Plans for Innovation Center Move Forward

On Monday, March 11, the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC) in Sheridan posted a request for proposals for remodeling office space that will be part of a new Sheridan Innovation Center and Economic Development Co-Location facility.

Wyoming’s Economically Needed Diversification Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) Executive Board’s 20-year diversification strategy report released in August called for the creation of Innovation Centers (IC’s) across the state.

The centers are to be physical places that serve as hubs for focused services and infrastructure, including office and lab space, mentorship programs, entrepreneurial concierges, early stage business accelerators, and other essential services.

ENDOW recommended that the IC concept be piloted by converting current WTBC locations in Casper and Sheridan to Innovation Centers. The current WTBC office in the First Interstate building has allowed them to run effective entrepreneurial counseling programs, pitch competitions, networking functions, and training seminars, but has not been suitable or effective as a business incubator space.

A number of organizations currently exist to promote economic development activities and a thriving local economy in Sheridan County, including the Downtown Sheridan Association, Forward Sheridan, North Main Association, Phorge Maker Space, Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, Sheridan Education and Economic Development Association, Sheridan Travel & Tourism, and Wyoming Technology Business Center.

According to the request, there are three reasons for these organizations to share a physical space. First, they are geographically dispersed in various locations around town and each is responsible for their own facility costs. Second, though the entities generally have good working relationships with one another, communication is sometimes slow, and collaboration opportunities are missed. Finally, those from the community needing assistance in the economic development space are often confused by the number of groups, which makes it cumbersome to get them the help they need in a timely manner.

County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller recently toured a business innovation center in Rapid City, South Dakota, to learn more about the concept. Elevate Rapid City has already gone through the process of consolidating various economic development groups under one nonprofit.

In order to simplify, the organization used the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce’s existing nonprofit status but created new bylaws. According to Obermueller, Elevate Rapid City received more funding as a single entity than they ever did as their component groups. The entire plan was driven by the private sector.

Obermueller said it was a benefit to be able to visit with Rapid City officials andget some hands-on learning.

“They didn’t paint a rosy picture,” she said. “It was tough. But they felt it was the right thing.”

The WTBC, along with Sheridan County, will select a design consultant from those responding to the request. Proposals must be received by Monday, April 8, 2019. Proposals received after this date will not be considered.

Direct all questions and requests for additional information regarding the RFP to Scot Rendall, (307) 675-1939 or srendall@uwyo.edu.