Goshen County, Wyoming: Generous industrial parks, rail freight and trans-loading facilities, no state or inventory tax – the area has a lot to offer. In the warm part of the state, in this warmest of communities, business is conducted with a handshake.
Goshen County Economic Development was established in 1987 with the city of Torrington, Wyoming and its county commissioners as leaders. It is a non-profit, membership-based initiative for a county of slightly over 13,000 people that borders Nebraska.
CEO Lisa Miller describes Goshen County as located in the “banana belt” of Wyoming. Translated, it means the warmest part of the state with the longest growing season of all neighboring counties. Goshen is primarily agriculture-based and rural (it is one of the biggest cattle producers in the state), with five municipalities (Fort Laramie, La Grange, Lingle, Torrington, and Yoder) under its umbrella.
Miller explains that the county’s motto is “Wide open spaces with big opportunities,” and relates this to how most businesses in the area, with the exception of some banks and a company’s corporate headquarters, are “mom-and-pop” shops that do business with a handshake and retain a sense of community, something that county residents treasure greatly. It’s where small business is big business.
There is still a great deal of room for new and outside businesses to start up, especially with the space available for industrial parks and access to rail freight and trans-loading facilities, but the spirit of small business is still strong in the county and its people.
Programs for progress
Over the years, the organization’s board has introduced several notable programs that serve as markers to its continued development: In 2006, Goshen became the first county in the state to pass the optional ¼ cent sales tax for economic development, which has provided the GCED with a sustainable funding mechanism for other programs at its disposal, which subsequently will filter into the community and businesses.
Marketing Director Sondra Dent adds that Goshen is the only county in the state that has passed the tax, and other organizations from different areas have been contacting the GCED regularly asking how to accomplish this.
2011 saw the establishment of the county’s Progress Program, which uses tax funds to encourage capital investment and community enhancement. Since its inception, the program has given almost 1.2 million dollars to over 190 businesses and non-profits in various municipalities. Goshen County’s local community has remained invested in this program (they’re called on to approve it – or give the thumbs down – by ballot every four years), recognizing that such a program can enhance other development programs and groups that encourage tourism to Wyoming (an annual boon for the state).
In 2012, the county would follow up the Progress Program with the establishment of a business incubator program within the Goshen County Enterprise Center to aid would-be entrepreneurs. Miller reports that 138 people have expressed interest in starting a business through the program, with 29 businesses opening so far – with a 90 percent success rate – creating 64 new jobs.
The program has seen two such entrepreneurs graduate from it (with a third on the way) this year, and three more currently on the cusp of graduation.
In 2017, the county chamber of commerce merged with Economic Development to form the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC). This brought many programs within the county under the single umbrella of economic development, including tourism, main street programs, downtown development and progress development, and more.
The merger’s success has drawn many eyes to the county from across the country, with several entities meeting with staff to inquire how the merger was accomplished and what the values are that underlie this type of amalgamation. Miller explains that, with its assets gathered into one category, the GCED is here “to assist businesses, residents, municipalities, and non-profits from A to Z… we are a one-stop shop.”
Zones of opportunity
Beyond these innovative economic drives, efforts continue to be made to encourage development within those county areas most in need of a financial boost. To this end, the GCED has taken advantage of Opportunity Zones, which are areas created to stimulate private investment in exchange for capital gains tax incentives. This applies especially in low-gain, economically depressed parts of the county.
The qualification of an area in the county as an Opportunity Zone depends on whether a census determines if the area’s poverty rate is greater than 20 percent, and if median family income is less than 80 percent of Wyoming’s median family income.
Many businesses have been able to take advantage of these zones to begin financial endeavors; Miller feels that the creation of these Zones “has put Goshen County more on the map,” a big advantage for a rural agricultural community. Spurred by these new opportunities, outside entrepreneurs have been investigating Goshen County and what advantages the Zones may offer.
Wyoming is also one of the only states not to have personal or corporate state income tax or inventory tax, further incentivizing new businesses to stake a claim in Goshen County.
Being a membership-based initiative focused on business retention, expansion, and improvement, GCED’s work is cut out for it. Miller admits that keeping businesses afloat and thriving in a small community is “a full-time job,” especially since Goshen County tends to host primarily smaller organizations as opposed to franchises or chain stores.
Miller credits the 22 “very engaged” board members on their hard work, as they are uncompensated community leaders who work with businesses every day, sending a strong message around the county. In the last three years, the GCED’s team has touched base with businesses more than 750 times according to Miller.
In that time, GCED was awarded the IEDC (International Economic Development Council) Bronze Award in Recognition of Progress Program Multi-Year Economic Development. An internationally recognized award, there were over 400 submissions from 12 other countries, showing that the effectiveness of the organization is appreciated as much outside Goshen County as within it.
A diverse economy
When asked about the organization’s plans for continued development, Miller mentions two upcoming projects – the first being a deeper look into hemp processing. The county is currently working with a couple of interested groups that were drawn to Goshen County’s long growing season and access to producers in and around the Nebraska panhandle. The panhandle borders Wyoming, South Dakota, and Colorado as well as Nebraska itself. Miller describes it as a “very exciting opportunity and right up our alley for agriculture diversification.”
The second project the GCED is looking into is blockchain, a decidedly more tech-focused method of diversification. Blockchain is a form of database technology allowing many different computer systems to hold a single copy of data (ranging from information to even currency like bitcoin) accessible to all involved.
This year, Wyoming enacted several new blockchain-enabling laws, which have made the state much more accommodating than many others to these activities. Being a new endeavor for both the county and Wyoming, initiatives are already underway to diversify these opportunities further.
Miller, Dent, and the hard-working team and board of directors at the Goshen County Economic Development see a great deal of potential in their home county, and through methods both classic and innovative want to communicate this promise to every business looking for a change of landscape and a leg up with their aspirations.