Economic development commission discusses industry study, ICE facility

EVANSTON — The Uinta County Economic Development Commission discussed a regional targeted industry study, the proposal for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Uinta County, among other topics during its May 23 meeting.

Amy Grenfell and Mieke Madrid discussed the RFP (request for proposal) for professional consulting services in creating a regional targeted industry implementation plan. The State Loan and Investment Board approved a Wyoming Business Council grant of $60,000 for a targeted industry study in Uinta and south Lincoln counties that will be available in July, so officials need to move quickly on making the RFP available for bid. Grenfell said two companies had already asked to be on the list for receiving the RFP when it is available.

Eric Mander raised concern regarding releasing the amount of money set aside for the consulting service. He stated that most people would bid at the higher number and that information shouldn’t be released. Grenfell said the information is available to the public through the state but the amount wasn’t included in the RFP. 

Gary Welling talked about a tour of the ICE facilities in California and New Mexico. Both are owned and operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), which wants to build a facility just outside Evanston. Welling, along with county commissioners Craig Welling and Eric South, mayor Kent Williams, councilman David Welling and Tib Ottley, made up the tour group.

Gary Welling said he was very impressed with the professionalism of the wardens and underwardens in both facilities. Welling said one surprising thing he learned is that Mexican nationals made up only 40 percent of the detainees. The other 60 percent were from many other countries — Russia, India, Cameroon, Ukraine and South America, for instance.

Welling said the detainees seemed to be happy and many stated they just want to go through the process to become legal in the U.S. All men and women were over 21 years of age in these facilities. Welling said that within 24 hours of placement in the facility the residents are seen by a doctor and then by a dentist. All medical personnel are on-site.

The beds are set up like a dormitory with half-walls for privacy. Phones are available and attorneys visit the sites to assist clients.

“In fact, as we were leaving one of the facilities, many lawyers were lined up to come in that day,” Welling said.

The facilities offer training in a variety of fields. Both sites that were visited gave Welling a positive feeling about having a detention center in Evanston, he said.

Mander asked, “Why doesn’t the group tour the facility near Denver that has had negative reports in the press? Why just go to the ones that MTC has prepped for your visit? You need to see both sides of the issue.”

Mander said ICE pays MTC $125 per bed per night and at 600 beds that amounted to $75,000 per day and $22.5 million per year income.

“What does Uinta County get from that tax wise?” he asked, adding perhaps MTC could donate money or set up grants for small businesses in the community, especially for minorities and women.

It was mentioned that employees would spend their wages in Evanston and buy houses, and a lease agreement and property taxes would be paid by MTC.

Welling said he talked to a city manager and MTC would purchase local goods if it would benefit them financially. Most of the large contracts for supplies were national ones at that facility. 

MTC has said ICE could make a decision on where to build as soon as June and not any later than October of this year.

Next on the agenda was the Commission Goals. Grenfell asked each commission member to choose a goal to lead, recruit members for a committee, meet with them and bring a plan for achieving the goal to the June meeting. Placed on the New Business Recruitment Goal were Grenfell, Ottley and Mark McGurn.

The Support for Existing Businesses Goal will be led by Brent Hatch, Owen Petersen and Craig Welling. The Comprehensive Education System to Provide Highly Skilled Workforce Goal will be headed up by Gary Welling and Liz Pace. 

Grenfell asked for reports and feedback from each commission member regarding their specific area. Owen Petersen stated that Mountain View businesses are doing very well, experiencing growth and adding new employees and services.  

Brent Hatch gave a report on the Wyoming State Hospital expansion and said it was good to see there were lots of Wyoming companies involved. He mentioned the new LDS church being built near the high school and that it looked like there is going to be lots of growth in that area. However, there are water line pressure issues there.

Grenfell said the Water Department Commission had approved a feasibility study for those water pressure issues. Brent added that the Rocky Mountain Care Center is undergoing renovation. They also just put in a new sprinkler system.

Mieke Madrid said the city had applied for a USDA grant for marketing Evanston with videos, on the web and new images to highlight the great facilities and activities offered here.

Grenfell said a local business is interested in using two parking spaces in front of the business to build a deck for seasonal use. It would be similar to what Park City, Utah has done. She hopes that other Main Street businesses will see the advantage of this and get behind it. The Planning Department is looking into the possibility and how it might affect traffic.

Gary Welling said a solar farm company is interested in building in Uinta County and that the Industrial Siting Commission is planning to move its meetings around in order to visit other sites.

Mander said that 15 months ago, realtors in Evanston had prepared a report on housing and the economy in Evanston.

“Have housing costs kept up with the economy?” he asked. “It would be beneficial for candidates running for office now to have that information.”

Grenfell and Welling said they would ask realtors to compile something.

Madrid, Grenfell and Dan Wheeler recently attended the Wasatch Back Economic Summit in Midway, Utah. They said the meeting was beneficial and that Evanston could be an answer for Utah employees who can’t afford to live there.

No one else had anything to report so the meeting was adjourned.

Hatch reported that he had been looking into Edward Jones for a better return on the Commission’s dollars and found they would pay 2.3 percent interest. Visitor Walter Riebenack said Uinta Bank could do better on the return, and Hatch agreed to look into Uinta Bank.

Gary Welling requested that Tib Ottley be reimbursed for his airfare for the trips to the ICE facilities. Tib will cover all of his other expenses. The reimbursement was approved.

Mander suggested that when any commissioner goes on a business-related trip, he or she should write a trip report for the commission. Others agreed that a report is a good idea.

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