Workforce Services offers grant for Wyoming businesses to offset employee training costs

Many local businesses are working hard to make it through recent economic challenges, and to both train and retain their employees. Businesses are only as strong as the people who make them up, and employers invest time and resources to train employees in order to remain competitive in their industry.

The Department of Workforce Services recognizes the importance of training, and can help offset the cost of training opportunities for Wyoming businesses.

With the goal of supporting Wyoming businesses and organizations in building a stronger workforce, DWS encourages businesses to learn more about the Workforce Development Training Fund and Apprenticeship State Expansion grant programs.

WDTF has been in existence since 2007, and the ASE was recently created.

WDTF is a unique, Wyoming-based program connecting employers with professional development opportunities to increase employee skills. The grants specifically created to support Wyoming businesses include:

  • Business training grants – Teach new skills or retrain current employees; upgrade the skills of your current employees
  • Pre-hire grants – Train potential employees before job placement
  • Internship grants – Structured, work-based learning experiences to enhance knowledge and skills
  • Apprenticeship grants – Development of an industry-specific workforce for businesses or industries where there is a shortage of skilled workers

The ASE program is dedicated to showing the benefits of apprentice training by providing funding that helps offset apprenticeship costs.

To learn more about these programs and grants, visit www.trainwyo.org or call 307-777-8717.

UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources bestows lifetime achievement honor

A molecular biologist whose research and publication prowess are internationally known has received the Andrew Vanvig Distinguished Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming.

Professor David Fay joined the Department of Molecular Biology in 2001. A developmental geneticist, Fay uses nematodes – tiny roundworms – to analyze gene functions conserved across many species, including humans.

The award honors professors with a minimum of 15 years in the college.

“David is a superstar at the University of Wyoming and would be a leader at any research university,” noted Daniel Starr, Allen Distinguished Investigator and professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Davis.

Fay has had 57 papers published and has brought in more than $9 million in external funding while at UW. As an assistant professor, he helped create the Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences program, the largest interdisciplinary graduate program at UW. He served as MCLS director from 2005-15.

Since its inception, the MCLS program has trained more than 110 graduate students from across the world, produced more than 45 Ph.D. graduates and contributed to over 70 publications in scientific journals and procurement of more than $20 million in extramural grants, wrote his colleagues.

Medicine Bow Technologies opens new Casper office

Medicine Bow Technologies Inc., a leader in information technology and managed services, opened the doors on a new location, 130 North Ash Street, Suite 200, in Casper, on Feb. 16, following a ribbon-cutting event with staff, friends and the Casper Chamber of Commerce. MBT previously had an office at 2435 King Blvd., Suite 202, in Casper.

Founded in 2006, Medicine Bow Technologies offers a wide array of solutions and products for clinics, health care practices, hospitals, law firms, insurance companies, banks and other businesses that are technology dependent, according to a news release.

“We are very excited to open the doors at our new location,” MBT Director of Account Management Johnathon Coulter said in the release. “It will enable MBT Casper to expand and provide an even better service to our existing clients, as well as have the capacity to provide our services to more clients looking to have industry-leading technology support."

MBT is a Laramie-based technology company that focuses on IT managed services. It currently has offices in Casper and Cheyenne, along with the headquarters in Laramie.

For more information, visit http://www.medbowtech.com.

NREL reports sustainability benchmarks for plastics recycling and redesign

Researchers developing renewable plastics and exploring new processes for plastics upcycling and recycling technologies will now be able to easily baseline their efforts to current manufacturing practices to understand if their efforts will save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Benchmark data calculated and compiled at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory provide a measurement – at the supply chain level – of how much energy is required and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from the production of a variety of plastics in the United States. (NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.)

“Today, we employ a predominantly linear economy for many of the materials we use, including plastics,” said Gregg Beckham, a senior research fellow at NREL, in a news release. “Many people and organizations around the world are looking at ways to make our materials economy circular.”

The estimates draw from a resource developed at NREL, the Materials Flows through Industry tool, which tracks energy and material flows throughout the manufacturing supply chain to estimate energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions.

Using the MFI tool, if a proposed manufacturing method is estimated to require more energy or produce more greenhouse gases than the status quo process, a comparison of the sources and types of impacts can help manufacturers figure out what aspects of a new process could be targeted for improvement.

To give some context: In the broader industrial landscape, the polymers covered in this study represent about 95% of global production, a combined 360 million metric tons annually. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, plastics production accounted for about 11% of all manufacturing energy consumption in the United States as of 2014. The United States is responsible for generating the largest share of waste plastics in the world, according to a newly published analysis in Science Advances.

Factory IT joins Wyoming’s cybersecurity efforts

While Jackson is known for tourism, computers make tourism happen. Companies like Factory IT are behind-the-scenes heroes, making sure that technology remains stable and secure to support small business efforts in the Jackson area.

In fact, during the recent Solarwinds breach that affected 18,000 companies nationwide and five federal alphabet agencies, Factory IT posted a statement confirming that it had never used or installed the Solarwinds Orion product or FireEye application. But, Factory IT went a step further and searched all customer machines for any related applications that may have been affected in the data breach.

“That’s what a hometown, local IT provider can do for you,” said Patrick Wolfinbarger, co-founder of CyberWyoming and a regular contributing writer for the Wyoming Business Report. “They know you, meet you in the grocery store and want to make sure your business is supported.”

Factory IT saw this, and other data breaches throughout the U.S. as a call to action.

Online cybersecurity class for small businesses available

Registration is open now for Cybersecurity for Small Business: Leveraging NIST 800-171, an online course that guides businesses through the process of establishing a cybersecurity plan.

Classes will be offered the week of April 26-30 or May 17-21, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. each day.

This class is recommended for manufacturers (especially if your company is either the prime contractor or a subcontractor for government contracts), consulting companies, research institutions and service providers.

As part of the class, businesses can receive guidance for achieving NIST 800-171 compliance, which allows them to process, store or transmit controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) for federal or state agencies.

“Just because you have the security processes in place doesn’t guarantee you will keep your business safe and secure. In this class, we will give you the guidance you need in order to be in compliance and to help keep your business safe from online threats,” said Dave Thomas of IT Security and Consulting, who developed and teaches the class.

The class is being presented with support from UW Manufacturing Works, 4th State Communications LLC and Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

“As more businesses operate online, we want to ensure Wyoming businesses are safe and secure, especially those that contract with the federal government. This class will give those businesses the information they need to make sure they are in compliance with the federal contracts,” said Rocky Case, director of the MEP in Laramie.

To learn more about the class and register online, visit manufacturing-works.com/cyber-security-education.

Casper-based program brings intelligent automation education to displaced Wyo. workers

RPA Pathfinder Institute LLC recently launched a new Robotic Process Automation training program, and announced it would begin accepting students for its new Casper-based digital learning institute.

The RPA Pathfinder Institute will be the first adult digital education program to offer live training in RPA and is fully approved under the Wyoming Department of Education’s Chapter I regulations.

RPA Pathfinder Institute was founded based on the growing needs and high demand for trained architects and developers in the Robotic Process Automation industry.

According to recent research from Gartner Inc., “Global RPA software projects will reach over $1.89 billion in revenue in 2021, an increase of 19.5% from 2020.” Gartner Inc. has also been forecasting that RPA will continue to grow approximately 20% per year through 2025.

Using a mix of digital training and weekly livestreamed classes with subject matter expert Anthony Camargo, RPA Pathfinder Institute hopes to attract savvy energy and manufacturing industry workers impacted by the shift in available, sustainable jobs.

Over 16 weeks (176 hours), students will gain knowledge and resources that will allow them to pass the developer certification exams for RPA industry giants like Blue Prism and UI Path. In fall 2021, RPA Pathfinder Institute will also offer architect classes in addition to developer classes.

To be considered for RPA Pathfinder Institute, students will need a high-speed internet connection from their home; however, RPA Pathfinder Institute will provide necessary internet connection, office and study space in their physical office located at 104 S. Wolcott St, Suite 605. Those interested in learning more about RPA Pathfinder Institute LLC, or those who wish to apply, can do so at RPAPathfinder.institute or contact Jinna Stroud at jstroud@rpapathfinder.institute for more information.

Congress proposes new incentive for Wyoming to expand Medicaid eligibility

Two bipartisan bills in the Wyoming Legislature – one originating in the Senate, the other in the House – propose to expand Medicaid coverage in Wyoming. These bills arrive at the same time as a new proposal from Congress that would offer Wyoming an additional $120 million incentive to expand the Medicaid health insurance program.

Expanding Medicaid would provide needed health insurance to 25,000 currently uninsured Wyomingites. The federal proposal – which requires no matching funds from the state – is part of an incentive being offered to the 12 states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid health insurance programs, including Wyoming.

“This is money we can use to invest in our essential workers, teachers and other infrastructure projects,” said Jan Cartwright, executive director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association. “At a time when the state is making difficult budget decisions, accepting these funds and covering 25,000 more hardworking Wyomingites is a win-win.”

Currently, the federal government pays for 90% of the total cost of Medicaid expansion, and the state covers 10%. The Senate bill, SF 154-Medicaid expansion with federal match requirements, would ensure that Wyoming’s share of the program never exceeds 10%.

Based on the Wyoming Department of Health’s latest projections – and before taking into account the new incentive – expanding the Medicaid health insurance program in Wyoming would cost the state roughly $9 million per year while bringing in more than $68 million in matching dollars annually.

More than 400 studies reviewed by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leader in health care policy, demonstrate the broad benefits of expanding Medicaid eligibility – benefits to both the individuals it covers and the states that implement it. More than a decade’s worth of research finds that expanding Medicaid has a positive effect on numerous economic outcomes, including state budget savings, revenue gains and overall growth. Multiple studies suggest that expansion can result in state savings by offsetting state costs in other areas.

The Medicaid program is particularly responsive to economic downturns, ensuring that people can access essential health care even in times of financial stress. And, of all types of health insurance, research shows Medicaid is the most successful in reducing poverty rates, especially for women.

For more information about Healthy Wyoming and the benefits of expanding Medicaid visit healthywyoming.org.

Nursing homes see 82% decline in COVID cases

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country that provide care to approximately 5 million people each year, recently released a report showing nursing homes in the U.S. have seen the lowest number of new COVID cases since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services started tracking back in May 2020, suggesting that the vaccines are working.

Recent CMS data shows that nursing homes have seen an 82% decline in new COVID cases among residents since the peak during the week of Dec. 20 of last year when there were more than 30,000 new resident cases. In the same period of time, community cases in the general population dropped by 46%, showcasing that vaccines are having an impact in protecting the elderly population in nursing homes.

“We still have a long road ahead, but these numbers are incredibly encouraging and a major morale booster for frontline caregivers who have been working tirelessly every day for a year to protect our residents,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, in a news release.

The report also shows cases have dropped to the lowest level since CMS started tracking weekly COVID cases in nursing homes last May.

Along with the lowest number of new COVID cases, new data also shows COVID-related deaths in nursing homes declined by 63% since Dec. 20.

Eagle Specialty Materials, DOI reach deal on unpaid Blackjewel coal royalties

On Feb. 19, the Department of Interior, Eagle Specialty Materials and the attorneys in Blackjewel’s bankruptcy case released a settlement agreement for unpaid royalties on federal coal leases mined by Blackjewel, and its predecessor, Contura, at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

According to the legal filing, over $32 million in royalties are unpaid at the Belle Ayr Mine, and $27.8 million in royalties are unpaid at the Eagle Butte Mine, with hundreds of thousands owed in interest.

According to a news release, Powder River Basin Resource Council decries the sweetheart deal struck between the Department of the Interior and ESM, a company that was paid over $80 million to take over the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte coal mines from Contura during the Blackjewel bankruptcy proceeding in October 2019. The settlement of approximately $61.5 million debt of unpaid royalties and interest for a few cents on the dollar and insecure interest-free future payments and royalties has cost Wyoming and American citizens tens of millions of dollars. Wyoming receives approximately half of all federal coal royalties, so loses half of these unpaid royalties.

The settlement – made to allow Interior to transfer the coal leases from Blackjewel to ESM – collects only a small portion of the unpaid royalties. The deal:

  • Allows ESM to pay off the royalty debt owed by Contura over a 10-year period, interest free, in spite of Contura paying $8.7 million to ESM to hold in an escrow account for this very purpose as part of the October 2019 sale agreement.
  • Forgives ESM from paying all but $324,955 of the Blackjewel debt at the Belle Ayr Mine, leaving over $22 million left as unsecured claim in the bankruptcy proceeding, likely to remain unpaid, given the bankruptcy estate’s insolvency.
  • For the $324,955, allows ESM to pay it off over a 10-year period, interest free.
  • Sets up a payment plan for $17.6 million of the unpaid royalties from the Eagle Butte mine, paid interest-free, as an additional 1% or 2% royalty on the federal coal leases, dependent on future coal production.
  • Specifies that only $4.5 million of the unpaid Eagle Butte royalty debt can be left as an unsecured claim in the Blackjewel bankruptcy case, but as mentioned above, it is unlikely any of it will get paid.
  • Collects approximately $11.5 million from performance bonds held by Interior on the coal leases posted by Blackjewel, contingent on ESM replacing the bonds for the leases at an amount of $12.7 million.

Additionally, ESM is already in lengthy payment plans for back taxes owed to the state and Campbell County. Meanwhile, the mines have been reducing production and suffer the same economic challenges other Powder River Basin coal mines are facing. Coal plant closures across the nation are reducing production, which puts any future payments at greater and greater risk.

Scheels to sponsor Wyoming State Museum family program for next two years

The Wyoming State Museum is excited to announce that Scheels in Johnstown, Colorado, has become the museum’s new Family Programs sponsor for the next two years.

The generosity of this fun, family-focused store allows the Wyoming State Museum to continue offering free, world-class family programming well into 2023.

Scheels is a privately held, employee-owned company that remains an industry leader due to its empowered associates, leaders and partners who think and make decisions for both their individual store and the entire company.

The Johnstown store features 250,000 square feet of product choices, including a large selection of sporting goods, outdoor gear, apparel and footwear. Inside are a 65-foot Ferris wheel, a 22-foot-tall wildlife mountain with more than 220 taxidermy mounts, a 16,000-gallon aquarium filled with fish, interactive games and simulators, a café and specialty shops.

Two thirds of shoppers prefer real customer photos over professional shots

Research from Bazaarvoice, the leading provider of product reviews and user-generated content solutions, reveals visual and social user generated content is driving online retail purchases. More than half (51%) of global consumers agree social media influences purchases, and 65% find the availability of previous customer photos on social media and websites essential in their purchase decision.

The new report, "A picture’s worth a thousand purchases," finds that in addition to social media, almost three quarters (74%) of consumers prefer to see previous customers’ photos and videos on brand and retailer websites, rather than professionally shot images.

The findings, based on responses from 8,000-plus consumers across the globe, also reveal 62% of consumers are more likely to buy if they can view both photo and video content from previous customers.

Joe Rohrlich, CRO, Bazaarvoice, comments, “Relatable voices commenting on and reviewing a product instill trust in a brand and product amongst other consumers online. The more realistic and authentic audiences feel the review content is, the more confident they become when deciding to make a purchase.”

As the most used social media network globally, Facebook is also the most popular destination when it comes to influencing purchases (25%) and the most likely social platform for consumers to purchase a product on (26%). Among 18- to 34-year-olds, however, Instagram is the most popular destination, with 31% using it as their main source of inspiration and 27% saying it is the most likely place for them to buy.

Younger shoppers demonstrate a particularly strong preference for visual UGC on social media, as 73% of 18- to 34-year-olds prefer it when brands use visual UGC for social media outreach, compared to an average of 64% across other age groups.

Shoppable images and videos are the type of content most likely to influence buying choices on social media (19%), ahead of video advertising (14%) and posts from followed brands (13%), suggesting rich content and the ease of buying on-platform are now critical in the customer journey.

Fresh content is everything, however. Many want to see new visual UGC content from brands on social media more frequently than they do on websites – almost half (47%) of consumers want to see new UGC content on social media at least two to three times a week, with 10% of those expecting updates multiple times a day.

Milestones

Richard Bundy has become the new chief financial officer for Taco John’s, CEO Jim Creel recently announced. Bundy joins Taco John’s with more than 20 years of experience in the financial field. He began his career with NASA as a project resource analyst, then accepted a similar role with the Albertson’s grocery chain, as well as leadership roles in the apparel industry. Founded in 1969 in Cheyenne, Taco John’s operates and franchises nearly 400 restaurants in 22 states – making it one of the largest Mexican quick-service restaurant brands in America.

Colin McKee has been named as the new Industrial Siting Division Administrator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. McKee's previous experience includes eight years as a policy advisor for former Gov. Matt Mead, where he played an integral role in the successful rollout of the governor's energy strategies. Additionally, he was a member of the Department of Interior's Royalty Policy Committee and co-chair of their Economics Subcommittee, and the governor's representative on the Wyoming Community Development Authority Board and the Congestion-Mitigation Air Quality Committee. More recently, McKee has been DEQ's Senior Policy Advisor for the last two years and has been serving as the interim ISD Administrator since Dec. 1.

James ‘Ollie’ Oliver was hired as Primrose Retirement Community of Cheyenne's new sales director. He began his duties in February, and in this capacity, Oliver will oversee all the sales efforts, as well as events and community outreach, for Primrose of Cheyenne. He joins Primrose with nearly 20 years of professional experience in senior living communities.

Philip Mundt has been appointed as head distiller and production manager at Brush Creek Distillery, a small-batch distiller set in the one-of-a-kind epicurean center of world-renowned Brush Creek Ranch. A native of Colorado and previous Production Manager at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Mundt brings more than a decade of industry experience to Wyoming where he will oversee all operations at the Distillery as well as manage partnerships and collaborations with The Farm at Brush Creek.

Lana Mahoney has been chosen as Recover Wyoming's new executive director, effective April 1. Mahoney's background is in behavioral health and recovery support services. She began her journey with Recover Wyoming in 2011 as a volunteer and since June of 2018, has been Recover Wyoming’s peer specialist training coordinator. She has most recently served as the organization’s interim executive director since November. Mahoney is in long-term recovery and is a certified peer specialist with mastery and forensic endorsements. She holds an Associate of Arts in education from Laramie County Community College and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Wyoming. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in nonprofit administration through Colorado State University.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department congratulated six employees who had work anniversaries in February on their years of service to the state of Wyoming:

  • Mark Nelson, policy and planning coordinator, Cheyenne headquarters, 30 years
  • Andrea Orabona, nongame bird biologist, Lander Region, 35 years
  • Bobby Compton, fisheries supervisor, Laramie Region, 15 years
  • Mike Boyce, large carnivore biologist, Jackson Region, 10 years
  • Luke Ellsbury, large carnivore biologist, Cody Region, 10 years
  • Jake Brown, Ten Sleep game warden, Cody Region, 5 years
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