By Sarah Elmquist Squires
On the Central Wyoming College’s edge in Riverton, a new, $18-million complex is taking shape, day by day, with construction expected to be completed this spring with a grand opening celebration this fall. And while the brick and mortar of the new Rustler Ag & Equine Complex (RUSLR) is exciting on its own, the vision and economic potential it will foster is much more than the 85,000-square-foot facility can ever contain.
When complete, RUSLR will be more than state-of-the-art classrooms fitted with cutting-edge facilities for everything from equine businesses to meat processing and ag science. It will serve as an economic engine that helps put students on the path to new jobs needed in Wyoming and take advantage of the potential for millions of dollars of recaptured revenue for the state and region.
“This is ag country,” said CWC President Dr. Brad Tyndall. “You have to leverage the assets you’re given.”
The potential for agriculture and food related businesses and tourism isn’t just an idea. Tyndall pointed to the $81 million in ag supplies that are imported each year into Fremont County – things that could be produced here. If business creation and expansion even captures a quarter of that lost revenue, it would translate into $20 million for the county. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Each detail of CWC’s RUSLR has been thoughtfully planned, from the best material for the arena floor – carefully sifted sand and silt – to arena lighting placed so obstructions don’t create shadows that will spook horses. There’s a large indoor arena and a smaller one, along with vast outdoor space including an outdoor arena, two horse barns, and a variety of stock pens, calf barns and a goat shed on the 21-acre campus.
Students will be able to bring their own horses to school to learn alongside their own animals; a dressage area includes mirrored walls like a dance studio. An animal health unit allows horses to be washed, and includes farrier space, and vet and tack rooms.
An entire meat processing facility that can run the spectrum from slaughter to packaging will help students learn the art of meat processing. In a state known for its beef industry, having more local meat processing facilities and businesses can help Wyoming pull back the revenue from national meat giants who gauge both consumers and producers. The processing facility will start as custom exempt status, but CWC leaders hope to first be permitted by the state and eventually attain USDA certification. It will be one of only a handful of such teaching facilities in the country.
RUSLR is also fitted with state-of-the-art classroom space where students can learn about soil and plant science, which will dovetail with CWC’s outdoor learning Alpine Science Institute, where students can learn hands-on regenerative small-scale farming on the land adjacent to Sinks Canyon.
While the complex is nearing completion of construction, fundraising is still taking place for added amenities, such as broadcast equipment that will help share all the events the indoor arena will house. All who donate more than $250 to the project will be honored on the complex’s donor wall along the main entrance; those interested in donating should contact Beth Monteiro, CWC Foundation executive director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 307-855-2254.
Capturing Wyoming’s economic potential
Dr. Tyndall, who has a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in ag and community economic development, has traveled the world working on agriculture and economic development projects, and is on the committee working with Harvard leaders on assisting Wyoming with growing the state’s economy in the wake of a shifting energy industry. He knows the numbers – and the potential – when it comes to developing business in Wyoming.
Some of the biggest areas in which the state can capture and generate revenue fall under the categories of agriculture, equine industry and tourism, and the RUSLR is built to help train the state’s new business owners and workforce leaders to reap the rewards. “It’s the heart of a big vision,” Tyndall said of the complex. “The potential is very real.”
One goal is to help ensure that Wyoming isn’t outsourcing and importing the goods and services that it can produce locally, including that $81 million that Fremont County alone spends on imported ag products. Millions more in local foods are imported to the region that could otherwise be produced here and net even more revenue. “If you’re not talking about food, you’re missing the boat,” Tyndall explained of the food industry.
A 2018 headline from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services predicted that “Meat could be a bigger job creator than coal or wind.” Value-added industries – from food processing, transportation, marketing – could transform Wyoming’s agriculture economy. Rather than just being “known” for quality beef, the state could take control of these value-added industries and retake revenue that’s claimed by meat-processing and marketing giants.
The local foods movement is strong in Wyoming and even stronger in Fremont County. The Fremont County Market is one of the state’s only year round farmers markets, and it’s clear that local residents are hungry for local foods. Eat Wyoming, the state’s online farmers market, grew from 160 orders in 2021 to 1,080 in 2022, with sales increasing more than five-fold.
With the RUSLR and CWC’s existing strong programs for culinary arts, the economic potential for local foods and industry pose a strong marriage. CWC boasts chef instructors from five-star-level establishments and has provided 104 internships and job placements in 60 local businesses.
“We’re trying to look at development, not just cranking out people with degrees,” Tyndall explained of CWC’s thoughtful degrees and programs.
When you add the potential for agri-tourism and equine tourism to the mix, the ways that CWC’s programming and the new opportunities the RUSLR will present mean that Fremont County and CWC students are well poised to harness revenue from the state’s most promising sectors. The complex itself will be an attractive venue for events across a variety of specialties, and its grand opening will be held during the upcoming Annual Rendezvous City Beef Roundup.
Dr. Tyndall shared the way the complex could encourage more development in the equine industry. Wyoming’s horse industry produces goods and services valued at $191 million, with Fremont County lassoing 16% of the state’s horses. What if the region developed and encouraged more equine-centered businesses, from services like horse leasing, lessons and training; to developing more businesses providing horse feed, housing, care and materials?
The opportunities on the horizon are promising, and CWC leaders have been hard at work ensuring that the college is devoting its resources into areas that will help students find meaningful jobs that will benefit the state for generations to come. That work is paying off in dividends: While most colleges nationally struggle to attract and recruit students, CWC’s enrollment has grown. “I think we’re really aggressive in trying to meet the community’s needs,” Dr. Tyndall shared. “We’re doing something right and different.”