Justin Farley came to Casper with a new idea.
It was 1998. Farley was done with New York finance. Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake pizza company, meanwhile, was booming. It just wasn’t booming in Wyoming. When Farley arrived in Casper, there was only one Papa Murphy’s franchise in the entire state. The Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake business model, which began in Hillsboro, Oregon, nearly 20 years earlier, was still a new concept in Wyoming. Still, Farley saw its potential and opened a franchise of his own.
“It took a little while to stand it up and educate people,” he said. “You’re handing people a raw pizza...and they’re like, ‘well, what am I supposed to do with that?’”
But people caught on, and Farley grew the store to be one of the most successful in the Rocky Mountain Region. Then, in 2007, at the suggestion of some friends from his days at a New York brokerage firm, he sold everything and moved back to Oregon, his home state.
“Some of my friends who had stayed in the finance world had convinced me the financial world was going to end,” he said.
This was before the 2008 mortgage bubble burst, causing one of the worst economic recessions in U.S. history. Having avoided the calamitous economic downtown, Farley bought another franchize: this time a Quiznos, in Pendleton, Oregon.
But when his wife, who works in environmental health and safety, got a job offer she couldn’t pass up, he sold everything again, and his family came back to Casper.
For the last two years, Farley has worked in the Casper office of the Wyoming Small Business Development Center as the regional director. Now, he’s preparing to again step into a new role.
In August, Farley will take over as president and CEO of the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance. He is succeeding Charles Walsh, who took over on an interim basis 30 months ago.
CAEDA is a private entity that works closely with city and county government to support existing entrepreneurs and bring new business into Casper. It also receives roughly $400,000 annually in public funding through a contractual relationship with the Economic Development Joint Powers Board.
In the past, this relationship has been called into question. Public officials have had concerns about CAEDA’s transparency, saying that if the group receives public money it should be subject to public scrutiny.
CAEDA leadership had declined to provide city officials with detailed expense reports accounting for the public money the group had spent. Walsh has told the council this was to protect the confidentiality of private businesses and investors that relied on CAEDA’s ability to keep business dealings private.
And because CAEDA is a private entity, it is not held to the same transparency standards as government or other public bodies, so it has been able to keep those records closed.
This left the group with an image problem.
When Walsh took over two and a half years ago, he said one of CAEDA’s primary goals was changing how the community viewed the group. He said he believes they have accomplished that.
Walsh said he has met with individual council members to detail what the group has accomplished and what they use public investment for. Additionally, he meets with city manager Carter Napier monthly to discuss those numbers more in-depth. He said it has helped revive the relationship between the group and city officials.
Farley plans to continue building those relationships, he said.
CAEDA’s other goals have included increasing private sector membership, fostering local innovation and focusing on strategic business recruitment.
To the first goal, Walsh said private sector participation with CAEDA has more than doubled. Last year, the group had roughly 40 private-sector members, now it has more than 100, he said. That membership helps the group better coordinate how private investment is being targeted and where. It also creates a network that up-and-coming local entrepreneurs can tap into.
And that’s important for supporting local innovation.
CAEDA helped found Breakthrough 307, an angel investment fund built by and for local entreprenuers. Farley hopes to continue that work and he believes his own experience with small business will aid in that goal.
“I’m intimately familiar with the small business community here,” he said. “That will help with this transition as well.”
But now, he said, he can do that on a larger scale.
As for the recruitment goal, Farley said it has to be specific. Not every company is going to benefit Wyoming, he said. Enticing businesses that fill a needed gap by approaching them with the specific benefits coming to Natrona County is the ultimate goal.
There are a few changes Farley plans to make in his new role, particularly how CAEDA interacts with the state government. He said the organization has become more political, and it’s necessary the group have at least one licensed lobbyist on staff to advocate for legislation beneficial to Natrona County.
He also hopes to draw more aerospace and defense companies to Wyoming while helping existing businesses enter the industry. One major goal of Farley’s is to help businesses get certified to work with the federal government so that Wyoming companies will be poised to help with the multi-billion dollar project to modernize F.E. Warren Air Force base’s missile systems.
But mostly, Farley plans to stay the course CAEDA is currently on.
“There’s not going to be any radical change, it’s just going to be forward,” he said.