Gordon Targets $27 Million in ARP Funds for Computing, Tourism and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education

Governor Mark Gordon (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

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

Initiatives targeting higher education institutions align with the University of Wyoming’s recent establishment of schools for computer science, tourism and hospitality (Wyoming’s second-largest industry) and entrepreneurship.

Money is also being spent on high-voltage power line technology and low-voltage fiber optic programs at the community colleges.

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

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

“The projects this funding will support build on successes we’ve already seen in developing the workforce needed and engaging Wyoming’s entrepreneurs so they can innovate and grow businesses and technologies,” Gordon said.

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

“This investment will use our higher education institutions to 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 that our workforce has the skills they need for the jobs and industries of today and tomorrow.”

One of 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 towns (which includes Cheyenne, Gillette, Powell, Riverton, Rock Springs, Torrington) as well as Evanston and Rawlins.

The funds will also help start a state-wide computer 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) leading the way in initial program development and delivery; and for fintech and blockchain curriculum development and instruction.

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

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

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

The press release states that these higher education institutions are “committed” to use the money as a seed fund to develop self-sustaining programs.

“ARP funding will leverage hard work already completed in recent years,” said Darren Devine, president of Casper College, on behalf of the community colleges and the college committee. “The statewide longitudinal education data system, WyoTransfer process, Wyoming Works, and achievement work have all laid a strong foundation to work from to enhance our economic development and innovation efforts.”

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

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

Embedded in the WIP effort is the support and training of entrepreneurs and start-ups; a research and market analysis agenda focused on technology transfer and commercialization; and developing outside sources of income such as business partnerships to provide new opportunities for students.

“The intent is to better target state resources towards both existing industries and areas identified with significant growth potential,” the press release said.

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