Gordon announces first American Rescue Plan investments

WYOMING – The initial injection of American Rescue Plan funds will cover the new Wyoming Innovation Partnership, allotting $27 million to its member institutions, Gov. Mark Gordon announced on Tuesday afternoon.

The WIP is a newly created endeavor by the Gordon administration and is intended to support the grand economic vision set forth by the Wyoming Business Council, while also supporting education attainment goals developed through the state.

“I believe there is urgency in launching the first phase of this initiative as a means to help Wyoming’s economy grow and thrive as we move out of the COVID pandemic,” Gordon said in a statement. “The projects this funding supports build on successes we have already seen to develop needed workforce and to engage the entrepreneurs of Wyoming so they can innovate and grow businesses and technologies.”

Specifically, Gordon’s office said the $27 million will be allocated to the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges for collaborative programs in entrepreneurships, energy, digital infrastructure, technology, tourism and hospitality. It was reiterated that this is only the initial phase of the partnership and that Wyoming’s institutions of higher learning are committed to using these funds to plan and develop means to make programs self-sustaining.

“This investment will utilize our higher education institutions to help chart a path to a healthy future for Wyoming,” Gordon said. “By working together we can create more opportunities for people to live and work in our state, and ensure our workforce has the skills they need for the jobs and industries of today and into the future.”

President Joe Biden and his administration created the American Rescue Plan shortly after his inauguration in January. Biden’s signature went on the bill in March. Part of that plan was to allocate funds to states so local institutions and businesses could further recoup losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is separate from the “American Jobs Plan,” the term the Biden administration has given the recently passed infrastructure bill.

University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel said he appreciated Gordon’s commitment of valuable federal funding to help higher-learning institutions develop new initiatives.

“This collaboration will allow us to accomplish much more than if we were to act independently, and the opportunities before us are exciting,” Seidel said.

Community colleges thanked Gordon for assigning funds to the WIP.

Casper College President Darren Devine spoke on behalf of community colleges and the college commission. He said the assigned funding will help community colleges not only implement WIP but embolden existing efforts like WyoTransfer and Wyoming Works. There’s also IMPACT 307, the business-focused program geared towards helping the state’s entrepreneurs get their innovations off the ground.

American Rescue Plan funds will also help create a statewide computing education program. That would involve creating a new School of Computing at the University of Wyoming in addition to a software development degree with Northern Wyoming Community College District. Gordon’s office pointed out some of the computer-oriented programs would include fintech and blockchain curriculum development and instruction.

In a statement, Gordon’s office said funds will also go to directly address the state’s top two industries. There will be an allocation of funds to power line technology and low-voltage fiber-optic programs at community colleges in hopes of further bolstering the state’s energy and natural resources sector. The University of Wyoming will launch the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Center where community colleges will receive program support for training programs to further tourism in the state through search and rescue, culinary and hotel/restaurant/event management training and outdoor recreation.

These investments and new projects come at a time when the University of Wyoming announced its restructuring, which includes the cutting of a selected few arts programs and degrees. Earlier this week it was announced the school’s restructuring would come without any cuts to faculty.