoming Innovation Partnership. WIP is intended to support the state’s overall economic vision set forth by the Wyoming Business Council and support education attainment goals developed by the state.
“I believe there is urgency in launching the first phase of this initiative as a means to help Wyoming’s economy grow and thrive as we move out of the COVID pandemic,” Gordon said in a press release. “The projects this funding supports build on successes we have already seen to develop needed workforce and to engage the entrepreneurs of Wyoming so they can innovate and grow businesses and technologies.”
“This investment will utilize our higher education institutions to help chart a path to a healthy future for Wyoming,” the governor added. “By working together we can create more opportunities for people to live and work in our state, and ensure our workforce has the skills they need for the jobs and industries of today and into the future.”
In the first phase of the WIP, the ARP funding will be allocated to both the University of Wyoming and the community colleges for collaborative programs in entrepreneurship, energy, digital infrastructure, technology, tourism and hospitality. This is just the first phase of this partnership. The institutions of higher education are committed to using this as “start-up” funds and plan to develop means to find new efficiencies so that the programs can be self-sustaining.
“We appreciate Governor Gordon’s commitment of this valuable federal funding to help the state’s higher education institutions launch new initiatives that we’re confident will provide strong returns for the state’s long-term economic future,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “This collaboration will allow us to accomplish much more than if we were to act independently, and the opportunities before us are exciting.”
Casper College President Darren Devine said that the funding will help the community colleges both implement WIP and bolster existing efforts that have been launched in recent years.
“ARP funding will serve to leverage hard work already completed over the past several years,” Devine said on behalf of the community colleges and the college commission. “The statewide longitudinal education data system, WyoTransfer process, Wyoming Works, and the attainment work, have all established a strong foundation to work from to enhance our economic development and innovation efforts.”
Among the educational programs that will be launched to serve Wyoming students and businesses is a new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. That includes expanding UW’s IMPACT 307 business incubators — currently located in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan — to all community college cities (adding Cheyenne, Gillette, Powell, Riverton, Rock Springs, Torrington) as well as Evanston and Rawlins.
The funds will also help start a statewide computing education program. This innovation includes a new School of Computing at UW; the launch of a software development degree with Northern Wyoming Community College District in Sheridan taking the lead on initial program development and delivery; and for fintech and blockchain curriculum development and instruction.
In the area of tourism and hospitality, UW will launch its Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Center. Casper College, Central Wyoming College, Northwest College, NWCCD and Laramie County Community College will receive program support in search and rescue, culinary and hotel/restaurant/event management training, and outdoor recreation; and to all of the institutions to establish training programs to address underserved needs in the state’s No. 2 industry.
In the critical areas of energy and natural resources, funding also is provided for power line technology and low-voltage fiber-optic programs at the community colleges. WIP is focused on workforce development on high-potential industry sectors both statewide and regionally, including reinforcing support for the successful community college Wyoming Works and Wyoming Investment in Nursing faculty programs. Embedded within the WIP effort is supporting and training entrepreneurs and new business startups; a research and market analysis agenda aimed at technology transfer and commercialization; and developing outside revenue sources such as corporate partnerships to provide new opportunities for students. The intent is to better focus the state’s resources to assist both existing industries and areas identified as having significant growth potential. Additional industry sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing are part of the multi-year WIP outline.