Editorial:

Impact of closures, layoffs will be felt for years to come

Posted 6/18/19

Life became more difficult for dozens of Park County families this week.

Eight employees at Northwest College lost their jobs as the college faces continuing budget deficits, while the college is …

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Editorial:

Impact of closures, layoffs will be felt for years to come

Posted

Life became more difficult for dozens of Park County families this week.

Eight employees at Northwest College lost their jobs as the college faces continuing budget deficits, while the college is eliminating another 21 positions through attrition.

With budget shortfalls in the millions in recent years, these cuts run deep. While no academic programs are being eliminated this time around, NWC will no longer be offering student health services on campus.

A day after NWC announced its layoffs last week, the parent company for Cody Labs told its employees the business is closing. Within the next several months, around 70 people will lose their jobs. Though some may find work elsewhere in Park County, it’s likely other residents will be forced to leave. In our rural area, we don’t have dozens of higher-paying jobs available to replace those that will be lost with the Cody Labs closure.

Adding to the local job losses, Shopko is closing its doors today (Tuesday). While employees have known the closure was looming for months, it didn’t make working their last shifts any easier — especially if they haven’t found another job.

The circumstances surrounding the difficult decisions at NWC, Cody Labs and Shopko are complicated and unique. For instance, local Shopko and Cody Labs employees appear to be the victims of poor decisions made by executives far from here. But whatever the reasons, these nearly simultaneous setbacks will be difficult for our local economy to bounce back from.

In the case of Shopko, it’s unlikely that a similar store will come into Powell — or Greybull, Worland and Thermopolis, which are all losing their Shopkos. Not only did shoppers lose an important retail option, but employees lost jobs that won’t be easily replaced.

The same is true with Cody Labs, a drug-maker that was not only unique for this area, but across the state. Local and state leaders certainly tried to help Cody Labs succeed, as economic development efforts went above and perhaps beyond to assist the business in recent years.

The Wyoming Legislature created a special loan program specifically with a Cody Labs’ expansion in mind, while economic development and elected officials touted the business and praised its potential to diversify Wyoming’s economy. Yet two years later, here we are, with a major employer shutting down and those hopes dashed.

The impacts of these closures and layoffs will continue to be felt in our communities for years to come.

Though the picture can appear bleak, Park County has a long history of resilience in the face of challenges. After all, the Powell community was built by homesteaders who established thriving fields in a harsh, arid climate. There are parallels in the case of Northwest College. It was the energy and inspiration of local leaders that led to the establishment of the college almost 75 years ago.

Now’s the time for economic development efforts to step up. Powell Economic Partnership, Forward Cody and Wyoming Business Council leaders are keenly aware of the challenges ahead, and it’s important that they come up with innovative solutions to support existing businesses while also working to draw new businesses to our area.

Though small businesses don’t often get the limelight, they’re the backbone of our economy. We know that, just like NWC, Shopko and Cody Labs, our local businesses also face hardships and budget woes — the empty storefronts along Bent Street stand as sad reminders of those difficulties. It’s vital for our communities to continue supporting local small businesses to help them succeed and grow.

We’re also encouraged to see new businesses beginning to blossom here — some in new buildings (or under construction) and others in existing locations downtown and around Powell.

Park County has much to offer for quality of life: incredible outdoor recreational opportunities, excellent schools, gorgeous views, generally safe neighborhoods, friendly residents and low taxes. But more needs to be done for our economic growth to ensure people can stay here.

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