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House approves loan program bill aimed at Cody Lab

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm •  Published: March 5, 2014
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming House of Representatives on Wednesday tightened legislation to create a new procedure for granting state loans to support large economic development projects.

The House specified that the state treasurer may require the state to get an adequate security interest in funded projects and may charge borrowers a 1-percent loan origination fee.

The Wyoming Senate voted to concur with the House amendments, and the bill to create the program now heads to Gov. Matt Mead.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, sponsored the bill. As originally drafted, it was carefully tailored to steer a $24-million state loan to Lannett Co. Inc., which is considering a nearly $100 million expansion of its Cody lab.

Through amendments, Coe's bill emerged as a generic large-project loan program that he and other supporters say will allow Wyoming to entice private industry to invest in the state. Supporters said that expanding the bill would satisfy constitutional concerns about legislation to direct state funds to a single private entity.

"There was some concern about how well the state's secured," Coe said after the House vote but before the Senate voted to concur. "We've got the treasurer involved, and he's one of the five elected officials, and we really charge him with making sure we're adequately secured."

Coe said he expects Cody will apply for the money for the laboratory project. However, he said the expanded bill now meets constitutional requirements.

Coe has said that Lannett, a pharmaceutical company based in Pennsylvania, intends to decide this spring whether to go forward with an expansion of its operations in Cody. The company employs about 110 people in the production of painkillers at its lab, a number that could rise by a few hundred in coming years.

State Treasurer Mark Gordon said Wednesday that he's encouraged to see the House amendments to bring his office into the loan review process earlier. He said he understands the state Loan and Investment Board, which includes all five statewide elected officials, will set the interest rates.

Wyoming recently has stepped up its efforts to lure industry to the state. Officials for years have talked about the importance of diversifying the state's economy beyond mineral production.

The State Loan and Investment Board last month approved $13 million in grants to help Magpul Industries move its manufacturing operations to Wyoming. The Colorado company makes ammunition magazines for guns.

In 2012, Microsoft agreed to invest up to $112 million to build a new data center near Cheyenne in a deal that saw the state pledge more than $10 million in grants and incentives to land the project.

Mead said recently that Wyoming is seeing increased interest from private businesses looking to expand. "Many of the projects are large scale," he said. "The state must position itself to work at the speed of business."

Some House members spoke against the bill Wednesday, saying it wasn't appropriate for the state to be handing out subsidized loans to industry.

Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, operates a motorcycle dealership. He said his business paid more in interest on its obligations last year than it made in profits.

"How come my business can't get one of these loans from the government?" Kroeker said. "If it's proper for the government to do it for this company, why is it not proper for the government to do it for my company, and all the other small businesses out there?"

Rep Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, said there's a war going on against the West. "Our minerals are being attacked. Our minerals fund our state," she said.

It's been a common refrain in this legislative session among lawmakers that federal air quality regulations intended to address pollution from coal-fired power plants amount to a war against Wyoming, the nation's leading coal-producing state.

Harvey said that if the federal government continues down this path, Wyoming has to do something to diversify its economy in order to feed and clothe its citizens. "I think diversification of our economy is the survival of our state," she said.