When Lee Searing began looking to expand his manufacturing company outside California, he eyed states with fast-growing economies.
Utah and Wyoming were among those at the top of the list, but Searing said one location in particular stood out to him.
Swan Ranch, a 4,000-square-foot business park outside Cheyenne, sits near two interstates that crisscross the country. It also boasts two mainline railroads nearby.
The park had available space and local and state agencies ready to embrace Searing Industries with open arms.
“That piece of property there fit our needs perfectly,” Searing said.
Searing Industries, which manufactures welded steel tubing, is one of over a dozen businesses that have found their way to Swan Ranch, owned by Doug and Susan Samuelson and Carol McMurry, in the past four years.
County and state economic development experts are calling the combination of space, access and infrastructure a "perfect storm" for bringing in new business, and the developer said Swan Ranch is becoming the region's premier industrial park.
"It's a unique park in Wyoming, in the region and, actually, in the U.S.," said Tom Johnson, southeast region director. "It allows Wyoming to get on the map in a lot of ways, and it's seen a lot of growth."
In the next few weeks, Swan Ranch will officially be connected to both the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific rails.
The first train, consisting of 133 cars, recently came in on the Union Pacific. Developers called the moment a major milestone for the park.
“For Wyoming, rail is the great equalizer,” said Scott Sutherland, director of real estate procurement for Casper-based Granite Peak Development. “One of the detriments for Wyoming was the distance from vital markets and suppliers. With rail, you throw the product on a car and the extra cost to get to Wyoming is insignificant.”
The improved access opens up another 1,800 acres in the park, according to Sutherland.
He added that access to two interstates and two rails is rare enough on its own, but the recently installed transmission loop and substation in the park, along with a recently approved hookup to city water means the infrastructure is in place to bring in just about any industrial use imaginable.
“You could drop a chemical plant or, if you could ever get it through DEQ, a refinery, and that park could handle it,” Sutherland said.
Cheyenne economic development officials said requests for rail access started spiking in the early 2000s.
Although rail access is a crucial component for many industrial companies, until Swan Ranch, Cheyenne did not have any property that boasted the feature, according to economic development officials.
That’s why the city’s economic development arm, Cheyenne LEADS, cheered Granite Peak’s Swan Ranch proposal. When Midwestern Pipe Line Products came knocking, LEADS officials said they urged Granite Peak to move forward sooner rather than later.
The turning point came in the form of an assist from the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development organization.
The state approved a $3 million grant in 2010 for water, septic system and pavement work to help bring in Midwestern Pipe. In exchange, the company agreed to create jobs that paid above the county’s median wage.
A 2012 grant of $3.4 million added more roads and water lines.
“It opened up an infinite amount of potential that, frankly, was being unmet,” said CEO Randy Bruns.
As part of that grant, Granite Peak gave 30 acres to LEADS for future economic development.
About 600 acres of the park has been sold to various companies, many of them related to the oil services industry, according to Sutherland. Those companies have created about 650 new jobs.
“I don’t think it was feasible had not the Wyoming Business Council grants been available for part of that infrastructure,” Sutherland said.
A $2 million grant and $3 million loan from the business council this year to loop Swan Ranch into both rails should spur even more growth, according to the developer.
The $9.4 million in grant money, in addition to the low-interest loan, has spurred $100 million in investment to the area, Sutherland said.
That money directly benefits Cheyenne, but since many of those companies support an oil industry that pours severance tax money into Wyoming coffers, it’s an investment that’s good for the entire state, according to business council officials.
“When you invest in economic infrastructure, the payback is often five to 10 to 12 years out, so you’ve got to be patient,” Johnson said. “This is a unique opportunity unlike anything else in Wyoming.”
With the connection of the two rail lines, Swan Ranch is set to explode with interest from companies across the country, Johnson added.
And with plenty of space and capacity to burn, Laramie County and state officials are hoping many more follow the lead of companies like Midwestern Pipe and Searing Industries by riding the rails into Swan Ranch.