College and the economy

Nov 12, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Central Wyoming College is suggesting that it play a larger role in local economic development operations. Trustees talked it over during a public board meeting in October. It's a good point, and a logical one, despite some trepidation about the mixing of public and private interests in development work.

The suggestion, and the possibilities for it, in this case reflects CWC's significant role locally as well as the more prominent place community colleges are being asked to take in work force training nationwide.

Some if it comes down to definitions and recognition.If our college were a business, with its work force, its payroll, its administrative structure, its service impact and its physical premises, not only would it be viewed already as part of private economic development efforts, it very likely would be the most influential part.

As it is, the college has long acknowledged its interconnected role with employers in Fremont County. Both by design and by default, the college plays a big part in providing training, with numerous degrees and certificates intended to produce job-ready graduates for employers around Fremont County and Wyoming.

The college also has been one of the great builders in local history, probably the best. Fifty years ago there were no CWC buildings. Now there are more than two dozen, mostly in Riverton but significantly in Lander as well. All of them are useful and functional, and some are striking, innovative and beautiful community assets as well. Consider Wyoming PBS, the Robert A. Peck Arts Center and the McFarland Health and Science Center in Riverton, the new, custom-built CWC Lander Center and the one-of-a-kind Sinks Canyon Center just outside of Lander. A new CWC Jackson Center is on track for completion in Teton County by the end of the decade as well.

Each of these is an economic development agent in itself, requiring labor to construct and a staff to occupy in fulfilling the programs intended for the new facility.

More directed economic development activity has history at CWC. There was a certified training project with Microsoft. A railroad car repair company had an old tanker on campus for several years as the college trained workers for that industry.

Today, as the college moves toward construction of its planned equine and animal science center, talks are ongoing with local agriculture leaders about what role the building and the courses taught in it can dovetail with local ag and related business needs and services.

And the Wind River Job Corps Center is building a good partnership with CWC in cooperating on the strengths of each institution as the local work force is strengthened.

Have an idea for starting, changing, expanding or preserving a business? Chances are there is someone at Central Wyoming College who can help - and wants to.

Having a meeting of a local economic development group? Make sure the CWC president's office knows about it.

The college hosts four "community dialogue dinners" each year, often with a business or larger community development theme. If you haven't attended one of those, plan to.

Engaging the college more formally and officially in local economic development is smart thinking for both the college and the developers. Expanding that cooperative relationship could be important - and it shouldn't be all that difficult because the foundation has been built already.

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