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CASPER, Wyo. — The poor economy in 2009 affected the Wyoming Contractor Association McMurry Training Center's ability to create as many new jobs as required by its $3 million contract with the Casper-Natrona County Economic Development Joint Powers Board, board members said Tuesday.

“The McMurry Training Center was to hire 12; it hired six even in the downturn,” said Robert Barnes, president of the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, at the quarterly meeting of the joint powers board. CAEDA manages the money for the board.

“Maybe in 18 months this will be moot,” Barnes said.

So he asked the board — composed of representatives of the city of Casper and Natrona County and an at-large member — to waive the penalty, which would have doubled the training center's $7,250 monthly payments.

Board President Mark Pepper agreed.

“We're not changing the repayment schedule, just the penalty,” Pepper said. “It doesn't hurt us if we waive the penalty.”

In 2006, the Wyoming Business Council approved a $3 million Business Ready Community Grant for the center, and authorized the joint powers board to administer it, Barnes said.

The board also has the authority to waive a penalty if it sees fit without input from the council, he added.

Board member and Natrona County Commissioner Matt Keating asked McMurry Training Center general manager Chris Corlis about the consequences of not waiving the penalty.

Corlis responded the higher rent probably would result in the center's not being able to offer as many classes as it does now.

The center has been training more workers as a result of the development of the Niobrara shale oil formation in eastern Wyoming and parts of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, he said.

Truck driver training and an expansion of class offerings on the Wind River Indian Reservation have boosted growth, too, Corlis said.

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Board member and Casper City Councilman Keith Goodenough asked why the penalty provision was included in the contract.

Barnes responded the penalty acts as incentive for funding recipients to show their progress by the number of full-time equivalent jobs they create.

Pepper added the center has created 67 full-time equivalent jobs since it opened in 2005, and it's about 4.5 to 5 jobs short of its goal at this time. “I think they've made significant progress since they opened.”

Goodenough accepted the explanation.

“Under the circumstances, I can go with the liberal leanings of my colleagues,” he said.

Contact Tom Morton at tom.morton@trib.com or 307-266-0592.

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