Slow comeback in energy jobs holds back full Wyo. jobs recovery
A slower return in energy employment numbers from the losses experienced earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic has held back Wyoming’s overall jobs comeback, new statistics from the state show.
On June 9, the Economic Analysis Division of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information released its monthly report on such figures. “Relative to February 2020 (before the pandemic hit the labor market in March 2020), total employment has still not fully recovered from the pandemic, primarily due to slow recovery in the mining industry” (a sector which includes energy), wrote Dylan Bainer, principal economist for the state’s Economic Analysis Division, in an accompanying email.
From the start of two-plus-year period to recent months, there are now 3,600 fewer jobs in the state, while the mining sector is down by some 4,000, according to the new report. “Other industries, such as retail trade, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services, have more jobs than they did in February 2020. The construction and education and health industries have roughly returned to their pre-COVID levels.” This past April, there were 8,200 jobs in oil and gas. That, itself, was a gain of 1,000 from April 2021.
One plus side of inflation is that sales and use tax collections have been on the rise, as prices also are up.
“May sales and use tax collections from the mining sector were up $3.4 million (+75.5%) year-over-year,” Bainer wrote in his email. The total was $7.9 million for this sector last month, he later wrote the Wyoming Business Report. It is the ninth consecutive month of such year-over-year increases. The sector’s percentage gain outpaced any other industry tracked by the state statistics.
Total Wyoming-wide collections rose 20% to $66.8 million, Bainer told WBR. “This increase in total collections is mostly due to large increases in the retail trade and leisure and hospitality sectors,” he wrote in an earlier email to stakeholders. “However, a significant amount of the increase in collections in these industries can be attributed to inflation.”
Wyoming Rescue Mission gets $300,000 from May Match Challenge
Citing “generous community support,” the Wyoming Rescue Mission announced June 3 it recently collected more than $300,000, which it will use for its programs and services in the coming months.
This financial assistance came from the organization’s annual May Match Challenge, in which a group of local foundations challenge the community to “meet the match” and “encourage community generosity to restore more lives struggling with homelessness.”
This year, the foundations challenged people to donate $150,000, which these entities would, in turn, match. Some $153,699.46 was raised during the month of May, resulting in $303,699.46 total going to the rescue organization.
This summer, the mission expects to provide more than 15,000 meals and more than 10,000 nights of shelter. The rescue mission is a nonprofit that serves Natrona County and has its administration office, main shelter and other operations within the county, in the city of Casper.
Safari Timberline Hospitality buys Timberline Hospitalities
Safari Timberline Hospitality has purchased Timberline Hospitalities, joining two companies with hotels in the Western U.S., including in Wyoming.
The deal, which the buyer said in a recent news release took place on May 24, adds nine hotels to Safari Hospitality. A recent news release did not describe financial terms of the transaction.
An online description of Timberline says it owns and operate nine hotels within Wyoming and is based in Casper. Safari, for its part, says on its own website that it operates thousands of hotel rooms in five states, also including Wyoming. It says it is based in southern Utah; it appears to have an office in Cedar City.
Transmission project has all state, U.S. gov’t approvals
A couple-billion-dollar power transmission line construction project potentially spanning several hundred miles and three states has gotten all of the state and federal government approvals it needs for now.
A representative for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has confirmed to the Wyoming Business Report that Rocky Mountain Power, its parent company, PacifiCorp, and a related entity had not sought FERC approval for the power project. Such FERC OK generally is not needed in situations when a utility is building such a power line; the commission might need to give its stamp of approval for other aspects of power transmission plans, such as for interstate pricing, according to a FERC spokesperson.
The last regulatory OK at any level of government that the project needed came late in May from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, PacifiCorp’s David Eskelsen told WBR by phone on June 3.
“All required approvals are in hand,” the spokesperson said. “FERC does have jurisdiction” over aspects of the power transmission initiative, he said, “but not over whether to build or the routing” of where it goes.
The Utah Public Service Commission and Wyoming’s own PSC had previously confirmed that they had granted their permissions. Colorado, where a part of the line will also go through, did not need to give its OK, officials previously said.
The forthcoming expansions are referred to as Energy Gateway South and Gateway West/D-1. Rocky Mountain Power, which is part of the Warren Buffett-affiliated Berkshire Hathway holding company, has said it hopes to begin construction on a portion of Energy Gateway South as soon as in June.
Feedback due July 6 at PSC on Black Hills Energy rate plan
Feedback is due July 6 at the state’s utility regulator on the Cheyenne power company’s proposal to raise rates.
Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Co., which goes by the name Black Hills Energy, on June 2 filed an application with the Wyoming Public Service Commission requesting $15.4 million in higher annual rates. This would work out to a 7.9% rate of return, according to a PSC notice of application dated June 6.
On June 7, the commission sent out an email with a link to the notice. The notice set the July 6 deadline for anyone to “file a public comment, statement, intervention petition, protest or (to) request a public hearing in this matter.” The docket number is 20003-214-ER-22, and the record number is 17072.
Some consumer bills could go up by about 15%; the rate increase could start in March.
The PSC noted that the agency could ultimately approve a higher or a lower rate increase. “Customers interested in knowing the impact of the proposal on their actual bills” should contact Black Hills Energy, the commission advised.
Laramie downtown economy recognized at the national level
Efforts to support Laramie’s downtown economy have been recognized on the national level.
The Laramie area was named a 2022 Great American Main Street. The award, which is given by Main Street America, recognizes downtown areas that have done exceptional work in building the economy while preserving a sense of history and place.
“This brings Laramie national recognition among our peers and those working in economic development,” said Trey Sherwood, executive director of Laramie Main Street Alliance.
Since 2005, the organization has worked to build partnerships with the city of Laramie, University of Wyoming and local businesses to work toward economic success. It was the group’s holistic approach to economic development that caught the attention of the award committee, Sherwood said.
Some of the organization’s most notable efforts include starting a mural project in the downtown area, creating a gift certificate program for UW students to spend money downtown and hosting a variety of events such as the local farmers market and Laramie Brewfest.
“It’s a reflection of not just doing events, but doing that in coordination in a strategic way with a long-term vision,” Sherwood said.
Nearly 400 private rehabilitation projects and $21 million in public and private investment have been completed in Laramie since the Main Street Alliance was formed, according to a press release.
There also has been a net gain of 148 new businesses and 689 new jobs.
In addition to special projects, the diversity of gender and socioeconomic status among Laramie Main Street Alliance members was noted as a positive aspect of the organization.
Firehouse Subs comes to Wyoming, now on Pershing Blvd. in Cheyenne
A national sub-sandwich chain has entered the Wyoming market.
Firehouse Subs has just opened a location in the Capital City, its first place anywhere in the state. The store employs about 20 people, a company spokesperson told the Wyoming Business Report.
Such a move had been eagerly awaited by some. The website of Firehouse Subs had, in recent months, showed that it expected to have a new location in the Pershing Boulevard Marketplace, in unit C. The address is 3901 E. Pershing Blvd., which is around where East Pershing Boulevard intersects with North College Drive.
On June 6, the national company made it official, after previously keeping mum. Firehouse said that the new location was opening that same day. As expected, first-time Firehouse Subs franchisees Stu and Amanda Music are the owners of the new restaurant. Firehouse Subs said it now has locations in 46 states.
The family are natives of Jacksonville, Florida, where Firehouse was founded, the company said. “Upon moving out west to Northern Colorado, the husband-and-wife duo was eager to bring the same Firehouse Subs experience.”
The family, said the release, plans on “giving back locally through the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.” The foundation has given out $67.5 million nationwide, including to the Laramie County Fire District and Capital City Canine Search and Rescue. The national chain was started by “former firefighting brothers,” while Stu Music has been a police officer for 15 years, Firehouse said.
The new restaurant has a mural painted by Joe Puskas, which has a Cheyenne fire truck and a Cheyenne Police Department cruiser. It also has a bucking horse and rider depicted as being in front of F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
Transportation Commission awards $32.2M for construction projects
The Wyoming Transportation Commission has awarded almost $32.2 million for seven Wyoming Department of Transportation construction projects, WYDOT announced last month. These latest actions took place at the commission’s May 12 business meeting.
These projects are mostly funded with federal money, according to the state agency. The only exception, for work that is only being paid for by this state, is Cowley-based S&L Industrial. It had bid $175,533, for a job that WYDOT said “involves signing and other work in various locations within Campbell and Sheridan counties.”
Among the latest batches of construction work that the state disclosed, the largest recipient in terms of dollars is Rock Springs headquartered Kilgore Cos. It has been awarded an almost $7.2 million bid for paving, grading and other work on some 7.7 miles of U.S. Highway 189 in Lincoln County.
The next biggest award involves the commission awarding a $5.8 million bid to McGarvin-Moberly Construction Co. The company, from Worland, will do work involving paving, milling and chip seal and other work on almost 13 miles of U.S. 287/26 in Fremont County.
McGarvin-Moberly also could get another $4.5 million. The commission has approved the company’s bid for paving, guardrail work, milling and grading on approximately 5.7 miles of U.S. 16 in Johnson County.
Based in Cheyenne, Simon Contractors was awarded almost $3.5 million, per WYDOT’s announcement. Its project includes paving, milling, sidewalk work and curb and gutter construction in Laramie County.
Typically, most construction businesses getting the state commission’s roadwork awards are headquartered in Wyoming. For the month of May, the only out-of-state bidder to win was Northern Improvement Co., which is headquartered in North Dakota. It had two bids OK’d.
One $6.96 million bid is for a project with milling, paving, grading and chip seal on almost 17 miles of U.S. 18/20 in Converse County. And a $4.1 million winning bid is for a project involving paving, chip seal and grading on 6.5 miles of U.S. 86 and 16 in Niobrara and Weston counties.
This most recent meeting had an average of some two-and-a-half bids per project, WYDOT noted. That is in keeping with the average for this fiscal year, according to the agency. As always, projects are given to the lowest bidders.
Wyoming retail a source of strength, according to state officials
Although the recovery of the state’s economy from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is not quite as far along as is Cheyenne’s economic comeback, there are some sources of strength in Wyoming. This is according to figures released in May by the Economic Analysis Division of the state’s Department of Administration and Information.
The amount of money generated by the state’s 4% sales and use tax is one way to gauge the strength of the state’s economy.
This past March, the amount of this tax “from lodging was $2.6 million in March 2022, 32.0% more than March 2021,” said a government report. “This is the 13th consecutive month of year-over-year increases in collections, a bright sign that the tourism sector has mostly recovered from the pandemic.”
Tourism and related activities are the state’s second-biggest industry, behind only the energy sector. Energy and mining have recovered somewhat, as well, although their total employment figures are below what they were prior to COVID-19.
Burlington coat and clothing store coming to Cheyenne
The retail chain formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory has plans to open a location at 1840 Dell Range Blvd. in Cheyenne, next to Hobby Lobby. Now often referred to as just Burlington, the national retailer does not appear to have any stores in Wyoming, representatives told the Wyoming Business Report. They said its closest store appears to be the current location in Fort Collins, Colorado.
One employee said that a new location is planned for Greeley, Colorado. That worker and others said they were not in the know about a possible Cheyenne location.
City records tell the tale. A city official also confirmed to the WBR what the online records showed.
“The former Kmart building redevelopment continues with renovations to the west façade related to the Burlington in the southwest corner and retail TBD in the northwest corner” of the property at 1840 Dell Range Blvd., according to a May 2 letter to the city. Among other plans, some parking (or at least some kinds of parking spaces) may be added, along with landscaped islands in the parking lot.
A Burlington outside public relations representative declined to comment or to confirm whether and when Cheyenne shoppers would get a new inexpensive place to shop for apparel.
Burlington won’t be the first national chain to want to keep a lid on its plans to enter this market. Firehouse Subs is an example of another company that waited a few months to unveil its plans to locate a shop in Cheyenne, which is that sub sandwich chain’s first location in Wyoming. In early June, Firehouse confirmed a franchisee had opened a shop in the city.
Accomplice Beer Co. gets award for Krimson King Ember Lager
Accomplice Beer Co.’s Krimson King Ember Lager has won a silver medal in the 2022 World Beer Cup, the craft brewer announced on June 2.
Krimson King is sold in the Midwest U.S. and has a partnership with Rib & Chop House restaurants, according to a news release. Accomplice Beer Co., with locations in Cheyenne and in Laramie, is owned by Finally Restaurant Group, which itself has restaurants including the Rib & Chop House.
Wyoming communities getting $3M for environmental cleanups
The federal government has announced that Wyoming is getting more than $3 million for environmental cleanups.
In a news release last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Cheyenne will each get a brownfields assessment grant of $2 million and $500,000, respectively. And the Sheridan County Conservation District will receive a $585,000 brownfields cleanup grant.
The DEQ plans at least 35 environmental site assessments, according to the EPA. These will examine uses of the properties, and sample soil, water, air and building materials. The goal is “to evaluate potential contamination, determine cleanup options, and initiate reuse planning.” And the DEQ will develop 11 cleanup and reuse plans and back community outreach.
Priority sites include abandoned manufacturing areas, what are described as former mine-energy peripheral areas, two vacant hotels, and salvage yards and junkyards in the city of Laramie, Sweetwater County and Carbon County.
The city of Cheyenne will use the federal funding to inventory sites and do 23 environmental site assessments, the EPA said. It will also develop five cleanup plans and support planning and community engagement. Priority sites, the EPA said, include a livestock feed mill, industrial storage structures, a scrap metal recycling center, a lumber company, “and an old machine shop in Cheyenne’s West Edge District and in other parts of the city.”
“This grant will help educate property owners and the public of potential barriers to development and allow the City to utilize tools … to remove those barriers to create a vibrant and inclusive community,” Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins said in the federal news release. He, in part, cited the newly created Urban Renewal Authority, whose board had recently met.
The Sheridan County Conservation District, for its part, plans to clean up the buildings at the former Acme Power Plant, EPA said. It described the location as being on two acres and having housed “a coal-fired power plant from 1910 to 1976 that supplied power to the Acme Mine and the surrounding area. The site was later used for automobile salvage and crushing, battery recycling and transformer storage. It currently is abandoned and contaminated with metals and inorganic contaminants.”
Overall on Thursday, the EPA said a few hundred million dollars of funding was disclosed that may be spent from the $1.5 billion in the infrastructure law. The goal is “to help turn brownfield sites across the nation into hubs of economic growth and job creation.” For information on these projects, go online to the EPA’s website.
A brownfield is described as “a property for which the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Among things that have sprung from the EPA program are “everything from grocery stores and affordable housing to health centers, museums, greenways, and solar farms.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s newly unveiled gas price group includes three state lawmakers, two agency heads and several association executives. The governor’s office announced the new Gas and Diesel Price Working Group on June 8. Later that day, Gordon’s spokesperson provided the Wyoming Business Report with a list of the group’s members. The spokesperson noted the membership roster “shouldn’t be considered final.”
Brenda Henson, director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue, is the chair of the new panel. Another member is Luke Reiner, who is the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s director.
Reps. Mike Greear, R-Worland, and Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, are also participants. So, too, is Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Thermopolis.
Other members are: Bobby Rolston from the Wyoming Taxpayers Association; Sheila Foertsch with the Wyoming Trucking Association; Jerimiah Rieman at the Wyoming County Commissioners Association; Jonathan Downing at the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association; and AARP’s Sam Shumway.
div class=”subscriber-preview”Terry TJ Thompson is the new information technology director at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. He comes to Rock Springs from Alaska, where he most recently worked as the information technology project architect at a company in Anchorage. “I needed someplace warm,” he said. “Alaska was getting to be too cold for me.”/div
Debbie Pummel has joined Safari Timberline Hospitality as its Wyoming regional director of sales, the company announced recently as it disclosed that it had recently bought another hotel company. It said that she “has been serving hospitality to friends and family in Wyoming for over 25 years.”
Joshua Eames has been tapped by Gov. Mark Gordon as a district court judge for the Seventh Judicial District, which serves Natrona County. He had been Wyoming’s senior assistant attorney general. Eames becomes the fourth such judge in the district, the governor’s office announced June 8. “The additional judge was authorized and funded by the 2022 legislature and signed into law by the Governor in March.”
Rick Catron retired from the Wyoming Department of Corrections on June 4. Most recently, he had been serving as warden of the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk. In 2017, WDOC hired him from the private prison industry, a sector in which he worked in places like Casper and Colorado Springs following his 2005 retirement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Katherine Bede has been awarded the 2022 Woman Entrepreneur Award, the Wyoming Council for Women announced recently. She is the owner and operator of Sheridan-based Verdello Olive Oils and Fine Foods. The recognition is for women in Wyoming “who are contributing to our vibrant Main Streets and local economies,” the WCW says. Bede has had “success as a small business owner and contributor to the Sheridan community,” according to WCW Chair Jennifer Wilmetti.
Steve Girt of Cheyenne was named 2021 Public Servant of the Year on May 16 for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. Girt is the agency’s information technology manager, and though he is housed within the agency’s Administration Division, his work is described as being essential to all of DEQ staff members’ success. Girt earned the award for a combination of hard work and positive attitude.
He learned in August that DEQ’s web hosting service would shut down in 30 days, which meant the agency needed a new vendor to host its website and that the content management system needed to change, both of which are usually long-term projects. Girt opened an account for a new web hosting service with 24 hours and worked nights and weekends over the next two weeks to ensure the website was successfully moved with minimal challenges for the agency and the public. He managed this while continuing top-notch performance in his other job duties.
Agency administrators also recognized the Financial Assurance Team as DEQ’s 2021 Team of the Year.
Other DEQ employees who were nominated for Public Servant of the Year are:
Air Quality Division: Jennifer Petersen
Abandoned Mine Land Division: Josh Oakleaf
Industrial Siting Division: Joe Hunter
Land Quality Division: Chris Henkel
Solid and Hazardous Waste Division: Cindi Martinez
Water Quality Division: Ron Steg
The Wyoming Association of Broadcasters announced its Hall of Fame inductees for this year: Gene “Gabby” Barrus from Cody and Tim Ray of Grand Junction, Colorado. Barrus began his play-by-play sports announcer career for KODI AM in Cody in 1947. He also was the radio station’s sports director. Friend and fellow WAB hall of famer Curt Gowdy once referred to Barrus as “the voice of high school sports in Wyoming.” After retiring from broadcasting and from Husky Oil, Barrus began working on wildlife and scenic photography and writing for outdoor publications. Ray, meanwhile, started his play-by-play career in 1980 at KWYO AM in Sheridan. In 1984, he started the first sports program for sister radio broadcast station KROE AM. He also did announcing-type duties for Casper’s minor league baseball team, and he was Natrona County School District’s athletics director and general manager of the Casper team.
After its most recent executive director left the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra to take another job, the Casper organization has named Rebecca Hebert as its interim executive director, outgoing Executive Director Rachel Bailey told the Wyoming Business Report. She noted that Hebert is the program and event manager. Bailey has been appointed as the first-ever executive director of another nonprofit organization based in Casper, Food Bank of Wyoming, that organization separately told the WBR.
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has named Patrick Amole as its deputy supervisor. He is succeeding Tom Kropatsch, who had served as deputy supervisor for several years and was selected as the WOGCC supervisor. Amole began at the commission in 2017; he had worked as a field inspector. Then, according to the agency’s announcement, he was an engineer and then became senior inspector “to oversee the WOGCC’s field inspection team.”