The Municipal Building’s main sign is pictured Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – A new venture capital firm will put down its roots in Wyoming’s capital city, in part thanks to a Cheyenne City Council memorandum of understanding passed at its meeting Monday night.

The founders of EQ Capital have worked with the council over the past two weeks, seeking support for building a “technology ecosystem” in the state. While their sights were already set on Cheyenne due to the business environment in Wyoming, founders Madhavan Ramakrishnan and John Castagnini wanted to be sure they had a collaborative partner in the city before they set their decision in stone.

The council solidified that support Monday night by passing the MOU, which will serve as a “framework for any future binding contract” and voices the council’s approval of the firm’s mission.

“This move really signals the fact that in Wyoming and Cheyenne as the capital city, we have poised ourselves to be leaders in the blockchain and crypto banking industry. And tech firms are looking at us,” Mayor Marian Orr said, adding that she’s already heard from startups interested in EQ Capital’s move.

While the MOU doesn’t entail any contractual obligations, it does outline each party’s responsibilities going forward. By passing the MOU, the council agreed to promote the tech ecosystem and EQ Capital’s startup accelerator, which Ramakrishnan said will help as EQ Capital markets Cheyenne as a startup destination.

The city also agreed to work “proactively” on improving infrastructure necessary for startups – security, fiber broadband and housing – though Cheyenne Chief Economic Development Officer Brendan Ames said, “Development begets development.”

For EQ Capital, the responsibilities entail providing technical expertise, training for tech workers, marketing the new tech ecosystem and, most importantly, formulating a fund to invest in tech startups.

Councilman Pete Laybourn was the only no vote, previously citing concerns about what the MOU could mean for the city down the line in terms of responsibility.

At a work session with the founders last week, Laybourn said, “This is an unusual memorandum of understanding, and it is one that I believe takes the city of Cheyenne into an unexplored area of commerce.”

And it is a fairly unexplored area, given that the founders said Colorado has more venture capital funding than Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming combined.

When it came to choosing a location for EQ Capital, Ramakrishnan and Castagnini said they narrowed their options to Wyoming and Delaware. Citing lower taxes, better privacy for businesses and a tech-forward state Legislature, they decided it best to bring EQ Capital and its startup accelerator program to the Cowboy State, with $20 million in funding.

To qualify for EQ Capital funding, businesses need to have their intellectual property located in Wyoming, in order to keep tech employees and the tax revenue they generate within the state. Interested businesses will go through an accelerator application process, where they’ll be connected with tools they need to prepare their startups for accelerated growth.

Those who are accepted are expected to receive a $150,000 investment from the first round of funding, and the founders said they hope to write the first checks by July.

Truck size and weight ordinance nears completion

After weeks of collaboration between the trucking industry, the Cheyenne Police Department, the City Engineer’s Office and the Cheyenne City Council, revisions to the city’s truck size and weight limit ordinance are nearing completion.

After being postponed twice to leave room for the final tweaks, the council approved the ordinance on second reading Monday, which is a good sign the ordinance will be approved and finalized at its next meeting, Dec. 14. The ordinance is the product of significant collaboration between the city and the affected industries, including the Wyoming Trucking Association, the Wyoming Contractors Association and individual contributors.

“We do feel very comfortable with the amendment that's being proposed tonight, and certainly appreciate being able to come to the table and express our views and our concerns and try to come to a compromise,” Wyoming Trucking Association Director Sheila Foertsch said.

The ordinance changes will allow the Cheyenne Police Department to enforce truck weight limits and No Thru Truck routes in order to make streets safer and protect them from damage. The department previously had no mechanism for enforcement.

Under the revised ordinance, all state truck permits will be valid on city streets, which removes any permitting burdens for trucking industry professionals. A new city permitting system was initially proposed, but was removed after hearing the industry’s concerns. The only city permit required will be for superloads – trucks over 160,000 pounds – and it’ll cost $100 from the City Engineer’s Office.

The other portion of the ordinance relates to No Thru Truck routes, which are mainly residential streets and roads that weren’t built to withstand truck traffic. A new No Thru Truck route was proposed for Deming Drive and the Ames Avenue underpass, but that was removed from the list after industry professionals cited safety concerns with the other truck routes.

The No Thru Truck portion has mainly remained the same, except the revisions give the police department the power to penalize trucks using residential streets as shortcuts.

But even with vocal support from a number of industry professionals, Councilman Dicky Shanor voted no on the ordinance, citing the stress it could add on small businesses, especially during COVID-19.

“While I think that this work product might make sense, right now is just not the time. There's a lot of mom-and-pop trucking people that haven't been following this discussion that don't normally go through state permitting processes that this is going to be new to – an additional burden, an additional stressor, and, really, an unnecessary impediment to commerce during this pandemic,” Shanor said.

Councilman Rocky Case was the only other no vote on the council.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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