Laramie sets stage to attract tech industry

Sep 14, 2012

The City of Laramie has not been famous for its economic development success.  Laramie has seen a growth in technology jobs, but didn’t have the infrastructure to attract at least narrowly two large mega data centers.  In an effort to change that city leaders are going all out to purchase property and develop what will initially be a 160 acre technology park.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports that officials are hoping for a big splash.

BOB BECK: The Chair of the Laramie Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors is Megan Goetz she says the idea to develop the park came from missed opportunities.

MEGAN GOETZ: It’s from a series and years of data.  Saying, why have we missed these projects?  Why have the companies chosen to locate in Cheyenne?  Why have the companies not chosen Laramie?  And we are talking about big companies.

BECK: So the Economic Development group commissioned a report and got some answers.

GOETZ: The bottom line is that we don’t have shovel ready turnkey sites that are available and attractive to data centers and green technology businesses. 

BECK: The plan is this.  Laramie wants to acquire a grant of more than 5-million dollars from the Wyoming Business Council’s Community readiness program to purchase land north of the community near a power substation, to develop what they are calling the Cirrus Sky Technology Park.  It intends to set up infrastructure to attract tech companies and data centers to town.  University of Wyoming officials say that Laramie has about 60 technology based businesses and some of them came from the Wyoming Technology Business Center… a high tech-business incubator near campus.  Goetz says they conducted a survey and received some positive results.

GOETZ: The projection is that we will create 165 jobs in the next five years in the tech center.  So it’s a matter of finding places for the existing businesses who are already here to expand and stay…and also recruit the new. 

BECK: Along those lines, University of Wyoming Vice President for Research Bill Gern says UW plans to purchase some of that property from the city to develop a research park that can be a place for technology companies to go when they leave the incubator and to attract similar companies.  Gern is very optimistic about Laramie’s effort.

BILL GERN: We are having small technology companies coming to us from other locations saying,  we are getting awfully interested in southeast Wyoming, we like the business climate Wyoming has created, we want to be closer to the University because the University has a reputation for supporting these kinds of businesses. 

BECK: The Laramie city council has agreed to set aside a half a million dollars to be used as a match to leverage the Wyoming Business Council grant.  City Manager Janine Jordan says they are fully on board.

JANINE JORDAN: I think the Council absolutely saw the vision and realized that there was a Carpe Diem opportunity here to seize the moment. And to draw in those kind of data centers or technology clients.

BECK: Jordan admits she is excited about what growing the technology center could mean for Laramie.

JORDAN:  I think this could be a game changer for the community.

BECK: The proposed property is located on a ridge above Laramie.  It’s a flat piece of Ag land with nothing on it, except a power substation.  A bunch of new homes have been built nearby.  Some area residents have expressed concern about the size and scope of the project and the fact that some of the facilities would be too close to homes.  Nearby resident Shane Murphy says they’d only be a short distance away, which is unacceptable.

SHANE MURPHY:  The property they are proposing to buy only goes from a hundred feet back to a couple of acres back. They have a development for this whole huge area that goes back on the ridge, but that is not what they are proposing to buy.  They are proposing to buy an area that directly adjacent to neighborhood home.

BECK: Murphy says there is a much better way to go.

MURHPY: To me, this proposal would be so much better if they took actually the whole parcel of land they are proposing to buy, made that a setback, made that a green space for people to enjoy and then developed beyond there.

BECK: City and Economic Development officials say the area will be more like a campus, with trails incorporated into the plan and say they are trying to address resident concerns.  But Murphy says communication has been lacking.  He and others also note there are other vacant structures that could be used for economic development purposes, but Gaye Stockman who heads up the Laramie Economic Development Corporation says those structures are not adequate.  Stockman calls this an important moment.

GAYE STOCKMAN: We really need to diversify our income for the county and providing opportunities for capital improvements, property taxes, sales taxes and things like that is significant for our future.

BECK: The Business Council will consider Laramie’s Grant Application in December and the State Loan and Investment Board will have the final say after that.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.