The Casper Area Economic Development Alliance (CAEDA) unveiled its long-awaited strategic plan for growth in Natrona County. President and CEO Scott Sutherland told more than 100 members and supporters at the organization's annual meeting that the plan is divided into "contentious" and "non-contentious" parts.
"The first part of non-contentious is helping create primary jobs in the local economy," Sutherland said. "If we do that retail jobs will follow along."
He said energy research and development, which adds value to Wyoming energy resources, comes to the top of the list.
"We also want to recruit energy-using companies that include those that are automated, that manufacture and that fabricate," Sutherland said.
He said the contentious part of the strategic plan, which took the CAEDA board 10 months to come to an agreement on, focused on incentives available to help a prospective company choose the Casper area. "Incentives help offset our weak areas," Sutherland said. "We can use incentives to entice new industrial segments to our economy."
However, he added, "The Wyoming Constitution is the most limiting in the nation when it comes to offering incentives" due to its prohibition of giving tax money to private entities.
Sutherland said that non-tax money incentives like land, buildings and loans can be used to bring new industries to the area. He used his previous experience with Cheyenne LEADS to describe how these types of incentives work. He said the Swan Ranch industrial park brought in hundreds of new jobs ranging from a distribution center to the DISH Network satellite facility to a fuel-cell manufacturer. The companies were offered free land in exchange for locating in the industrial park. Sutherland said Cheyenne LEADS also partnered with Granite Peak Development in bringing businesses to the Swan Ranch business park by paying for infrastructure, a speculative building and other features.
"Casper is not Cheyenne," Sutherland said. "This makes the incentive portion of economic development in Casper harder" because of its land ownership patterns. He said the Casper Area Innovation Center — the business incubator formed around the former Amoco Oil Co. refinery headquarters — is almost finished.
"This was not the only project of CAEDA the last few years," Sutherland said, adding that discussions with UW to have them manage the incubator continue. "It makes sense and it's looking good. We don't see any red flags down the road that would stop the process [of an agreement with the University]."
He said CAEDA would continue to be an active partner in the incubator. Sutherland also said CAEDA is working to see a 72-strand fiber-optic line run between Casper and Rawlins. "This will provide important redundancy," he said.
Sutherland also said CAEDA should meet quarterly with local developers/realtors in order to increase private-sector involvement. He said communication with local businesses and the public is important. CAEDA has never been very good at this; we need to improve outreach."
CAEDA is a private organization supported by about $2 million in city and county contributions every four years of 1 percent tax funds administered through a joint powers board. It also receives money from private Forward Casper partners.
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