Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce selects 2021 annual award winners

JACKSON – On Sept. 28, the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce's Annual Awards Committee proudly selected outstanding businesses and individuals to be honored for the 56th Chamber Annual Awards.

The JHCC received more than 170 nominations. Awards presented include the following: VIM for Small Business of the Year, The Fine Dining Restaurant Group and their Quarantine Cuisine program for Large Business of the Year, Jackson Hole Curbside Recycling for Green-to-Green, Dr. Travis Riddell for Citizen of the Year, as well as Wendy Martinez for Rising Star.

The award for Nonprofit of the Year goes to the organizations and individuals of Mental Health JH, whose primary goal is to reduce the stigma of mental health while providing access to resources and knowledge throughout our valley. Thanks to their efforts, more than 900 residents benefited from six or 12 free counseling sessions. The award specifically honors St. John’s Health, Teton Youth & Family Services, Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, Curran Seeley Foundation, Community Safety Network, St. John’s Hospital Foundation, as well as the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, individual practitioners who subsidized their services, and individual donors are also award recipients.

The Large Business of the Year Award was granted to Fine Dining Restaurant Group for the Quarantine Cuisine program, which delivered more than 1,100 bags of free groceries, and almost 1,000 free prepared meals as many residents were forced into quarantine. The idea and much of the work was thanks to Cynthia Hogan and was so successful thanks also to Hole Food Rescue, Jackson Whole Grocer, ¡HOLA! Spanish Academy & Services, and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole.

Owner of VIM, the Small Business of the Year, Julie Guttormson exclaimed, “Wow! I am truly honored, humbled, and blown away! We’re about to celebrate 10 years since we opened the studio, and the pandemic has truly proven to be the roughest stretch.” In addition to offering free classes to local workers in an effort to combat the ongoing stress of such a demanding summer, their Rock the Ride cycling fundraiser has raised more than $300,000 for local stroke and cardiac patients through St. John’s Hospital Foundation since it began in 2016.

Given the prevalence of COVID cases in the area, the Chamber will not host an in-person Annual Award Celebration party, though the award recipients will be honored through alternative avenues.

Federal grant will quadruple Enroll Wyoming’s navigator workforce

CHEYENNE – Enroll Wyoming was recently awarded a three-year $1 million federal grant that will increase its workforce and outreach to Wyoming individuals and families who are seeking affordable health insurance.

The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s population health division serves as the lead agency for the grant.

“With this funding, we will be able to quadruple the number of health insurance navigators who are working across the state to help Wyoming residents find insurance that best meets their needs,” said Jason Mincer, Enroll Wyoming’s project director. “This includes helping residents navigate the federal health insurance marketplace for comprehensive, affordable plans.”

Currently, marketplace plans across the nation cost an average of about $50 per month.

Open enrollment for the marketplace begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 22.

“Open enrollment is our busiest time of year since this is when people can easily make changes to their health insurance coverage on the marketplace,” Mincer said.

People can only sign up outside of open enrollment if they have a major life event like having a child, losing a job, getting a job, getting married or getting divorced.

Mincer encouraged Wyoming residents who need insurance or who are looking for more affordable options to consider talking to an Enroll Wyoming navigator.

Enroll Wyoming services are free of charge and are available by dialing 211 from anywhere in Wyoming and asking for an insurance navigator.

Airstream rally set for 2023 at Sweetwater Events Complex

ROCK SPRINGS – On Sept. 21, executives of Airstream Club International signed a contract solidifying Sweetwater Events Complex as the site for the Airstream Club International 2023 Rally. More than 1,800 people from 49 states and Canadian provinces will be flocking to the Sweetwater Events Complex in June 2023.

“Our visit with the executive team members was extremely successful. We were able to brainstorm how to set up the rally around the grounds and activities in Sweetwater County for rally attendees to participate in,” said Sweetwater Events Complex Executive Director Larry Lloyd.

This will be the 66th Airstream Internationally Rally and the second time the rally has been held in Wyoming; it is the inaugural visit to Sweetwater County. During the rally attendees will meet fellow Airstream members, learn about the Airstream lifestyle and explore the activities, local businesses and restaurants Sweetwater County has to offer.

Airstream International Club and the Sweetwater Events Complex are partnering with the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, the City of Rock Springs, and Downtown URA to ensure the community and local businesses are involved. As part of the rally, there will be a parade of vintage Airstreams through town for residents to enjoy. There will be an open house during the rally where locals can tour vintage Airstreams, browse products from vendors and view Airstreams for sale. The City of Rock Springs will be hosting a special downtown event for rally attendees and the community at large to mingle and enjoy the town.

The rally will significantly boost tourism and economic impact in Sweetwater County. Airstream rally attendees and vendors are estimated to spend in excess of $1,043,889 in Sweetwater County (Dean Runyan Associates, 2020). Local food trucks will be featured at the rally and associated events throughout the week, local vendors will be invited to participate in the vendor fair, restaurants and business will be bustling with activity and gas stations will have increased traffic.

Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union announces proposed merger

CHEYENNE – Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union – with $575 million in assets, nearly 32,000 members and branches in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska – has announced a proposed merger with Nebraska-based Western Heritage Federal Credit Union, with $65 million in assets, more than 8,000 members and branches in Alliance and Scottsbluff, Neb.

The two credit unions will be merged under the Meridian Trust name.

The proposed merger will join two institutions that share a strong commitment to their membership and the communities they serve. The partnership will offer expanded services to Western Heritage FCU members and additional branch and ATM access to Meridian Trust FCU members. Members and employees of both organizations will benefit from the economies of scale that a larger organization brings. No layoffs will result from the merger, which is expected to be completed by early 2022.

Kim Withers, Meridian Trust CEO, said, “We look at this as an opportunity that will benefit the great members of both credit unions. Each organization has a strong passion for serving their existing and potential membership, providing local as well as world-class digital services.”

Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union was also recently named the Best Credit Union in the state according to Forbes.

Since both credit unions currently have a branch in Scottsbluff less than a half mile apart from each other, the plan is to combine operations inside of the Western Heritage location. The branch in Alliance will remain at its current location.

Ken Garff Automotive Group buys Spradley Barr dealerships

CHEYENNE – Ken Garff Automotive Group has purchased Spradley Barr’s Ford, Toyota and Hyundai dealerships, and will operate under the banners of Ken Garff Ford Cheyenne, Ken Garff Toyota Cheyenne and Ken Garff Hyundai Cheyenne, effective today.

“Cheyenne is a growing market, and we are proud to make our first entry into Wyoming into such a wonderful city,” said Brett Hopkins, CEO of Ken Garff Automotive Group. “Expanding the Ken Garff footprint will provide excellent vehicle-buying experiences to shoppers in the region.”

Operating at the same Spradley Barr location on Westland Road, the Ken Garff dealerships will continue to provide premier Ford, Toyota and Hyundai vehicles.

In the acquisition, Ken Garff also bought Spradley Barr Ford dealerships in Fort Collins and Greeley, Colo.

Operating 62 stores in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Iowa, Michigan, and now Wyoming, Ken Garff’s brand slogan “We Hear You” demonstrates its commitment to giving customers exceptional experiences, according to a release.

Meridian Trust Named ‘Credit Union of the Year’ by MWCUA

CHEYENNE – Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union has been selected as “Credit Union of the Year” for 2021 by the Mountain West Credit Union Association (MWCUA).

Meridian Trust was recognized as the top credit union in the largest category ($500 million in assets and above).

Meridian Trust was chosen for its financial strength and performance; new and improved services to members; new activities and programs; innovation; and legislative and grassroots advocacy. The credit union has demonstrated success in all of these areas this year, according to a news release, with activities that have included donating tens of thousands of dollars to provide much-needed support to local causes, such as veterans, children and women’s organizations.

Meridian Trust’s successes include the opening of new branches in different states; and initiating a digital-first technological environment for its members that includes an upgraded mobile app, an interactive website and development of a new online banking experience that includes putting credit scores and financial education at members’ fingertips.

Meridian Trust FCU is led by CEO Kim Withers, with more than 100 employees, and branches located in three states – Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.

Devils Tower sees record-breaking visitation

SUNDANCE (WNE) — The latest figures from the National Park Service show that Devils Tower National Monument is following the year's strong tourism trend with record-breaking numbers in August and an overall increase of 41.35% over last year’s visitation.

By the end of August, the national monument had welcomed a total of 440,839 people to enjoy the unique geological formation – an increase from 311,869 visitors at the same time in 2020.

In no other year since the National Park Service’s records began in 1994 has the Tower seen more visitors by the end of August. The closest was 2017 at 411,330 people.

2020 was, of course, the beginning of a big increase in outdoor recreation across America, thanks to the social distancing rules of the pandemic. While annual visitation had declined by August by 14.77% due to lockdowns and travel restrictions across the nation and world, August saw an increase of 13.27%, with 113,898 visitors in total.

Visitation at the Tower has been higher than usual since late summer and early fall of last year. In September and October of 2020, it was reported to have been at its highest levels ever for those months of the year, which was attributed to the lack of social events elsewhere during lockdown. October’s numbers in 2020 were nearly double those of the year before. It remains to be seen whether the rest of 2021 turns out to be another record-breaker for Crook County’s national monument.

Johnson County enjoyed best tourist season ever

BUFFALO (WNE) — With health experts recommending outdoor activities and social distancing during the pandemic, Wyoming – with its vast open spaces and two national parks – has been a natural destination. And local retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs say the summer travel season was a very good one.

"It was a stupendous summer," said Margo Brown, owner of Margo's Pottery. "It felt like people just wanted to spend money. I would think most stores did well this summer."

Lodging tax collections are up this year, which seems to support the anecdotal evidence.

Johnson County Lodging Tax Board President Jillian Smith said that lodging tax collections are remitted to the board in arrears — so money the board received in August could have been collected over several months. But the $58,015 the board received in August was the largest check the board has ever received. In July, the board received $39,530.

“July is also quite impressive as it shows that travelers were visiting our area earlier in the summer than in previous years,” Smith said. "Typically we see our highest checks in August, September and October.”

Last year, the board received $34,905 in August and $11,763 in July.

Buffalo is frequently a stopping-over spot for visitors traveling between the Black Hills of South Dakota and Yellowstone and Teton national parks. Yellowstone National Park set a record for visits in August with 921,844 recreation visits, the National Park Service said in a news release last week.

Occidental Hotel owner David Stewart said that while the hotel hosted the usual visitors traveling through, it also accommodated more guests than usual who were making Buffalo their home base.

Milestones

Matt Ashby, AICP CUD, has been promoted to manager of the western operations of professional consulting firm Ayres’ Development Services Division. Ashby manages Ayres’ planning, landscape architecture and environmental efforts in the West and provides planning services on projects nationwide. His urban planning expertise complements Ayres’ engineering, architectural, geospatial and environmental services. He is based in Cheyenne.

HealthWorks Board of Directors recently announced the appointment of its new chief executive officer, Tracy Woodhouse Brosius. Brosius assumed responsibilities on Sept. 13. Brosius is a highly experienced, successful and well-regarded business leader with more than 27 years of management and leadership experience. Before joining HealthWorks, she was the director of finance and business operations for the Wyoming PACE program. HealthWorks, established in 2005 is a Federally Qualified Community Health Center.

The Wyoming Senior Olympics Board of Directors recently hired the organization’s first executive director. De Shann Schinkel of Rawlins takes the helm to assist the board with both the summer and winter Wyoming Senior Games. Cheyenne resident Bill Stone stepped down from his position as president, but remains on the Board of Directors. Taking up the gavel is Cheyenne resident Skip Arnold, who had served as vice president. Elected as vice president is Joe Dedic of Casper. Other officers, also from Cheyenne, are Gay Woodhouse as treasurer and Carmen Boyd as secretary.

The Equality State Policy Center’s board of directors has selected Jennifer Lowe to serve as the organization’s new executive director. Prior to joining the ESPC team, Lowe served as the director of legislative and external affairs for the Association of California Cities–Orange County. During her time there, she oversaw the association’s efforts to advocate for policies that recognized the importance of regional solutions to complex policy issues. Jenn started her professional career as a reporter for the Orange County Register, where she covered local politics. She received a bachelor of arts in communication and a master's of public administration from California State University, Fullerton. In the summer of 2019, Lowe and her family decided to make the move to Wyoming to experience a simpler life and be closer to the mountains. For more than two years, she has called Star Valley home.

Silver Star’s Vice President and COO Barbara Sessions was honored as the 18th Annual FTTXcellence Award winner. The award, sponsored by Corning and Lightwave Magazine, was designed to recognize an individual who advanced the use of optical access technology in the Americas. Sessions was selected from a very competitive slate of nominees for her inspiring commitment and innovative leadership in bringing broadband services to rural communities. Sessions joins a distinguished list of network operators, community broadband advocates, technology developers, and civic leaders who are dedicated to delivering high-speed connectivity to people wherever they call home.

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