Big Hollow Food Co-op

A long time customer has shopped at the Big Hollow Food Co-op since they opened and said that she chooses the coop because of their good selection of organic food. The co-op is thinking about expanding with help from a grant.

Boomerang file photo

The Wyoming Business Council recommended $6 million in grants for Laramie business development during a meeting Thursday.

Construction projects to facilitate business expansion for Hi-Viz Shooting Systems and Big Hollow Food Co-Op were both recommended to receive $3 million grants each, said Julie Kozlowski, Business Council director of community development.

The Business Ready Community Program, which is administered by the Business Council, provides funding for publicly owned infrastructure serving the needs of businesses and promoting economic development in Wyoming communities.

The council now forwards their grant and loan recommendations to the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB), which will meet Jan. 19 to make a final decision, Kozlowski said.

“This means we are able to continue in the very rapid growth pace we’re on,” Hi-Viz Shooting Systems Chief Operating Officer Mike Thomas said. “Provided SLIB gives the final approval, (the grant) is going to add a couple of things — more functions that we don’t have now, and it’s going to allow us to continue to grow. We don’t see any slowdown in what we’re doing now, and we don’t think that’s going to change.”

The firearms accessories manufacturer requested the grant to construct a 20,000-square-foot addition to its facilities in Laramie. This was the company’s second application for state economic development funds in less than three years, but Thomas said Hi-Viz quickly outgrew its original facilities.

“They’ve done an outstanding job with the grant (and) loan they were awarded,” Kozlowski said. “They’ve created double the jobs they projected.”

Originally from Colorado, the company moved to Wyoming in 2013 projecting it would create 20 jobs in Laramie. During the company’s first year of production, they created 42 jobs, Kozlowski said.

“We’re tickled to have them here,” she said.

The expansion is slated to allow the company to sustain annual sales growth of 32 percent for the next five years and allow the company to reach a goal of 128 positions with above-average pay for Albany County’s median wage by 2020, a council press release says.

In the downtown area, the council recommended a grant to build a two-story, mixed-use building on the Empress lot.

“This is a huge milestone for (the downtown district),” Laramie Main Street Alliance Executive Director Trey Sherwood said. “This has been a priority project that the board has contemplated and worked on since 2008.”

The first floor of the building was pre-leased by Big Hollow Food Co-Op, and the company expects to create 12 new jobs, Sherwood said.

“It’s our chance to expand,” said Marla Petersen, Big Hollow general manager. “We’ve been pursuing opportunities to expand for three years, so this is our chance to do it in a way that keeps us downtown and connected with our community.”

After polling the co-op’s membership, Petersen said the company received an overwhelming amount of feedback requesting the co-op remains downtown.

Big Hollow currently stocks products from 30 Wyoming producers, and the expansion is slated to generate capital investment of at least $600,000 during the next five years, a council press release says.

The council also approved the partial funding of an Albany County request for about $500,000 grant to complete phase two of the Greater Wyoming Big Brothers, Big Sisters facility renovation to allow for consolidation of services, storage and expansion, a council press release says. The council approved $488,857 of the original request.

(8) comments

Slow Cowboy

Good news for Laramie.

GrowordieLaramie

Yes!

Silence Dogood

I wonder how a grocery store qualifies for such a big grant? Could it be because they're "non-profit"? As a non-profit does that mean that they don't pay their employees? Or is it a matter where what would otherwise be called profit and taxed, is withheld and used for their own projects? As a non-profit, will the building they build be exempt from property taxes? Property taxes in Albany County pay for our schools and our county government. While I have been a customer of Big Hollow for several years, I don't support a grant to organizations like this one. It seems unnecessary and as if they're given preferential treatment over the tax paying entities in the same business. I'm sure there are several locally owned businesses that do pay taxes that could benefit from a shiny new building with space to grow and space to rent. If Wyoming is indeed in tight financial condition, when will these little pots of money from the state begin to dry up so that unnecessary projects like this one will no longer be funded? It seems as though Wyoming still has some fat in the budget left to cut on a state level. Perhaps the next round of cuts at the state University should be viewed with these sorts of publicly funded grants in mind. Why cut UW by millions and then reward a small non-profit grocery store with a new building instead? I suspect that more jobs at UW were eliminated by a cut of 3 million dollars than will be created by this grant to Big Hollow. Also, are these Big Hollow jobs the type that one can use to support a family - or are they part-time jobs more suited to students?

Ernest Bass

Excellent comments.

Ernest Bass

From Boomerang 4-12-2016: “Through the Project Development Agreement, Laramie Main Street and Big Hollow would each contribute $37,500 cash toward the project. Under the lease agreement, Big Hollow would lease the ground floor of the building from Laramie Main Street for a 10-year period, after which Big Hollow would have the option to purchase the building. Lease proceeds would be used to market the residential spaces, cover building expenses, support program operations and invest in downtown economic development projects… Laramie Main Street estimates it would recapture more than $300,000 in revenue from the Big Hollow lease, with additional revenue from the residential spaces.”

Laramie Main Street (LMS) has been pushing this scam since 2010 when they wanted to build a three-story building with a restaurant on the ground floor. They now want taxpayers to build a $3 million building which will generate $300,000 in rent from the first floor and probably the same amount from the second floor. That is $600,000 in rent going into LMS’s pocket. After 10 years LMS wants to sell the building and keep the proceeds ($5 million or $6 million?). This is the same scam the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance has run for decades – build a building with taxpayer money, sell the building, keep the money. LMS claims they will use the proceeds to “support program operations and invest in downtown economic development projects.” Translation: They will use the proceeds for expensive travel junkets, power lunches, massive salary increases and yearly cash bonuses.

Silence Dogood

What happens if Big Hollow cannot make the lease payments? What if the nonprofit board decides to shut down the store altogether? Main Street has indeed been pursuing the task of filling the hole left on 2nd Street when the old Fox Theatre was demolished with a great deal of vigor. This really seems to be another example of privatizing the gain while the actual risk is borne by the public. If the building is left empty in time, Main Street does not have adequate resources to maintain it appropriately. Chances are good that the public would again be asked to contribute - either directly or through a "Grant" from some public slush fund to maintaining the structure. Sadly it seems the public is all too willing to support projects like this one that really don't pass the "sniff test" and would not qualify for funding from a commercial bank or conventional lending institution. The two entities that stand to gain the most from this are contributing a paltry 2.5% of the price of the proposed structure. This hardly qualifies as "skin in the game" and again, neither of these entities likely has anywhere near the necessary resources or expertise required to build, manage and maintain a real estate venture of this size. With the Hasting's building now empty as well as several other existing buildings in Laramie, it really challenges one's logic to see a project like this approved and going forward. Sadly we never seem to learn when faced with these boondoggles and are continually saddened and amazed that nobody could foresee the potential downside of such a project. The Main street director can add this project to her resume and apply for bigger and better jobs elsewhere much the same as the past directors of the LEDC have done. Each director has feathered their personal resume by pushing through some large building project like this one and then moved on to a new job in a new community. Meanwhile Laramie is left with a rail spur we couldn't live without, several business parks that are no where near at capacity. Build it and they will come seems to be a catch phrase that our community can't get beyond as we continually fall for this line of reasoning. How about next time someone proposes using public resources for private gain we ask a local banker or other lender how the project that's proposed would be received if it were brought forward by a private concern. As long as the city, university or some other "nonprofit" entity is proposing a project it seems to sail ahead with far less scrutiny than those projects of private developers.

Ernest Bass

Once again, excellent comments. It is possible that the proponents of these publicaly funded projects don’t really care if they are successful or not. There is a lot of money to be made during the engineering, construction, and eventual sale of the properties.

Silence Dogood

Indeed success is probably not the most important criteria for those pushing these projects. The success is in getting the grant and building the building. Once that's done, it's a success to, for example, the Mainstream office and director. This can now be used as propaganda as Mainstream seeks more grants and publicity and the director can personally use this as a resume builder to seek out another job. Nobody seems to want to look back at past projects of this sort and gauge their success or failure. The rail spur south of town? The business parks in West Laramie? The Technology park north of town? The UW Plaza? We've done a great deal of building and laying down infrastructure which, to date, hasn't been as successful as any of it was initially promised to be. Meanwhile, we have empty buildings throughout the community and North Third is slowly dying - is North Third street also part of "Main Street"? It's just not as splashy or sexy to fill existing buildings or engage in micro types of development - much more exciting to build new structures from the ground up. It's also not unreasonable to suspect that a large portion of the support for these projects does indeed stem from the chance to make money engineering the sites and building the buildings. As far as sales, since nobody really has their own money on the line, the buildings can sit underutilized and eventually unsold because those that pushed and built the projects have already made their money and having the building (or business park, or technology park) sit virtually empty won't cause any of the initial supporters to miss any meals. Publicize risk, privatize gain - it's a good plan as long as you'r on the gain side...

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