Kennan Oyen

Ph.D. student Kennan Oyen watches a bee in a vial sitting on a heating and cooling plate Oct. 21 for lab research that she designed with the help of her advisor, associate professor Michael Dillon, in Dillon's lab at UW.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

Laramie’s business ecosystem underwent some drastic changes in 2017 as big-name companies such as Boot Barn and the Kmart Pharmacy closed their doors and several small businesses opened shop.

But even as the Wyoming Business Council approved millions of dollars in Business Ready Community grants for Laramie projects such as a new location for the Big Hollow Food Co-op, a new building for HIVIZ Shooting Systems or a new research and development laboratory for Bright Agrotech, the Laramie City Council learned the community was leaking about $400 million in retail sales to other communities.

Retail study

According to study conducted at the council’s request, Laramie provides the potential for about $1 billion in annual sales, but local retailers’ current actual sales are approximately $550 million.

In September, Retail Coach Vice President Aaron Farmer told the City Council his company put together a retail analysis based credit card receipts and cellphone data to understand where and when people are shopping and what they are buying.

“The way to look at this is not that leakage is bad thing,” Farmer told the Laramie City Council on Sept. 19. “This is something to take to retailers. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get Laramie out there. You’re competing with Cheyenne and Fort Collins, (Colorado), … you need to get out there and recruit these retailers.”

The report identified several gaps in Laramie’s retail sector including a $2.2 million leakage from sporting goods stores and about $190 million leaked from the building materials and garden equipment sector as well as clothing outlets leaking about $22 million to nearby communities.

Mayor Andi Summerville said the report was the first step in the long-term process of building up Laramie’s retail sector.

“We support mom-and-pop entrepreneurs — they are very important to our economy,” Summerville said. “But while our small business economy is strong, we could attract some of the bigger retailers. We can start closing that retail gap and all businesses can gain a multiplier effect from the move.”

Innovation

While Laramie might have lost retail sales, the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Technology Business Center worked hard to cultivate a new wave of entrepreneurs for the state.

“We have found a lot of people to think about doing businesses that weren’t thinking about it beforehand,” University of Wyoming Wyoming Technology Business Center CEO Jon Benson said in October. “Basically, 40 percent of the people that apply came up with the idea because of the (Fisher Innovation Challenge). I think we help create businesses that wouldn’t have been created otherwise.”

Of the nine finalists selected to move forward in the competition, IoTherm was one that created quite a buzz.

While researching the temperature a bee’s muscles stop functioning to determine what environments the insects could thrive in, Fisher Innovation Challenge finalist Kennan Oyen developed a new method of heating and cooling her test samples.

“Our systems are essentially a flat plate, so you can just set the sample on top of the plate and let the plate do the cooling or heating,” said Oyen, IoTherm owner and UW Zoology and Physiology Ph.D. candidate.

In addition to creating an observable surface for regulating heat, Oyen included thermocouples, or heat sensors, into the design and built the whole plate to be programmable.

“We needed precise control, but we also wanted the ability to control different samples — basically treat different samples on the plate differently,” she said. “So certain parts of the plate could be 10 degrees warmer than other parts. We can control the temperature of individual samples. So instead of looking at a single set point, we can observe bunches of set points at a single time.”

The business center created the challenge in 2016 with donations from Donne Fisher, an entrepreneur based in Denver. The challenge was designed to foster a competitive environment for students with start-up business ideas, Benson said.

If finalists are approved, they could receive up to $20,000 to get their businesses off the ground.

Grand openings

Several new businesses set up shop in Laramie throughout 2017 including a hair salon in West Laramie and a tattoo parlor and coin shop in downtown.

Jennie Clark opened her second hair salon, Licina’s Locks, in June, at 2058 Snowy Range Road.

“I have known since I was 3 I was going to do hair,” Jennie Clark said. “I was the girl who braided people’s hair in class. The teacher would say, ‘Jennie, this isn’t a hair salon.’ I always thought, ‘Well, one day it will be.’”

Opened in the former Beanery Restaurant, Clark said after operating a salon in the downtown area, she wanted something larger, something in West Laramie and something she could transform.

“I really want this side of town to grow,” she said. “Downtown is great, but there is a whole community on this side of (Interstate 80) that only goes that direction to shop at Wal-Mart.”

After opening his doors on Third Street, Vintage Electric Tattoo owner Chad Elsasser said tattooing is about more than ink, art and rebellion — it is a visual history that needs to be preserved.

“My major goal is not just to give people great tattoos,” said Elsasser, who’s worked as a tattooer for about 16 years. “But to serve as a resource of education and help my clients understand why they’re getting these tattoos and what they could actually mean to them.”

The 34-year-old tattoo artist opened Vintage Electric Tattoo, 308 S. Third St., in July after moving to Laramie from Omaha, Nebraska.

Serial entrepreneur and coin enthusiast Steve Marshall once traded a three-month newspaper subscription for a tetradrachm, an ancient Greek silver coin, when he was about 10 years old.

“I love talking about coins,” he said.

“There is just so much history that passes through your hand. If they could just talk for a minute, I would ask them to tell me where they’ve been, what they’ve seen.”

Marshall and his wife, Brenda, opened Cowboy Gold and Silver Exchange on Oct. 9 at 308 S. Third St. The shop caters to local and online collectors of both numismatic and bullion coins.

“Most of our lives, we did what we needed to,” he explained. “And now, we get to do what we want to do. I think we’re pretty lucky.”

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