Wyoming Business Council sets path for the futureWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – The Wyoming Business Council (WBC) was created with the idea of promoting businesses across the state of Wyoming, and since it’s creation in the late 1990s, agriculture has always been at the center of the organization’s activity.
“When I was appointed CEO of WBC, I went to the Governor with the co-chairmen of our Board, and the Governor said, we feel like WBC is a bit like a farming operation in that we have a number of silos. If we can break those silos down, we can make things more efficient and improve the cooperation between WBC, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) and the University of Wyoming (UW),” explains WBC CEO Shawn Reese. “In breaking those down, the Governor said, do not lose sight of agriculture.”
WBC’s Agribusiness Division focuses on the agriculture-specific operations of the agency, and they work under the purpose of promoting and developing Wyoming’s agriculture industry.
“When WBC was created in 1998, the legislative directive included, ‘development of new, value-added agribusiness, product uses and markets for Wyoming agricultural products,’” says WBC Agribusiness Division Director Lisa Johnson.
Reese adds, “We address a number of what we call economic development building blocks, and we feel these are the foundation for what our mission is, which is to increase Wyoming’s prosperity.”
They provide leadership in public policy and infrastructure, which has been very successful over the past 15 years.
“We’ve invested $350 million or more in infrastructure across the state over that time,” Reese says. “We need to continue to invest in ourselves moving forward.”
Johnson notes that within the Agribusiness Division, two areas really stand at the forefront – agribusiness development and market development.
“The business development side includes our livestock program and value-added agriculture programs, where we try to help those existing agribusinesses expand or find new business that want to develop and add value to ag products,” Johnson says.
Within business development, the livestock programs have stayed constant over several years, with programs like Wyoming Verified and the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program.
“Within the livestock genetics, we still see a need to work with producers in helping provide protocol information, education and helping them become export-ready,” she explains. “We also try to bring trade leads and matching funds for international marketing.”
While cattle are a main focus, sheep production is also continuing to grow in importance for WBC.
“The other part of business development is the value-added ag,” Johnson comments. “That looks at helping those companies or people who have an idea about the production of products in Wyoming.”
Using Wyoming Authentic Beef out of Cody and Wyoming Malting Company in Pine Bluffs as examples, Johnson notes that they provide help for those businesses to start.
“Our other focus is in capturing added value and connecting to new markets,” Johnson says. “Over the summer, we’re concentrating on developing and expanding our Made in Wyoming, Grown in Wyoming program.”
The program has been around for several years and helps to brand products that are made and produced by Wyomingites and sold within the state.
“We want to make it about not just helping them with brand awareness but also looking at business development, connecting them to new markets and helping to make sure they have the production capacity to fulfill orders when they come in,” she continues.
“This all goes back to our enabling legislation, which talked about helping to develop those value-added ag enterprises,” Johnson says. “We really want to focus on developing new value, product uses and markets for Wyoming ag.”
With strong livestock programs in place, Johnson also says they help crop producers to find and enhance their markets, as well.
“Identifying alternative crops to grow, crop development and those kinds of things are really best handled by UW Extension, but we want to be there to help those producers find the best markets for their crops, which fits really nicely into our main program focus,” she says.
“We help to promote crops from Wyoming and find markets for them,” Johnson notes, adding that they also work extensively within the local food movement and in farmers’ market promotion. “We see a lot of interest and opportunity in local foods.”
Throughout the summer, WBC is actively involved in promoting Wyoming products, particularly through Wyoming Mercantile at the Wyoming State Fair.
“In the past, we’ve spread our efforts over several venues, but this year we’re really focusing on Wyoming Mercantile for a couple of reasons,” Johnson explains. “We want to really focus our attention and funds on not duplicating other efforts that are going on and really getting the best bang for our buck.”
Johnson notes that Wyoming Mercantile presents the opportunity to showcase a large number of Wyoming products in a location that sees heavy traffic.
“We’ll help to promote businesses in other venues and at other events, as well, by leveraging our resources to improve their visibility,” she says.
This summer, Johnson also comments that they will continue to develop and strengthen partnerships across the state.
“We have tried to be in close contact with WDA and UW Extension, and we’re working to cooperate and partner where we can,” she says. “We’re all facing the same budgetary cutbacks, and we don’t want to duplicate each other’s efforts. We think State Fair is one area we can have a big impact in.”
While working with outside partners is important, Johnson also notes that working within other divisions at WBC is also vital.
“Our division is working in concert with the WBC as a whole to talk about our strategy,” she comments. “When Shawn speaks about our strategy, he talks about thinking big, and that includes industrial development, and in our case, cattle and livestock programs.”
Reese also emphasizes thinking small, which Johnson recognizes as looking at business development and promoting small business through the Made in Wyoming program and other efforts.
“The other part is technology development,” she says. “WBC, as a group, is looking at different industry types to see how we can see overlap and help to grow existing businesses within the state.”
“Our division is really strong,” Johnson comments. “We have a group of people with really impressive backgrounds and some amazing industry experience. I’m really excited as we work together to promote agriculture in this state.”