Council backs plan from Lovell, Inc.

by nathan osterAfter much debate, the Greybull Town Council voted Nov. 13 to support a grant application that would pay for the development of a strategic plan for economic development efforts in Big Horn County.Sue Taylor, director of Lovell, Inc., made the pitch to the council, saying her nonprofit organization, which has been operating in north Big Horn County for several years, has already generated $846,000 in benefits, most of it in the form of grants, for Lovell.“Now we would like to come and work for you, to look at what your needs are and what you would like to accomplish,” said Taylor.Taylor told the council that Lovell, Inc., is pursuing the grant for the strategic plan, but in order to proceed it needed firm commitments from the county’s three major towns (Lovell, Basin and Greybull) as well as from Big Horn County (which it hopes will pick up the tab for the remaining municipalities).Heading into her meeting in Greybull, Taylor had already received commitments for cash matches from Basin ($1,935) and Lovell ($3,488).  She had yet to meet with the Big Horn County Commissioners, whose share would come to $3,977.Taylor was successful in getting Greybull’s council to commit to $2,660 — but it wasn’t an easy sell.  Timing was a concern voiced by several members of the council, as Taylor brought the proposal forward while telling them she needed a decision that night in order to meet a Dec. 1 deadline to file the grant application.“It’s very quick timing … but we haven’t know about this program very long either,” she said.  The proposal, she said, would be to develop a “countywide economic development strategic plan.  To the best our knowledge, there has never been one created for Big Horn County.”“With our rural  population, there are major challenges in being nine incorporated communities,” said Taylor, adding that the plan would focus on current needs and realities, job creation and retention and sources of funding for the implementation of the strategic plan.Lovell, Inc., would write the grant application, seeking a total of $60,000 from the Wyoming Business Council.  Of that total, $15,000 would need to come from the county and its largest municipalities to fulfill the required 25 percent local match.“The town could see large benefits from doing this,” said Taylor. “It would give you some goals, it would identify how you should be proceeding, it would look at what you have, in terms of skills and resources within the current population that would help us build a better economy.”Councilor Bob Graham called it “a great idea,” but expressed concern about the lack of south Big Horn County voices on the Lovell, Inc., board.  At the present time, only Tom Newman, a State Farm agent in Basin, represents the south. Taylor said she’d be making bimonthly visits to south Big Horn County, and pointed out that the president of the board, David Peck, owns newspapers in Basin and Greybull.Graham said he feared entering into a situation like the landfill board, on which the town has no representative. “Personally, I don’t want to get into that situation again,” he said.  Taylor said she didn’t think the board would have an issue with that request.Taylor was then asked whether the name of the organization, Lovell, Inc., could be changed to better reflect the entire county.  She said the current board prefers retaining the Lovell, Inc., name, citing the town of Lovell’s commitment of more than $420,000 to date.Mayor Frank Houk added that he thought it was “a good idea, at least something that we have been lacking, that would help grow the county for our own children who would have some opportunities to stay closer to home.”Councilor Bob McGuire offered only tepid support for the plan and the expenditure of $2,660.“I have a lot of confidence in the business people I know,” he said. “Most of these people are looking at ways to improve their profits, their floor traffic. I’d have to do more talking to these people to see if there’s a value (to this program).”Taylor was asked if the town could expect to see the same level of return from Lovell, Inc., as it did from the Big Horn County Economic Development Committee, which is no longer in existence.“You could expect to see a great deal more success,” said Taylor.She referred back to Lovell, where the town pledged $300,00 in startup costs and has committed $60,000 in each of the past two fiscal years. “They have seen the results, they have seen the difference in the business climate, the dollars coming in, the activities we are doing.”Council members continued to express a reluctance to commit, however.  Taylor ultimately swayed them by saying that the application could be pulled “if things fall apart” after the deadline passes, noting that it isn’t schedule to go in front of the Wyoming Business Council until March and the State Loan and Investment Board until April.Clay Collingwood, a council member elect, was seated in the audience.  He asked Taylor how it would work if a business was eyeing both Greybull and Lovell, suggesting that that the group would likely pull it toward Lovell.Taylor disagreed, saying Lovell, Inc., would look at things like each town’s available housing and existing work force. “It would be a very democratic process,” she said.Most of the “economic development” that the council could expect to see in the coming years will likely come from existing business expansions and entrepreneurs, not necessarily new businesses.Councilor Kay Fleek said economic development is a concern. “Looking at our main street, the things I’m hearing, it’s pretty scary,” she said. “Nothing is more depressing that going down main street and seeing no businesses.”After McGuire reiterated his confidence in local business owners to come up with a solution, Graham said Lovell, Inc., could help them by providing a new perspective.  Added Taylor, “Their primary concern is growing their business, not necessarily other businesses.”Dalen Davis, the town’s public works director, said Greybull would benefit from economic development anywhere in close proximity.  “If (a business) doesn’t land in Greybull, it’s likely still going to employ people in this community.”Before approving the cash-match request, the council made a request of Taylor that she and the group invite Ron Fiene, owner of Ron’s Food Farm, to be a part of the process, citing his past efforts to bring businesses to south Big Horn County.