Big Hollow Food Co-op

A long time customer has shopped at the Big Hollow Food Co-op since they opened and said that she chooses the coop because of their good selection of organic food. The co-op is thinking about expanding with help from a grant.

The Wyoming Business Council recommended $6 million in grants for Laramie business development during a meeting Thursday.

Construction projects to facilitate business expansion for Hi-Viz Shooting Systems and Big Hollow Food Co-Op were both recommended to receive $3 million grants each, said Julie Kozlowski, Business Council director of community development.

The Business Ready Community Program, which is administered by the Business Council, provides funding for publicly owned infrastructure serving the needs of businesses and promoting economic development in Wyoming communities.

The council now forwards their grant and loan recommendations to the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB), which will meet Jan. 19 to make a final decision, Kozlowski said.

“This means we are able to continue in the very rapid growth pace we’re on,” Hi-Viz Shooting Systems Chief Operating Officer Mike Thomas said. “Provided SLIB gives the final approval, (the grant) is going to add a couple of things — more functions that we don’t have now, and it’s going to allow us to continue to grow. We don’t see any slowdown in what we’re doing now, and we don’t think that’s going to change.”

The firearms accessories manufacturer requested the grant to construct a 20,000-square-foot addition to its facilities in Laramie. This was the company’s second application for state economic development funds in less than three years, but Thomas said Hi-Viz quickly outgrew its original facilities.

“They’ve done an outstanding job with the grant (and) loan they were awarded,” Kozlowski said. “They’ve created double the jobs they projected.”

Originally from Colorado, the company moved to Wyoming in 2013 projecting it would create 20 jobs in Laramie. During the company’s first year of production, they created 42 jobs, Kozlowski said.

“We’re tickled to have them here,” she said.

The expansion is slated to allow the company to sustain annual sales growth of 32 percent for the next five years and allow the company to reach a goal of 128 positions with above-average pay for Albany County’s median wage by 2020, a council press release says.

In the downtown area, the council recommended a grant to build a two-story, mixed-use building on the Empress lot.

“This is a huge milestone for (the downtown district),” Laramie Main Street Alliance Executive Director Trey Sherwood said. “This has been a priority project that the board has contemplated and worked on since 2008.”

The first floor of the building was pre-leased by Big Hollow Food Co-Op, and the company expects to create 12 new jobs, Sherwood said.

“It’s our chance to expand,” said Marla Petersen, Big Hollow general manager. “We’ve been pursuing opportunities to expand for three years, so this is our chance to do it in a way that keeps us downtown and connected with our community.”

After polling the co-op’s membership, Petersen said the company received an overwhelming amount of feedback requesting the co-op remains downtown.

Big Hollow currently stocks products from 30 Wyoming producers, and the expansion is slated to generate capital investment of at least $600,000 during the next five years, a council press release says.

The council also approved the partial funding of an Albany County request for about $500,000 grant to complete phase two of the Greater Wyoming Big Brothers, Big Sisters facility renovation to allow for consolidation of services, storage and expansion, a council press release says. The council approved $488,857 of the original request.

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