America faces an acute shortage in skilled trade workers, from technicians to carpenters to mechanics. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about 31 million skilled trade workers retired in 2020.
After the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the need for skilled trade workers will only increase over the next decade.
Wyotech, a technical college founded in 1966 in Laramie, Wyoming, educates the next generation of skilled trade workers through training programs that prepare students for careers as technicians in the
automotive and diesel industry with nine-month training programs that focus on hands-on experience. From 1966 to 2002, WyoTech operated successfully as a for-profit vocational college that was well-known
and well regarded in Wyoming and in the automotive industry. In 2002, the school was sold to Corinthian Colleges, a large education conglomerate, starting a downward spiral of enrollment, parent company bankruptcies, lawsuits, subsequent sales, and loss of staff.
In 2017, the City of Laramie and the State of Wyoming began efforts to save the college and restore its reputation. To do so, the school would need new leadership in the form of former school president Jim
Mathis. A Wyoming native, Mathis began at WyoTech in the 1970s as a teacher and worked his way up through admissions and marketing before serving as president until WyoTech was sold in 2002.
To rejuvenate the trade school, Mathis formed a partnership group of local investors and purchased the college and its equipment in 2018. Over the next three years, Mathis grew WyoTech from a low of 18 students to 685 students in the fall of 2022.
Mathis utilized a strategy for increasing enrollment that is based on the business model he employed before the 2002 sale. The model is based on the combination of three key components: (1) high quality,
comprehensive training; (2) strong partnerships with employers that offer high-quality jobs and job placement; and (3) a proven recruitment strategy connecting with rural high school students and their families across the United States. Graduates of WyoTech’s nine-month programs receive multiple, high-paying job offers with average starting pay of $26 per hour.
Wyotech offers an immersive nine-month program in which students attend classes 8 hours and 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. In addition to learning a technical profession, students learn soft skills,
including professionalism, communication, resume development, interviewing, and volunteerism.
“WyoTech is not a walk-in-the-park type of training. We are in school five days per week, eight hours per day, with a strict attendance policy. It is all meant to prepare students for the real world, with real-world
experience,” Mathis said in a news release announcing the college’s expansion.
With Wyotech back on stable footing with new leadership, the college was seeing unprecedented demand for its diesel technician and auto mechanic training programs, but its ability to accommodate
its growing student body was limited by a lack of space.
The expansion project involved the acquisition of two primary buildings totaling 219,502 sq. ft. situated on a 19.87- acre site; the construction and addition of 4,037 sq. ft. to an administrative building; and 90,429 sq. ft. of additional shop and classroom space. Once completed in January of 2023, the project will allow the school to increase its enrollment from 650 to 1,300 students, retain 111 jobs, and create 150 full-time jobs.
The project would not have been possible without $33 million in New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) financing from Minnesota-based Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation and Montana-based MoFi. U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation provided NMTC equity for the project.
The project secured a loan from the First Interstate Bank, and the owners contributed equity, but it still faced a financing gap of $5.5 million. Lenders were unwilling to provide more financing given the short history of recent profitability. Without NMTCs, the project would have been scaled back significantly or delayed several years until operating Capital could be saved.
“We are proud to be part of a project that brings students from all over the country, to learn not only technical skills, but also how to be a strong employee or even run their own business. And 50 percent of their instructors are alumni — they started their own careers at WyoTech, and then returned years later to give back, by sharing their expertise with the next generation. This includes Jim Mathis, who led the reincarnation of the school,” said Julia Nelmark, President and CEO of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation.
MoFi President Dave Glaser said this project perfectly aligns with the goals of the NMTC program. “WyoTech has been an increasingly vital part of Laramie’s economy, but its ability to grow and train skilled workers couldn’t keep pace with the demand, and the school has been hamstrung by space limitations and rising construction costs. The NMTC is playing a vital role in this chapter of WyoTech’s growth, catalyzing new construction, expanding curriculum, creating quality jobs, and sending graduates on to promising career paths. The impacts of this investment will benefit students, the community of Laramie, and the state of Wyoming for generations to come.”
WyoTech CEO Jim Mathis said, “This investment will help maintain the school’s competitive position as the premier trade school in the nation, and it wouldn’t be possible without the help of the New Markets Tax Credit program, which was first introduced to the project by a consultant of ours, Eric Davis.”