Economic development meeting focuses on COVID grants for businesses

Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill, right, talks to county officials during an economic development meeting on June 24. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Wyoming Business Council Western Regional Director Elaina Zempel was the main speaker at the June 24 meeting of the Uinta County Economic Development Commission (UCEDC). Zempel provided information on the $50 million in additional funding that Gov. Mark Gordon allocated from the federal CARES Act to the Business Interruption Stipend Program and the application process for Wyoming businesses to receive funding.

“The relief program for businesses impacted by COVID-19 was divided into three separate distributions. The first program was to assist businesses that had 50 or fewer employees. The second program goes to businesses that have 100 employees or less and the third program has no employee limit but is used for COVID-19 safety infrastructure,” Zempel said.

UCEDC Chair Brent Hatch asked if any nonprofits could apply for the third distribution. 

Zempel said no, as some nonprofits can lobby for funding and it is too complicated to decide which would qualify. 

Zempel said $47 million in grant applications have already been approved by the Wyoming Business Council and forwarded to the State Department of Revenue.  The closing date for those applications was Thursday, July 2.

When the business has passed the review process, funds are dispersed either with a direct deposit for those in the Wyoming credit system or a check will be mailed to the business address. Zempel said once a business is approved they will receive a notice from WBC.

“We currently have a bottleneck of applications in our office as we received mass applications on June 8,” Zempel said. “We are working hard to get through them. Sometime around July 14, programs two and three will start.”

Sen. Wendy Schuler said, “The Wyoming Business Council is doing a real good job. I have talked to several businesses in Evanston who said they had very good luck with the application and approval. They said it was an easy process. Other businesses need to get on board and apply. In regards to nonprofits, there was some confusion between the House and Senate, but I think later on they may be able to apply.”

In answer to a question on whether this is a grant (and not a loan) and if it will be taxed, Zempel said, “Yes, it is a grant, and yes, they will pay taxes on it as income.”

The economic development webpage was next on the agenda. Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill informed the commission that Golden Shovel was going to do a soft launch of the webpage the following day.

“I am concerned that we don’t own our domain name, and I will talk to Darin, the representative of Golden Shovel, about that tomorrow,” O’Neill said. “I think it is critical that we own the name.”

Hatch then asked for reports from the commission members assigned to a target market study.

Concerning local real estate, Tib Ottley reported that there is still a shortage of residential properties, with only about 40 available. He said the average price right now is $192,000 in Evanston and in Bridger Valley the average price is $100,000 and the valley is down 52% from last year on available properties.

Mark McGurn, who has been interacting with the Utah Inland Port organization, reported the group is currently working on a five-year business plan and wants to do more by rail than by truck. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert hasn’t signed anything into action yet as he is waiting to see if lawsuits will be filed by the opposition.

“They will need a lot of satellite ports and we will have to build our own,” McGurn said, “and we need to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s a couple of years out before we can benefit but they are interested in Wyoming trona, mainly. That would keep trona employees working. The inland port in Utah is still in infancy but they are moving forward with it.”

Gary Welling reported that the Sweetwater Economic Development Commission had split from the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce. He said it is important for UCEDC to work together with Sweetwater EDC.

Hatch reported that the owner of the Subway near Arby’s has plans for that building, is also putting a charcoal grill in the old Wally’s building, and has someone interested in leasing the Tumbleweeds facility he also owns.

Hatch also provided information on the SWOT (Southwest Wyoming Off-road Trails) public meeting at the Strand last month. The committee is now working to get permission from private landowners to travel from Evanston to the Painter exit, where a county road begins.    

Hatch also mentioned a concern for the ranchers in the area who have been hurt by COVID-19 and asked Zempel if ranchers could apply for the business relief money. She said they could if they could show how their losses were a direct effect of COVID-19. Schuler said both cattle and sheep ranchers have been hurt, and the USDA could answer questions for the ranchers as well.

Brian Stokes asked O’Neill if there were businesses interested in coming to Evanston. O’Neill said the city is seeing interest from businesses in the Pacific Northwest. One business has already committed to coming, and another is in negotiations with the city. He said companies there are interested in Wyoming due to the low taxes and more conservative ideology; however, Uinta County has a shortage of commercial properties.

O’Neill then reported on the JumpStart Evanston program, which had four students who completed all classes and turned in business plans for the grant. The four were comprised of a radio station, a concrete company, a coffee roasting company and a digital company. O’Neill said they will issue a press release soon naming the winners after they contact the four by email. He said the JumpStart committee would like to offer the classes annually and maybe even offer webinars, though at this time they lack funding and staff.

Kayne Pyatt asked to speak for Sagebrush Theatre Inc.

“I just want to plant an idea in your minds,” she said. “Sagebrush Theatre has been an active promoter of the arts in Evanston for 36 years. We just lost our home for storing our props and costumes. We had to rent a storage unit, which will cost us more than we make on tickets. We are hoping to form a coalition with other arts and crafts nonprofits. We all need a permanent home, a building, where we can store our combined props, costumes and set materials to share with each other. The nonprofit art community brings in lots of dollars to the economy and brings people to events and that helps local businesses. Keep us in mind when you hear of a likely facility.”

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