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ARCHIVED  June 18, 1999

Laramie’s prosperity tied to university’s growth

LARAMIE — At one time, Laramie was a rail town snuggled up on the high plains of Wyoming. Things changed, however, when the University of Wyoming was built here in 1887, and most would agree, they changed for the better.

The University of Wyoming is the only four-year university in the state. With more than 5,500 employees and 8,500 students, it is also the biggest employer in this town of 27,000 people.

“If we didn’t have the university here, we’d be about 12,000, 15,000 people, that’s my guess.´ said Tom Johnson of the Laramie Economic Development Corp.

“Laramie is one of the poorest communities in the state,´ said former Laramie mayor Amber Travsky. “Our budget, per capita is half of what Casper’s is and one-third of what Gillette’s is. So the university is kind of a life-string.”

The university contributes to Laramie’s overall health in several ways.

First, it supplies a work force. Just the sheer number of students substantially increases the number of employees available for Laramie merchants. Second, the university feeds the city through research funding it receives.

“That research funding is seed corn to develop new products for the market,´ said Bill Gern, the university’s vice president of research and economic development. “We ran some ’95 numbers, and of any research contract coming through the university, typically 60 to 70 percent is paid out in salary. A lot of this money is new money coming into the state’s economy. It could be coming in from the federal government or from industrial sources outside the state.”

Because much of the money goes for salaries, a good share of it is plowed back into the community through purchases of goods and services — paying doctors’ bills, buying automobiles, etc. In turn, the influx of revenue pays for jobs in those segments of the economy.

“The research enterprise itself is an important economy to the city and the state,” Gern said. “It provides the new discoveries we spin off from the university, and it also has an economic effect in itself.”

Another benefit to the community is the research opportunity the university offers to the people of Laramie as well as the state as a whole.

“Take me, for example,” Travsky said. “I am an environmental consultant. Laramie is the best place for me to base my business in the state because of the library. The university offers a plethora of research opportunities. I also run a karate school, and the university is a big base for my business.”

The university also prides itself on its ability to offer programs and skilled faculty to the state and Laramie. Scott Smith is CEO of the Western Research Institute, a nonprofit research-and-development organization affiliated with the university. Most of the work at WRI centers around standardizing asphalt formulas so they can be tailored for use in parts of the country with different climates. WRI also develops better techniques for extracting methane from coal beds and works for an array of private clients west of the Mississippi River.

“We host fledgling high-tech businesses,” Smith said. “We provide an incubator. If you are an inventor and have a better way to do something-or-other, you might need office space or lab space to refine your invention. You might not know how to market or price your product. You might not know how to set up an accounting system for a small company. You might not know how to pay your quarterly income tax. We can offer the use of phone and fax services. We teach people how to market and price their product and how to pay their taxes. That’s what we do.”

The university has also partnered with the Wyoming Business Council and the federal government in order to offer useful programs to the business community in Laramie and the rest of the state, Gern said.

“The first are Small Business Development Centers,” he said. “We’re partnered with the SBA [U.S. Small Business Administration] and the Wyoming Business Council. In Wyoming, the SBDC is located at the university, and the state funding comes from the WBC. It’s a very strong program assisting small business.”

Some of the services the SBDC offers include strategic planning and assistance in dealing with lending institutions.

The Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center is another program that offers manufacturers help with technological services, Gern said. MAMTC can help with technical assistance on the arrangement of the manufacturing floor or help manufacturers link up with one another to their mutual benefit. They can also assist with Y2K problems or ISO certifications.

The university also manages the Wyoming Small Business Innovation Research Initiative for the state.

“This originated a few years ago with the notion that Wyoming entrepreneurs aren’t as successful at getting SBIR money as we thought they could be,” Gern said. “This is a major innovation for bringing research products through the market. We’ve worked with small tech companies to help them get SBIR funding.”

Finally, the university has a role to play in Wyoming’s SBIR Phase Zero program. “SBIR money is awarded in phases,” Gern explained. Phase one is for the development of prototypes. Phase two takes a product and moves it more towards commercialization. That money can be as much as $1 million. The third and final phase is the commercialization phase.

“Phase zero was developed by the state,” Gern said. “They provide up to $5,000 to support the writing of a phase-one proposal. The SBIR initiative hopefully gets them competitive for phase-one funding. It is an aggressive program and is regarded as one of the best for a rural area like ours.”

LARAMIE — At one time, Laramie was a rail town snuggled up on the high plains of Wyoming. Things changed, however, when the University of Wyoming was built here in 1887, and most would agree, they changed for the better.

The University of Wyoming is the only four-year university in the state. With more than 5,500 employees and 8,500 students, it is also the biggest employer in this town of 27,000 people.

“If we didn’t have the university here, we’d be about 12,000, 15,000 people, that’s my guess.´ said Tom Johnson of the Laramie Economic Development Corp.

“Laramie is one of the poorest…

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