TORRINGTON – News of the city of Torrington applying to the Wyoming Business Council for a Business-Ready Community (BRC) grant has been quite abuzz around town as of late. Torrington’s City Council approved an authorization for Lisa Miller of Goshen County Economic Development (GCED) to apply for the grant on Oct. 6.
At the Oct. 6 city council meeting, Miller told the council the BRC application was for a $2.5 million grant to purchase the Wyoming Ethanol Facility. Miller explained the city of Torrington would become the owner of the facility to comply with the grant requirements that the facility be publicly owned. The City of Torrington would then lease the facility to Panhandle Coop.
According to Miller, Panhandle Coop would invest an additional $1.5 million in the facility for equipment and renovations. Panhandle Coop would retain their current workforce in Torrington, 18 employees, and will hire an additional five employees with projections based on business from that point on.
Miller and Panhandle Coop Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Charlie Wright agree the city’s acquisition of the property would be mutually beneficial to Panhandle Coop and the city of Torrington. The vision of GCED and Panhandle Coop is the coop would take its current operations and would create a regional hub for operations in Torrington.
Miller told the council Torrington’s City Attorney, James Eddington, and the coop’s legal counsel would develop a lease agreement between the two entities.
Miller said, “without the city of Torrington’s support of this grant opportunity, Panhandle Coop’s future endeavors will be severely hindered.”
Torrington resident, Russell Zimmer, expressed his disapproval of the matter and submitted a written statement to the council. He asked that Torrington Mayor Randy Adams read the letter. Adams read the letter and addressed all the questions posed by Zimmer.
According to Adams, the only cost incurred to the city would be time and effort from the staff. There is no intention to use public funds for the facility. The money would come directly from the grant and not from the pockets of citizens.
He added there would be a separate annexation of the property if the city purchased it. Adams said the county will not lose anything and the city will gain from the project if the property is annexed into the city.
Vicky Zimmer of Torrington also spoke on the proposition. She noted the company’s financial profit and loss in 2018 showed a loss of over $1 million. In 2019, the profit of the company was $24 thousand. Zimmer wished to know if the company could take on this amount of debt, in addition to what they already have and expressed her belief, “this is a bad thing for the city to get involved with.”
The Business Farmer reached out to Wright about the proposition. Wright said Torrington’s purchase of the facility would be mutually beneficial to the city of Torrington and Panhandle Coop. He said the coop would also be pursuing a partnership with Ethanol US, providing for an additional 20-30 jobs in Torrington.
The intention of the facility would be to refine ethanol, primarily for human use. Wright added the equipment in the facility was too outdated to run a full facility. The facility would instead refine ethanol further to produce products such as hand sanitizer and alcohol for human consumption.
The facility has a large warehouse and could serve as a hub for eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. The coop could store liquid fertilizer in the warehouse and upgrade feed manufacturing.
The coop also intends to move their agronomy location to the facility as they are currently landlocked on the highway in Torrington, which Wright says provides a significant safety issue.
Wright addressed some of Zimmer’s comments. Wright said many people do not understand the financial aspects of a coop. Wright said they could have made more in the past year, but they chose to give employees bonuses and pay raises. Wright added, “most coops operate on a 1% or 2% net profit.”
Last year the coop made about $25,000 in net profit. This year, they are projecting to make around $1 million.
“The funds are there, if you want another 30-40 new jobs,” Wright said. “If the economic board votes no, we own the facility and we will go ahead.”
Wright added, “this is a 77-year-old company that is going to create jobs. There is exciting stuff down the road, and this is a great opportunity for Torrington, a long-term investment.”