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ARCHIVED  May 1, 1997

Two steps forward

Recent successes show promise, but fears of stagnation remain

CHEYENNE – Quark, Rex, EchoStar, Wal-Mart, Dillard’s, VAE Nortrak, Sierra Trading Post.

Announcements of new arrivals or expansions in Cheyenne keep piling up, bringing a new spirit of optimism in a community hungry to diversify its government-based economy, beef up its manufacturing base and create new quality job opportunities for its young people.

But while the announcements are impressive, they alone won’t be enough to replace some 1,300 high-quality jobs in transportation and communications lost over the last three years – at least not yet. So there remains a commitment in Cheyenne’s business community to push aggressively to expand the community’s economic horizons.

“We lost some big numbers that are hard to replace, but fortunately, we’re gaining on it, and we’re going to continue to be very active, very aggressive, in our recruiting´ said Jack Crews, president of Cheyenne LEADS, the community’s economic-development arm ment arm and the catalyst behind many of the new deals.

“The thing to keep in mind is the growth potential with these companies,” Crews emphasized. “While they may start out rather modestly, they all have growth plans.”

Dick O’Gara, head of the Center for Economic and Business Data at Laramie County Community College, termed the significance of the new developments “extremely positive,” both because it shows the results of a long-term economic-development effort and because “we are taking some major steps in the diversification of our local economy.

“We’ve been at it for 10 years now, and now we are finally beginning to see the payoff,” O’Gara said. “What’s even more positive, we’re seeing growth from firms that came here two and three and four years ago, and that adds to the excitement and the potential here.”

“What’s frustrating is where we could be if we had had significant state help over the years,” O’Gara added. “It’s rather amazing we’re having the success we are, given the financial resources this community has to work with for economic development. It’s a credit to LEADS and the community in general to see this success.”

Cheyenne’s economy historically has been based on government. As the state capital, it is headquarters to the largest single contingent of state employees, plus a large number of federal and local government employees. The community’s largest single employer by far is F.E. Warren Air Force Base, with some 4,400 uniformed and civilian personnel.

But many of the newcomers break that mold. They include:

n Quark Inc., the Denver-based international company that specializes in computer software for the publishing industry (including The Business Report). Quark recently acquired 62 acres in the Cheyenne Business Parkway and is building an 80,000-square-foot sales and distribution center. The facility initially will have a staff of about 50, but co-owner and CEO Fred Ebrahimi predicts that it could multiply to several hundred by the year 2000.

n Rex Stores Corp., the newest arrival, is a national retail consumer-electronics chain based in Dayton, Ohio, with 222 stores in 35 states. It recently purchased 58 acres in the Business Parkway to build a 150,000-square-foot Western distribution Center, with an initial employment of 20 and potential to expand to up to 1 million square feet in the future.

n Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Arkansas-based retailing giant, recently purchased five acres in the Business Parkway to build a 32,000-square-foot specialty distribution center with 25 employees initially and potential for future expansion.

n VAE Nortrak Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of railroad switches and track equipment, has started production at a brand-new facility on Cheyenne’s west side, a facility already enlarged since initial plans were announced last fall. Initial employment is about 50, but the company anticipates 150 two years from now.

n EchoStar, the world’s fourth-largest direct-TV company, operates its satellite uplink facility from the Cheyenne Business Parkway and has indicated plans to double the size of its control rooms to accommodate new satellites and channels. EchoStar is in the process of merging with Rupert Murdoch’s American Sky Broadcasting. It currently has around 90 employees in Cheyenne and projects another 40 or 50 after the expansion.

n Sierra Trading Post, the western anchor of the Business Parkway, already has expanded twice since its arrival in Cheyenne in 1986, and its work force has increased from 60 to 200. Additional expansions are on the books for this year, next year and the year after.

n Wyzinco, an agricultural-products firm with 30 employees just south of the Business Parkway, quietly concluded its first year of production in April and has already added on and expanded its scope of production.

n Dillard’s Department Store, one of the newest of a 250-store chain in 24 states, opened in March in a gleaming new 84,000-square-foot store with 170 employees. It is being hailed by Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce president Larry Atwell and Frontier Mall manager Ethan Levine as proof that Cheyenne has arrived as a regional retail market, and they hope it will attract additional national chains.

“We want a diversity of clients,” Crews said. “One of our primary goals is not only to create new jobs but to have them within a diversified economy. And we think the register of new companies coming in is as diverse as it possibly can be. We want that good mix of companies; we also want them to be basic industries, those that import new dollars into our economy, and we also want to increase our basic manufacturing sector, which is only about 3 percent of our local economy.”

Still, despite the new announcements and new spirit of optimism, many in Cheyenne’s business community are worried about lost jobs over the past three years and a very flat, stagnate rate of growth. More than 200 of them attended a meeting earlier this year to talk about “jump-starting” the local economy.

A new Laramie County Quality Growth Alliance, an umbrella group comprised of LEADS, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority and the Joint Powers Board and other economic-development entities, decided to hire a Georgia firm headed by Howard Benson, National Community Development Services Inc., to help the community develop a long-term strategy for economic growth and development. The same firm is working with the State of Wyoming and a newly formed Wyoming Business Council in developing a similar plan for the state.

“We have to do better,” Crews said. “That’s why we’ve engaged Howard Benson and his people to address that very issue, in clear recognition that a 1 percent growth rate is not sufficient for a healthy economy.”

Added O’Gara: “We’ve never grown at an adequate rate, which should be somewhere around 3 to 5 percent for a community of this size. At best we’re growing at 1 percent, which is a stagnant economy. We continue to export our youth, and our work force actually has been declining.

“In the last three years, we’ve lost 1,300 to 1,350 jobs, the bulk of them in transportation. And they were high-paying, quality jobs,” O’Gara continued. “Even though we’re having all these announcements, the numbers are not great enough to recoup that.”

Among the jobs lost were high-paying long-haul trucking companies with the closure of regional Yellow Freight, Consolidated Freight and Viking Freight offices, and down-sizing of the U S WEST staff.

Those losses and the generally slow growth have prompted Cheyenne’s business community to look for a faster rate of growth, but O’Gara said he senses the general populace is less committed.

“When you mention economic growth, people look south and see what’s going on in Colorado and say if this is what economic growth is all about, we don’t want any part of it,” O’Gara said. “We’ve got to convey we can grow at 3 percent and not have massive traffic jams or pollution and still have adequate infrastructure to meet new firms moving into town.”

Besides changing attitudes, O’Gara said there must be more money available for economic development, both at the state and community level; the state needs to address the “creeping crisis” of an inadequate tax structure; and Cheyenne must improve its community appearance.

“We are then a first-class, top-flight, quality community capable of competing with anybody,” he said.

Recent successes show promise, but fears of stagnation remain

CHEYENNE – Quark, Rex, EchoStar, Wal-Mart, Dillard’s, VAE Nortrak, Sierra Trading Post.

Announcements of new arrivals or expansions in Cheyenne keep piling up, bringing a new spirit of optimism in a community hungry to diversify its government-based economy, beef up its manufacturing base and create new quality job opportunities for its young people.

But while the announcements are impressive, they alone won’t be enough to replace some 1,300 high-quality jobs in transportation and communications lost over the last three years – at least not yet. So there remains a commitment in Cheyenne’s business…

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