Ben Hostetler is the operations manager at Mountain Meadow Wool in Buffalo. He knows what his company needs to grow. He knows the resources he needs to create jobs and get his wool all over the nation.
But how does he go from knowing what he needs to do to having the resources to accomplish what he needs done? A new model is hoping to find answers like these for industry leaders in Wyoming.
The model is called Next Generation Sector Partnerships, or Next Gen, and it’s beginning to bring business leaders together to discuss their needs and resolve problems they face as an industry.
In the past, traditional focus groups were led by government agencies who gathered business leaders to ask them what they required. Next Gen allows those business leaders to take control of the group and asks the government agencies to sit outside the circle and listen as the particular industry leaders discuss their problems and needs.
At a meeting held on May 30-31, in Lander, Wyoming business leaders divided the Cowboy State into nine regions; those regions chose one or two industries to focus their efforts on.
Johnson and Sheridan counties chose to focus first on manufacturing.
“Currently it’s a very fluid program,” Hostetler said. “Right now, it’s a group of similar businesses in manufacturing in Sheridan and Johnson counties. With our similarities in manufacturing, whether struggles are dealing with employment, training, shipping or any variety of things that are comparable to make our businesses more efficient, this gives us a framework to talk about those issues and see if there are ways we can collaborate to achieve common ends.”
The model has had some success in other states, including Colorado, according to Ty Stockton, director of communications for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
“It’s a joint effort between the Department of Workforce Services, the Wyoming Workforce Development Council, the Wyoming Business Council – there’s just a whole bunch of players,” Stockton said. “The great thing is it’s not the government agencies that are driving it, it’s the private industry that will run it, and they will let us know what they need from us and what they need from each other.”
Industry-specific problems and needs are identified and discussed, and the business leaders find solutions. The government agencies outside of the circle are available to the business leaders find employees, to suggest grant or loan programs and to provide ideas to spur economic growth, Stockton said.
“The industry professionals are at the table, talking out what they need, where they are going to go and what their opportunities are,” Stockton said. “And the government agencies are instructed to let these guys talk, let them figure out what they really need – and then if they need any help from the agencies, then they can work with them.”
The Buffalo Chamber of Commerce has been attending the meetings and plans to implement the new model throughout Johnson County, according to Mark Smith, executive director of the chamber.
Smith said initial reactions to the model are positive, and he looks forward to getting more businesses and eventually more industries involved.
“We’re looking to get more of our local manufacturers involved in Johnson County,” Smith said. “For us, we need to get the right people in Buffalo and Johnson County involved in it. And then look for things (in the program) that will benefit us and our local businesses, and that’s the goal for us here.”
Other Johnson County businesses that have been invited to join the Next Gen model include Frontier Ironworks, Mine Rite Technologies, Mishap! Brewing, Rocking K Forge, Buckingham Lumber and Bolinger Inc.
Although Johnson County has been placed into a region for Next Gen that also includes Sheridan County, Smith said the chamber’s focus is on Johnson County industries.
“What we want to do is look and see what’s available for us, what can benefit our local businesses and manufacturers here in Johnson County and Buffalo,” Smith said, “such as the wool mill.”
As each industry begins to establish itself within Next Gen, other industries will be invited to join. The Next Gen program in Wyoming isn’t to that step yet, Stockton said. Industries in each region are meeting, discussing and getting used to the new way of working together with government agencies.