Had they sat on the State Land and Investment Board, most challengers to Wyoming’s top elected officials would have opposed the authorization of millions in state dollars to help a Colorado firearms magazine manufacturer move to the Cowboy State.
In February, the SLIB -- made up of the Wyoming’s top five elected officials: the governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor and superintendent of public instruction — authorized up to $13 million for Laramie County to help pay for facilities for Magpul Industries.
The ultimate cost will now likely come in closer to $8 million.
Sixteen incumbents and challengers want to be the next members of the SLIB. The primary election is Aug. 19. The general election is Nov. 4.
Opponents cited various reasons for thinking that the deal was wrong. Some said it provided unfair competition for Magpul rivals, and others said the deal was inconsistent with their philosophy of how the state should help businesses.
Magpul is moving its manufacturing, distribution and shipping operations to Cheyenne and its headquarters to Texas. A spokesman for Magpul Industries did not return a message Friday.
In 2013, the Colorado General Assembly passed tighter gun laws, partly in response to the Aurora movie theater shooting. Magpul officials threatened to leave the Centennial State as the bill became law.
Laramie County will receive state funds, which it will use on a facility for Magpul.
The Wyoming Business Council and SLIB cannot give money to Magpul or any other private business.
“Business council grants and loans are awarded to cities, towns, counties, joint powers boards and the tribes for local public infrastructure,” said Ron Gullberg, spokesman for the Wyoming Business Council, which works at job creation and economic diversification and signed off on the Magpul deal before it went to the SLIB.
But two things have changed in recent weeks: the facility that will house Magpul and the attorney general’s reading of state law.
Originally, Laramie County was to receive up to $13 million in state funds to buy an existing building on Evelyn Street in Cheyenne and build a new facility for Magpul, Gullberg said.
But costs are coming in lower because the Evelyn Street building isn’t necessary for the deal. Nor is the newly constructed building, said Randy Bruns, CEO of Cheyenne LEADS, the economic development organization in Laramie County that’s involved in the Magpul deal.
Magpul is now moving into an existing building in the Cheyenne Business Parkway. Magpul will occupy the building for a time with Sierra Trading Post until Magpul is ready to expand into the rest of the building, Bruns said.
“We’ve had opportunities to get them here sooner, to solve a logistics problem for an existing business and to save state funds,” he said.
The original package was an $8 million grant to Laramie County and a $5 million loan to the county. The loan had a fixed interest rate of 1 percent a year over 20 years, Gullberg said.
But the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office determined that state law couldn’t allow a loan from the economic development fund from which it was to be drawn.
So now the entire amount is a grant to Laramie County of up to $13 million. The figure will more likely come in at around $8 million, since the building has changed, Gullberg said.
Laramie County agreed “in good faith” to treat some of the grant as if it were a loan and will repay with interest $3.4 million on the approximately $8 million grant, Gullberg said.
Originally, Cheyenne LEADS was to kick in $1.6 million for rehabilitation costs of the existing Evelyn Street facility; $2.2 million in land for the new facility; and $406,000 in foregone rent in the Evelyn Street facility for three years, Gullberg said.
Now that the building has changed, “the amount we’re going to spend is reduced proportionally,” Bruns said.
The first money into the deal is coming from Cheyenne LEADS, Bruns said.
“Magpul will make lease payments and ultimately purchase the facility, recouping these remaining dollars for reinvestment in local economic development infrastructure,” Gullberg said.
Magpul could be in the Cowboy State soon, Bruns said.
“We’re still aiming for later this year,” he said.
Magpul will help the state economically, supporters of the deal say.
The deal will create 91 jobs, Gullberg said.
State and local taxes, the building purchase and lease payments and interest from the deal will be about $17.5 million over 15 years, he said.
Current SLIB and Wyoming Business Council
On Feb. 6, members of the all-Republican SLIB voted 4-1 in favor of the Magpul deal, with Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill opposing it.
Gov. Matt Mead, state Auditor Cynthia Cloud and Treasurer Mark Gordon – who are all seeking re-election -- said bringing companies such as Magpul into the state diversifies Wyoming’s economy, which is largely based on minerals extraction.
“I worked with local economic development agencies and the business council to highlight all that Wyoming has to offer Magpul, as well as HiViz and Ammo Kan, three firearm-related manufacturing companies,” Mead said in an email sent by his spokesman. “We are having success bringing new jobs and new opportunities to Wyoming.”
Cloud, who does not face a challenger, said it will bring “good-paying jobs to the citizens of Wyoming.”
Gordon noted it’s a major new industry for Wyoming. “We would have liked to see their executives move here, but maybe next time,” he said.
Hill, now a Republican candidate for governor, continues to stand by her opposition to the deal, she said Thursday in Casper at a meeting of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.
“I would say I don’t support utilizing the taxpayer dollars for out-of-state businesses,” she said, adding there’s no guarantee Magpul will stay around.
Pete Illoway, a Republican candidate for secretary of state, voted for Magpul as a member of the Wyoming Business Council.
“Those are manufacturing jobs,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do: increase our manufacturing in Wyoming. And those jobs are exactly where we want to go.”
The Casper Star-Tribune tried talking to all 16 candidates who would, if elected, sit on the SLIB. Many opposed the Magpul deal.
* Taylor Haynes, Republican candidate for governor: “It’s the wrong philosophy,” he said. “It’s the philosophy of you’re paying a company to come to our state.”
Haynes would have voted against the deal. The state has a business-friendly environment with good workers and low taxes. Companies shouldn’t be paid to want to be in Wyoming, he said. Any problems with the state’s business environment can be addressed in other ways that don’t involve spending money on a company, he said.
* Pete Gosar, Democratic candidate for governor: Gosar worries the state could be on the hook for millions if Magpul doesn’t ultimately move to Wyoming. “How could that (money) be used in different programs that have been cut throughout the state, in building roads, or employee pay that hadn’t been raised in five years at the state?” he said.
Gosar backs increased support for the Wyoming Market Research Center to help Wyoming businesses with challenges such as e-commerce and marketing.
* Ron Redo, Republican candidate for state treasurer: “I only oppose it because of the cost. The idea of giving money to corporations can be a problem, especially to those that don’t get the money.”
* Clark Stith, Republican candidate for secretary of state: “I’m against corporate welfare, period.”
Government should fund projects when there’s a market failure, for instance when a downtown is dilapidated and private investors don’t want to touch it. Stith also supports government funding for infrastructure that the private sector may not adequately fund, he said.
A few candidates support the Magpul deal or are undecided.
* Ed Murray, Republican candidate for secretary of state: “I also would have hoped that Magpul would have considered other communities in Wyoming to help diversify the economic bases in other parts of the state,” he said.
But Murray said he doesn’t have all the information to thoroughly study and judge SLIB’s decision on Magpul. He also wishes that Magpul had chosen to move its headquarters to Wyoming.
* Jillian Balow, Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, supports the SLIB process in general.
“What I have concern over is the government picking winners and losers,” she said. “That seems to be the contention of the Magpul project and the funding of Magpul. While it’s tough to say how I would have voted on SLIB board, what other jobs were in the queue, competing for those same dollars, I’m in favor of the SLIB process.”
* Mike Ceballos, Democratic candidate for superintendent, said that he was still researching the deal but that generally speaking, he supports the use of state money to enhance economic development.
“There are times when you’re trying to help your community situate itself so it’s able to attract businesses,” he said.
* Bill Winney, Republican candidate for superintendent, said that as superintendent, he would rely on experts in the Wyoming Business Council to research the proposal.
“As long as it’s legitimate under Wyoming law, I have no objection to it,” he said.