Applications now open for 2022 BBB Spark Awards for Entrepreneurship

The Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming is now accepting applications for the 2022 BBB Spark Awards for Entrepreneurship. The Spark Awards honor businesses that start their journey on a solid foundation of trust and ethics.

To be eligible for the BBB Spark Awards, a business must be: headquartered in BBB’s Northern Colorado and Wyoming service territory; be in operation at least six months, but not longer than four years as of January 2022; and be in good standing with BBB.

Eligibility has been extended to include businesses in operation up to four years for the 2022 BBB Spark Awards due to the awards not being presented in 2021. In 2023, eligibility will revert to businesses in operation between six months and three years, as in past Spark Awards. Businesses do not need to be BBB Accredited, but must be in good standing with BBB (good standing includes a minimum B rating, no unanswered or unresolved complaints, and a business is free of government actions, advertising issues and other BBB investigations).

Eligible businesses can apply by submitting short, written answers to nine questions and uploading a short video testimonial about why the business embodies the Spark Award criteria. Those criteria are:

  • Character – Leaders must be teachable and open to growing with ideas. Leaders habitually seek the truth, are open to criticism, and know that their own personal development is never complete.
  • Culture – Purposeful entrepreneurs start businesses for more than just the opportunity to be their own boss or fill a gap in the market. Instead, they create organizations committed to serving the needs of all their stakeholders and make intentional decisions about who they align with to bring their mission to fruition.
  • Community – The most successful entrepreneurs understand they are part of a community and commit to supporting those that supported them. They give back to worthy causes and treat other entrepreneurs and competitors as peers rather than opponents.

Applications for the 2022 BBB Spark Awards are due Jan. 31. All completed applications will be reviewed by an independent judging panel of local business leaders, who will select the Spark Award winners. The Spark Awards will be awarded at the 2022 BBB Torch Awards for Ethics on Thursday, April 28 at the Embassy Hotel and Suites in Loveland, Colorado.

To apply for the 2022 Spark Awards, or to learn more about the program, visit https://www.bbb.org/local/0805/foundation/spark-awards.html. For additional information, contact Jennifer Hahnke at jhahnke@wynco.bbb.org or 970-488-2033.

Bluepeak announces internet expansion into Wyoming is now underway

Bluepeak announced recently that its approximately $70 million expansion initiative to bring its state-of-the-art, fiber-to-the-home network to the state of Wyoming, including the communities of Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper and Sheridan, has commenced.

The company has already broken ground on construction in Cheyenne, and construction will begin in the remaining communities in the first half of 2022.

Once completed, Bluepeak’s high-speed fiber network will be available to more than 70,000 residents and businesses.

According to BroadbandNow, Wyoming ranks 46th in the nation for state broadband access, and only 11% of Wyoming residents have access to 1 gigabit broadband. With Bluepeak’s advanced fiber connection, residential customers can get up to 5 gigabits of symmetrical bandwidth, and businesses can get up to 10 gigabits of symmetrical bandwidth, according to a news release. Bluepeak’s fiber network will provide faster speeds, better connectivity, and the bandwidth to connect more devices for internet, streaming, gaming and more.

Bluepeak (Clarity Telecom LLC) is known as Vast Broadband today in South Dakota and portions of western Minnesota until those markets rebrand as Bluepeak in the summer of 2022. Visit www.mybluepeak.com to learn more.

Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation sets policy for coming year

The 30 x 30 land grab, election integrity, individual freedoms regarding health decisions and IRS reporting were among the many topics included in policies adopted at the 102nd annual meeting of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.

Held Nov. 11-13 in Cody, the meeting is an important step in the grassroots policy development process of the Farm Bureau Federation. The need for a competitive enterprise system, individual freedoms and protection of property rights resonated through the discussions as Farm Bureau Federation members developed policy.

Farm Bureau Federation members thoroughly discussed and emphasized their opposition to the 30 x 30 program, also known as “America the Beautiful,” outlined by Executive Order #14008. The voting delegates asked that the congressional delegation, state legislature, governor and county commissioners stand against the executive mandates.

Election integrity is of utmost importance to Farm Bureau members. Members reaffirmed Farm Bureau’s support for voter identification requirements for all elections. They also reaffirmed policy reiterating their continued support for the elimination of the ability to change party affiliation on Election Day.

Continued concerns related to government overreach and mandates were addressed. Voting delegates expressed their opposition to vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and mask mandates. They also voiced opposition to any discrimination related to proof of vaccination or coercion for medical decisions in any circumstances.

Addressing their continued concern regarding the actions of non-elected officials in response to public health orders, members called for Wyoming’s governor to immediately rescind the order declaring a state of emergency and a public health emergency.

Members reaffirmed policy declaring the importance of energy independence. The ability to maintain fossil fuel powered vehicles was also highlighted in policy discussions.

WYDOT reminds prospective CDL drivers of changes to federal training requirements

The Wyoming Department of Transportation wants to remind those who are interested in obtaining a commercial driver license about upcoming changes to federal training requirements.

Starting Feb. 7, prospective drivers wishing to obtain a CDL will be required to complete Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT). Additionally, those who currently have a CDL but want to upgrade to a new class, like Class A, or add specific endorsements – such as school bus, passenger and/or hazardous materials – will be required to take the training.

Training must be completed with a registered training provider. Prospective license holders will receive training in driving theory, like hours-of-service requirements, as well as behind the wheel. While there are no requirements for minimum length the training can take, drivers can expect it to take about six weeks.

These ELDT requirements are implemented by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), a federal act which was first signed into law in 2012 and was most recently updated in 2016.

This training is not retroactive; if you receive a Commercial Learners Permit (CLP) or received a CDL prior to Feb. 7, 2022, these federal training requirements will not apply.

For more information about the changes, or to see the Training Provider Registry, visit https://tpr.fmcsa.dot.gov.

Wyoming State Bar seeks volunteer arbitrators for fee disputes

The Wyoming State Bar is seeking volunteer lay members to serve as arbitrators in fee disputes between Wyoming lawyers and their clients.

The fee arbitration program provides lawyers and clients with an out-of-court method of resolving fee disputes. The fee arbitration program runs pursuant to the Rules for Fee Arbitration set by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Volunteer arbitrators will be appointed by the Fee Arbitration Committee, which is made up of four lawyers and two non-lawyers, for a three-year term and may be reappointed to serve a second term. The committee will give preference to individuals in occupations that involve billing for their services, and those with experience in hiring lawyers or other professionals who bill for their services.

Those wishing to volunteer should express interest by visiting https://www.wyomingbar.org/for-the-public/volunteer-to-serve/ and completing the expression of interest form found there.

Questions should be directed to Erin Sidwell at 307-432-2104 or by email at esidwell@wyobc.org.

Black Hills Energy encourages efficiency, conservation to manage higher heating bills

Black Hills Energy has received approval from the Wyoming Public Service Commission to continue offering Wyoming customers Energy Efficiency/Demand Side Management programs. The programs are available for residential and commercial electric and gas service customers with the extension beginning Jan. 1, 2022, and continuing through 2024.

The company’s EE/DSM programs are designed to encourage residential and commercial customers to purchase and install energy efficient products and appliances by offering rebates for qualifying purchases. The company proposed some adjustments to the 2022-24 plan to reflect market shifts and integrate new cost-effective measures.

The timing of the WSPC’s approval of Black Hills Energy’s Energy Efficiency programs could not be better as Black Hills Energy is urging customers to plan now for the impacts of higher natural gas prices this winter.

The cost of natural gas is a pass-through cost – meaning Black Hills Energy does not make money on natural gas, even when prices increase. Black Hills Energy estimates that residential natural gas customers should plan for an increase of approximately 43% for the cost of natural gas compared to last winter, based on analysis of typical winter weather, market conditions and current natural gas price forecasts. Actual monthly costs will depend on customer usage.

Customers who live in communities that are eligible to participate in the Choice Gas program will need to contact their natural gas suppliers to determine any impacts from market price increases.

Customer bills (excluding Choice Gas program participants) also include a portion of costs related to February’s extreme cold weather event. In September, the WPSC approved a monthly charge of about $0.17 per therm based on usage. These costs are spread out over a multi-year period to reduce the impact on customers.

In Wyoming, customers who may need help paying their monthly bill can visit https://www.blackhillsenergy.com/assistance-programs/wyoming-payment-assistance for more information.

For more information about Energy Efficiency or Demand Side Management programs, visit https://www.blackhillsenergy.com/efficiency-and-savings.

First National Bank of Omaha to acquire Western States Bank

First National of Nebraska, with its subsidiary First National Bank of Omaha, last week announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Western States BanCorporation and its wholly-owned subsidiary Western States Bank, headquartered in Laramie.

Founded in 2006, Western States operates 10 branches across northeastern Colorado, western Nebraska and southeastern Wyoming. Western States has $542 million in total assets, $486 million in deposits and nearly 100 employees.

“We are extremely excited to welcome Western States’ customers and colleagues to First National Bank of Omaha,” said Clark D. Lauritzen, chairman and president of FNBO, in a news release. “Western States has a proud history and an excellent reputation, plus they share our values and commitment to community. We’re thrilled about this opportunity to grow and continue to serve customers in Colorado and Nebraska markets where we operate today, while introducing ourselves to new customers in the vibrant Wyoming communities of Laramie and Cheyenne.”

The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals, the approval of Western States’ shareholders and the completion of various closing conditions, and is anticipated to close in the first quarter of 2022.

Crum said there will be no changes to existing customer accounts at Western States during the transition. Once the conversion is completed next year, all Western States locations will operate as FNBO, with its systems and suite of products and services.

Blockchain meets agriculture to improve soil and air quality

Two innovative Cheyenne-based companies, the agricultural Carbon Asset Network and blockchain consultancy group Ember Labs, have joined forces to create the new pathway for carbon sequestration and improving air quality by using the power of blockchain.

This new model is designed to be a private enterprise alternative to Cap and Trade methods, according to a news release.

“Blockchain, combined with tokenization, empowers a model where we all can be successful in cleaning carbon out of our air by improving soil health,” Ian Alexander, principal of Ember Labs, said in a news release. “It’s time to put that ability into the hands of ESG-oriented businesses, agriculturists, land managers of any kind and the everyday people wanting to help our environment.”

The Carbon Asset Network joins with nonprofit Synergy for Ecological Solutions to provide grants that allow land managers to take action for a Total Ecological Solution through soil health. Often these new methods increase operating costs and capital investment. The grants allow the land managers to take action right away to maximize soil health.

As soil becomes healthier, there is more oxygen released to the air, and more carbon pulled into the roots and soil (carbon sequestration) through the natural process of photosynthesis. Land managers include not only those in the agriculture industry, but managers of parks, golf courses, undeveloped land, or anyone who manages open land.

Many air quality programs are designed to eliminate emissions from fossil fuel. This new method, however, is designed to take any carbon out of the air immediately and is not reliant on adoption of alternative energy sources so that the air can improve sooner, rather than later.

Lifeline Children’s Services begins foster care adoption service in Wyoming

Lifeline Children’s Services, a national Christian adoption agency, recently announced the expansion of its foster care adoption services to Wyoming. The agency serves vulnerable children through private domestic adoption, foster care adoption and international adoption.

November is National Adoption Month, a time set aside to raise awareness about the urgent need for adoptive families for children in foster care. Nationally, there are approximately 400,000 children in the foster care system, of which about 120,000 children are in need of adoptive families. In Wyoming, approximately 1,000 children are in the foster care system. Over the last few years, about 90 children have been adopted from foster homes annually.

“Beginning this month, Wyoming becomes the 16th state that Lifeline Children’s Services has an office that trains and processes families for adoption,” said Chuck Jespersen, State Director of Lifeline Children’s Services. “While many people think of infants when they hear about adoption, we need to recruit families throughout eastern Wyoming to adopt sibling groups and older children, especially age 6 and up. These children are sometimes harder to find adoptive homes for.”

Adults who are interested are encouraged to attend an information session about the process of adoption; they can contact Jespersen and the new Lifeline office in Sioux Falls by visiting www.lifelinechild.org/wyoming.

Lifeline Children’s Services is the largest evangelical Christian adoption agency in the United States, and its headquarters is located in Birmingham, Alabama. Lifeline facilitates international adoptions from 18 countries, and domestic adoption and foster care services in 16 states nationwide. In its 40 years of service, Lifeline has placed more than 4,300 children in adoptive homes.

Lowe’s Distribution Center in Cheyenne partners with Wyoming Hunger Initiative

First lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative and the Lowe’s Distribution Center in Cheyenne recently partnered through the Lowe’s Heroes Project to distribute appliances to anti-hunger organizations in Wyoming.

Wyoming Hunger Initiative is committed to ensuring that organizations have access to infrastructure needed to carry out their mission, and this partnership is an example of how needs are being met one organization at a time.

At the Lowe’s Distribution Center, associates are determined to take steps to improve the lives of those around them every day, whether it is by helping them complete their home improvement project or by collecting donations to help local organizations. As part of the Lowe’s Heroes Project, each store or distribution center supports a mission or a specific project of a nonprofit of their choice – their local hero.

“Infrastructure and appliances especially are typically the items that are the hardest for antihunger organizations to come by and the most expensive to procure. It was an honor to work with the Lowe’s Distribution Center here in Cheyenne to match appliances with organizations that have a mission of feeding people. The joy these appliances brought to receiving organizations confirmed once again that Wyoming Hunger Initiative doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but continue to seek ways to support anti-hunger organizations across the state,” Gordon said in a news release.

Wyoming Hunger Initiative has learned that if there is a hungry child, there are often hungry families, seniors or veterans, as well; this has led to the careful expansion of the mission, which originally focused on the elimination of child hunger in Wyoming. Wyoming Hunger Initiative was able to partner with Lowe’s to donate two refrigerators, one freezer, and one washer and dryer to support the missions of four different organizations: Safehouse Services in Cheyenne, Veterans’ Rock in Cheyenne, Golden Hour Senior Center in Green River and Mimi’s House in Casper.

Spectrum gives $2K to Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom

Spectrum officials were joined by Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow on Friday to present Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom with a $2,000 donation and 15 Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablets.

WYAITC’s mission is to provide today’s youth, who represent Wyoming’s future leaders, decision-makers and volunteers, with the assets to help them build a strong knowledge base of Wyoming’s vast resources. The goal is to allow them to become informed citizens, critical thinkers, and, above all, responsible stewards of Wyoming’s future, according to a news release.

As part of the presentation, Spectrum officials also discussed the importance of digital literacy and the availability of Spectrum Internet Assist in Cheyenne.

The check presentation took place at Cheyenne Frontier Days headquarters in Cheyenne. 

Milestones

Jennifer Baier has been hired as AARP Wyoming’s Associate State Director for Outreach and Local Advocacy. Baier has worked for AARP for the last 16 years in a variety of roles, including Associate State Director for Communications for AARP’s Illinois State Office and West Regional Advisor. She also led AARP’s national 2020 Census Outreach. In her new role, Baier will work with community action teams to plan and execute local events, as well as lead AARP Wyoming’s statewide events, teletown halls and webinars.

Retired Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan was awarded the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Distinguished Service Award at the 102nd annual meeting of the organization. Presented Nov. 12 in Cody, the award is given to those who have gone above and beyond in their service to agriculture. Logan served the Wyoming Livestock Board and Wyoming ranchers as State Veterinarian through two appointed terms, 1997-2004 and 2009-21. He also served as Assistant State Veterinarian from 2007-09 and as a member of the Livestock Board from 1993-97. He retired in June.

Antonio Serrano has been promoted to advocacy director for the ACLU of Wyoming. He is now responsible for building the ACLU’s public education and advocacy programs through coalition-building, leadership development, communication and lobbying. He also ensures that supporters of the ACLU of Wyoming have the tools, information and opportunities to be effective advocates on issues like immigration and criminal justice reform.

HollyFrontier Corporation recently announced the promotion of Tim Go to the position of president and chief operating officer. Go’s responsibilities will include oversight over HollyFrontier’s Refining and Lubricants and Specialty Products segments. Mike Jennings, who previously served as chief executive officer and president of HollyFrontier, will continue to serve as chief executive officer of the company, which operates a refinery in Cheyenne.

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