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Gordon aiming $27 million in ARP funds toward computing, tourism, and entrepreneurship in higher ed

Governor Mark Gordon (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

CASPER, Wyo. — $27 million of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding will help to launch “a new effort to better diversify and grow Wyoming’s economy and workforce,” Governor Mark Gordon’s office announced Tuesday.

Initiatives aimed at higher education institutions dovetail with the University of Wyoming’s recent creation of schools of computing, tourism and hospitality (Wyoming’s second largest industry), and entrepreneurship.

Funding is also being aimed at power line technology and low-voltage fiber-optic programs at the community colleges.

The Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP) “is intended to support the state’s overall economic vision set forth by the Wyoming Business Council and support education attainment goals developed by the state,” the release said.

Additional industry sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing are part of the multi-year WIP outline.

“The projects this funding supports build on successes we have already seen to develop needed workforce and to engage the entrepreneurs of Wyoming so they can innovate and grow businesses and technologies,” Gordon said.

Funding during the first “phase” of the initiative will be used to develop programs in entrepreneurship, energy, digital infrastructure, technology, tourism and hospitality at the University of Wyoming and the community colleges.

“This investment will utilize our higher education institutions to help chart a path to a healthy future for Wyoming,” the Governor added. “By working together, we can create more opportunities for people to live and work in our state, and ensure our workforce has the skills they need for the jobs and industries of today and into the future.”

Among the educational programs that will be launched to serve Wyoming students and businesses is a new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. That includes expanding UW’s IMPACT 307 business incubators — currently located in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan — to all community college cities (adding Cheyenne, Gillette, Powell, Riverton, Rock Springs, Torrington) as well as Evanston and Rawlins.

The funds will also help start a statewide computing education program. This innovation includes a new School of Computing at UW; the launch of a software development degree, with Northern Wyoming Community College District (NWCCD) taking the lead on initial program development and delivery; and for fintech and blockchain curriculum development and instruction.

In the area of tourism and hospitality, UW will launch its Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Center.

Casper College, Central Wyoming College, Northwest College, NWCCD, and Laramie County Community College will receive program support in:

  • Search and rescue
  • Culinary training
  • Hotel, restaurant, and event management training

The release states that these higher education institutions are “committed” to using the money as start-up funds to develop self-sustaining programs. 

“ARP funding will serve to leverage hard work already completed over the past several years,” said Casper College President Darren Devine on behalf of the community colleges and the college commission. “The statewide longitudinal education data system, WyoTransfer process, Wyoming Works, and the attainment work, have all established a strong foundation to work from to enhance our economic development and innovation efforts.”

In the “critical areas of energy and natural resources”, funding also is provided for power line technology and low-voltage fiber-optic programs at the community colleges, the release said.

The release said WIP “is focused on workforce development on high-potential industry sectors … including reinforcing support for the community college Wyoming Works and Wyoming Investment in Nursing faculty programs.” 

Embedded within the WIP effort is supporting and training entrepreneurs and new business startups; a research and market analysis agenda aimed at technology transfer and commercialization; and developing outside revenue sources such as corporate partnerships to provide new opportunities for students.

“The intent is to better focus the state’s resources to assist both existing industries and areas identified as having significant growth potential,” the release said.