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Sep 2, 2009

Eleutian Offered Incentives to Move

The Billings Gazette

CODY - The Park County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to offer for lease 14,000 square feet of office space in the Park County Complex to Eleutian Technology, with the possibility of leasing additional space if necessary.


Commissioner Jill Shockley Siggins said the vote "should send a strong message that we support them relocating here."


Based in Ten Sleep, Eleutian uses Internet-based videoconferencing to teach English to students in Asia. It has grown in two years from a two-person startup to 20 full-time employees and more than 300 part-time teachers.


The company has bought 40 acres in Ten Sleep and is working with Washakie County commissioners to apply by Dec. 1 for a Wyoming Business Council grant to build an expanded corporate headquarters there.


Eleutian founder Kent Holiday has repeatedly said that his first choice is to remain in Ten Sleep, but Cody and other communities are recruiting the firm with relocation offers.


Terms of the proposed lease were not immediately clear, but Eleutian already leases some space in the county building for use by teachers, and commissioners said they were pleased with that arrangement.

Tuesday's lease offer came in response to a request by the nonprofit Forward Cody economic development group to set aside 1.6 acres of public land at the Park County Complex for Eleutian's headquarters, to be built with state grant funds.


Doug Weedin, president of Pinnacle Bank and vice chairman of Forward Cody, said he could not recall a "more significant event in the economic development world" in Cody over the past three decades.

Joining Weedin were more than a dozen supporters, including local business leaders, Cody elected officials and Forward Cody board members.  James Klessens, president of Forward Cody, did not address the commissioners, except to answer questions.


Under a 12-point proposal submitted by Forward Cody, commissioners would donate 1.6 acres along 16th Street to a new, undefined joint venture between Forward Cody and Park County.  The county would sponsor a state grant application of an undetermined amount to finance an office building of at least 14,000 square feet and designed for expansion. The joint venture would lease the finished space to Eleutian for about 67 cents per square foot per month for a 10-year term.  The county would collect lease payments until the fair market value of the land has been paid in full. Eleutian would have the option after three years to buy the property, with prior lease payments being applied to the purchase price.


Weedin said that Eleutian planned to expand soon to 40 full-time employees and would bring significant economic growth to Cody in the form of increased school enrollment, home sales and local payroll expenditures.


Details of the joint venture were not spelled out, and Weedin said he "can't say exactly what that entity would be.  I'd like to say we have plenty of time to consider the proposal ... but the hard reality is we don't have that kind of time. We really need to know within a couple of weeks," he said, adding that a grant application would have to be filed by Dec. 1.


Commissioner Bill Brewer said he was confused by conflicting reports of Eleutian's plans, and he was not sure the company wants to move to Cody.  "The board would sure like to meet and see the two gentlemen in charge" of Eleutian before committing public land to a relocation offer, Brewer said.

Commissioner Tim French said it is "important that we try to get them to Cody, it's a tremendous thing," but added that he did not see the need to commit prime county land.


"I live by the old adage of 'trust but verify,' " said Commissioner Dave Burke, adding that he first wanted to see a business plan from Eleutian and get clarification on various legal issues.  "I've seen nothing with Eleutian that they want to move to Cody," he said, adding that the former Marathon property "is one of a kind, and once the use is changed, it is gone forever."


The entire third floor of the Park County Complex, roughly 30,000 square feet, could be reserved for Eleutian to lease, Burke said, adding that the move would "provide abundant ability for them to expand" as needed. Commissioners asked County Attorney Bryan Skoric to research legal issues surrounding the joint venture and other aspects of the proposal, and to report his findings next week.


Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.