WyoTech announced Tuesday it will continue with an aggressive $33 million plan to expand its campus to accommodate a growing enrollment.
The school will buy two buildings on the campus that previously were leased and add a 90,000-square-foot expansion to one of them, according to a statement outlining the plan. Additions will include new classrooms and training center, along with creating 100 new jobs.
The school now has the capacity to work with 650 students, which will swell to about 1,100 once the expansion is complete, which is expected in January 2023. Between 2018 and 2021, the school has had a 2,300% increase in enrollment.
The expansion also will allow for an increase in curriculum and program options for students.
The money from the project came as a result of the New Markets Tax Program, which encourages investors to put money into businesses in low-income and rural communities, according to WyoTech. In return, the companies receive a tax credit toward their federal income taxes.
First Interstate Bank and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp. contributed to the expansion. MoFi, a community development lender that sells tax credits to companies then puts the proceeds toward community projects, helped as well. The group previously helped put money toward an expansion at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie.
“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,” MoFi President Dave Glaser said in the press release. “The impacts of this investment will benefit students, the community of Laramie and the state of Wyoming for generations to come.”
WyoTech has gone through a period of renewal since 2018, when former student and teacher Jim Mathis bought the school after financial issues threatened to close the institution.
Mathis’ connection to WyoTech dates back to 1976 when he was a student at the school. Raised in LaGrange, he left home at age14 to move onto a ranch for work. When he was 17, Mathis took a job driving a semitrailer across the country during the winter months.
“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” he said of his experience as a young truck driver in an interview with the Boomerang last summer.
After that experience, he was determined to own a fleet of semis and enrolled at WyoTech to study diesel technology. He graduated in June 1976 and moved to Nebraska to drive a combine harvester. Five months after his graduation, he received word that there was a teaching position open at WyoTech.
“When I heard that, I parked the combine and drove 8 miles to a payphone,” Mathis said, adding that the president of the school laughed at his youth and inexperience.
He kept calling, and finally drove all the way to Laramie and knocked on WyoTech’s door to insist on being hired for the position. Impressed with Mathis’ tenacity, the school finally hired him for a teaching position.
From a teaching, he worked his way up to training director, then vice president. He worked in admissions and marketing, and eventually became president.
In 2002, Corinthian Colleges bought the school and Mathis made his exit. He spent the next few years running schools in California, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Connecticut. By July 2014, he had an itch to return to Wyoming and started ranching again.
“Around that time, I heard WyoTech was closing down,” Mathis said.
The state approached him about buying the school, which he ultimately did. Classes resumed in July 2018 under his ownership with 12 students and 12 employees.
WyoTech now has nearly 500 students from all 50 states and employs about 125.
“We have a high-school driven model of recruiting, and we are a destination school,” Mathis said, meaning most students are recruited right out of high school. Notably, about 94% of the student population is from out of state.
WyoTech’s curriculum goes beyond mechanical skills. It also puts high priorities on interviewing skills, business acumen, personal appearance, dress codes and a heavy emphasis on attendance.
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