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Planning grants add new tool for Wyoming economic development

November 27, 2012 in News

Acting on the continuing need from Wyoming communities to fill the gap between idea and implementation, the Wyoming Business Council will be offering planning grants for the first time as part of its Business Ready Community grant program.

The genesis of expanding the program to make this type of grant funding available came directly from our communities. Having access to more funds strictly dedicated to feasibility and strategic planning, resulting in potential economic development projects that work best for a particular community has long been an issue of concern for our state’s economic developers.

The staff at the business council recognized this need and has been working with the Wyoming Economic Development Association and the state’s local economic development agencies during the past year to address this issue. The business council saw this as an opportunity to change one of our most successful programs to include public dollars to fund planning efforts that could make the difference between a community’s successful economic development project and one which founders.

The objective of the planning grants is simple: Provide Wyoming communities the opportunity to apply for grant funding to help them create or further develop their economic development strategy.

Expending public dollars for economic development projects throughout our state for infrastructure important for successful business retention and recruitment has served our state well for the past 15 years, but constructing and improving infrastructure such as buildings, roads, rail, water and sewer, and fiber connections only work well when based on a thoughtful economic development strategy.

Communities in Wyoming have long had difficulty acquiring specific funding for economic development planning projects, and since fostering economic development is in the BRC program’s DNA, planning grants are an intelligent, forward-thinking addition.

Approved by the Wyoming State Legislature in 2012 and stipulating up to $1 million in planning grant funds available per fiscal year, this program will help our communities tackle this issue. As with other traditional BRC grant opportunities, the planning grants are available to Wyoming cities, towns, counties, joint powers boards and tribes. The first planning grants deadline is Dec. 1, and the business council has seen tremendous interest so far from communities and economic development agencies, and that is just the response we were expecting.

The idea is that solid economic development planning generally results in better projects, and more than likely, better future state grant investments into local economic development efforts.

The criteria by which the planning grants will be evaluated are designed to cultivate good economic development practices, not hinder them.

The business council staff will look at the grant applications and measure whether the applicant’s goals match the intention of the grant program, including how the planning grant will help further a community’s economic development strategy, how that plan will be implemented, how will the planning grant help a community pursue future economic development projects potentially leading to job creation, business retention and business recruitment, and finally, how will the project improve the community’s Main Street and Certified Tourism programs.

It’s that simple, and it’s that important. A strong, solid plan will help our communities define their future. The business council now has another tool to help them prepare for future infrastructure projects that will help them attract and retain businesses in their communities, and ultimately help Wyoming’s overall economic development efforts.

The Casper Star Tribune

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