While the COVID-19 pandemic knows no boundaries, life in Wyoming still looks and feels quite familiar compared to much of the country, where millions have been holed up in suburban expanses and compact high rises.
“We never had an explicit name for it like we do now, but most Wyomingites will tell you that social distancing is one thing they have always appreciated about life in Wyoming,” said Wendy Lopez, business recruitment manager for the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency. “We have plenty of wide-open spaces here.”
Spectacular views, boundless recreational opportunities, low population and room to grow have always been important features Lopez highlights when recruiting businesses to the state. COVID-19 has exacerbated awareness of just how appealing those wide-open spaces can be to people and business owners.
Business leaders and employees are realizing, and proving, they can hire and work from anywhere. So, as employees can answer emails on a ski lift or attend meetings from a fishing boat, many experts are predicting a move away from big-city crowds and grueling commutes.
Relocate for a Life of Adventure
In October, the Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and Wyoming Office of Tourism launched a collaborative marketing effort titled #WYrelocate that encourages remote and gig workers to relocate to Wyoming.
The campaign not only speaks to a human’s need for access to adventure, but Wyoming’s No. 1 business-friendly tax climate, no personal or corporate state income taxes, and low sales and property taxes.
“Relocating to Wyoming means building a life you want, where you can spend less, earn more and be within minutes of hunting, fishing, biking, hiking and climbing,” Lopez said.
Interestingly, initial results not only show inquiries from the targeted audiences, but from people looking for job opportunities in Wyoming and business owners interested in relocating or expanding to the Cowboy State.
Go to https://travelwyoming.com/wy-relocate for more information.
Wyoming has been a hub of business relocation and expansion in 2020 despite the pandemic.
• Tool and die company TBC Manufacturing broke ground in Cheyenne in southeast Wyoming in early June to relocate its headquarters and operations from Colorado. The company supplies a variety of industries including HVAC, automotive, aerospace and furniture – with plans to expand services to other industries.
TBC Manufacturing intends to add 10 to 15 jobs right away, with more to come as the company continues to grow.
The three-generation family business worked with Cheyenne LEADS, a local economic development organization.
“As owners, we appreciate the independent, friendly, family-oriented culture we’ve experienced in Cheyenne, for both ourselves and for future generations of our family and our employees,” owners Jeff and Karri Sieber said.
• Kennon Products broke ground in April on its 35,000-square-foot corporate and manufacturing building in Sheridan’s High-Tech Business Park in northeast Wyoming to replace its building on the city’s Main Street, which it outgrew.
Kennon designs and manufactures products to protect high-value assets for several different industries, particularly in aviation. Kennon started in a garage in California in 1984 and moved to Sheridan in 1989. The company currently employs 61 and plans to employ 87 in five years.
The city of Sheridan received a $2,850,000 Business Ready Communities (BRC) grant and $1,510,761 loan from the Wyoming Business Council in 2019 to construct the publicly-owned building Kennon will lease.
“Most of Kennon’s business is national and international, and its vendors and customers have been impacted by COVID-19 more than the company itself,” CEO Joe Wright stated.
“Here in Sheridan, it’s almost like Pleasantville,” Wright said. “We at Kennon were able to continue to operate because our community took it seriously, and we’re rural by nature. Even when events or gatherings were canceled and people were working from home, we were still able to maintain social distancing by getting outdoors in our open spaces. Because of our open spaces, we can do a lot that people in other parts of the country simply cannot do.”
The High-Tech Business Park has been filling up the past few years since the Business Council provided the city with a $2,589,913 BRC grant in 2010 for water and sewer extensions, roadway construction and fiber conduit at the site parallel to Interstate 90.
Vacutech, LLC relocated its headquarters and industrial vacuum manufacturing operation from Colorado. Weatherby, Inc. followed suit, relocating its headquarters and firearms manufacturing from California in 2018.
• ISA, a multinational rubber dipping factory, is relocating from Oregon to the Union Center Business Park in Evanston in southwest Wyoming.
Plans for the phased relocation include hiring more than 100 employees in Uinta County within five years.
Rocco O’Neill, the Director of Community and Economic Development for Evanston, said the recruitment of ISA has been several years in the making, but a few factors accelerated the process, including the more conservative political climate and the better tax structure in Wyoming.
“The pandemic happened right in the middle of coordinating ISA’s relocation,” O’Neill said. “At that time, everything in Oregon was shut down, but here in Wyoming, we were still pretty open and moving around freely. I think it was kind of an eye-opener that Wyoming doesn’t operate in the same way that the Pacific Northwest does.”
“ISA has plans to build a larger 200,000 square-foot facility in the park to manufacture surgical gloves,” O’Neill added. The company’s target market is in DOD, DOE and other sub-agencies such as TSA, and they would like to take that business from foreign competitors.
The open space is a topic O’Neill always touches on in conversations with companies considering locating in Evanston.
“We offer a great opportunity for companies to stay in business, employ people and maintain some sort of normalcy,” he said. “We’re also seeing and working to leverage a higher population of remote workers, which helps build a foundation for the larger tech sector.”
Evanston has spent 15 years reinvesting economic development funds from a 2005 Business Council project in the Union Center Business Park, including bringing in fiber.
Those incremental, continued investments not only allowed existing manufacturers in the park to expand their operations, but also led to the attraction of a noted manufacturer like ISA.
• Kanye West’s shoe and clothing lines, Yeezy, is expanding its manufacturing in Cody in northwest Wyoming, adding a partnership with Gap, Inc. in addition to their partnership with Adidas. The first phase of major production in Cody will focus on footwear manufacturing. There are plans to develop an on-site sample and prototype laboratory.
The Wyoming Legislature has worked the past three years to make Wyoming the only U.S. state to provide a comprehensive, welcoming legal framework that enables blockchain technology to flourish, both for individuals and companies, according to Caitlin Long, founder of Avanti Financial Services and a member of the Wyoming Legislative Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation.
In September, the efforts received a marketable boost when the Wyoming Banking Division approved the nation’s first charter for a company to begin banking with cryptocurrency.
Kraken Financial’s special purpose depository institution (SPDI) cannot provide lending services, but the company can offer cryptocurrency financial services for such things as closing real estate deals and making wire transfers.
Also in September, the third annual Wyoming Blockchain Stampede was held despite having to make adjustments because of COVID-19.
The event offered six free virtual events covering three main blockchain themes – Sources, Impact and Implementation – that look to unite worldwide participants with thought leaders, legislators and changemakers at the forefront of major impacts to the world’s future in blockchain technology, according to the website.
Other events included:
• The Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Technology Innovation’s two-day meeting to draft legislation and receive stakeholder input.
• The Sandcastle Invitational, a startup qualifier competition for the Sandcastle Challenge finale in Dubai, which focuses on blockchain, AI and other technology startups.
• The Stampede Law Conference to educate, leverage and frame the benefits of Wyoming’s 20 blockchain laws.
• The month-long virtual WyoHackathon, an event for software developers.
• The Stampede Developers conference and the Stampede Business Conference, with featured speakers and workshop helping attendees understand the Wyoming legislative environment, the business opportunities presented by digital technologies like blockchain, and how these technologies will attain impact in Wyoming and the world economy.