Bill to lend state money to Cody lab moves forward

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A bill to create a state loan program for large economic development projects cleared two committees in the Wyoming House on Friday. Supporters say it offers the state a way to entice a large pharmaceutical company to expand a laboratory in Cody.

The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee and the House Appropriations Committee endorsed the bill, sending it to the full House for consideration.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, told both committees that loans under the program would require approval from the governor and the state treasurer and require the private entities borrowing money to create jobs.

Coe said the bill would allow the state to lend $24 million to Lannett Co. Inc., which is considering a nearly $100 million expansion of its Cody lab.

The bill has evolved during the current legislative session from a measure aimed specifically at making a loan to Lannett, to a bill authorizing the overall large-project loan fund.

Coe has said Pennsylvania-based Lannett intends to decide this spring whether to go forward with a possible expansion that could increase its current workforce of about 110 employees in Cody by a few hundred in coming years, with jobs that pay about $55,000 annually.

Bernhard Optiz, an official with Cody Laboratories Inc., a Lannett subsidiary, told members of the minerals committee that the company plans to expand its manufacture of painkillers in Cody.

Opitz said the business is operating in a former Wal-Mart building that is filled to the brim.

"We're producing a couple of products on a small industrial scale," he said, adding that the company wants to expand capacity significantly to become a large industrial manufacturer.

Casper Republican Rep. Tom Lockhart, chairman of the minerals committee, asked Opitz why it was important to Lannett, a company large enough to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, to seek support from the state.

Opitz responded that the state loan would make the laboratory expansion easier for the company, but it would also show the company that the state fully supports the project. He said state support would show, "It's not a project where in a few years, somebody comes along and says, 'We don't want it here.'"

The Senate heavily amended Coe's original bill after some critics voiced concern that the original version would violate a state constitutional prohibition against specific legislation intended to benefit a single entity. As amended, the bill would rely on a provision to the Wyoming Constitution that voters enacted in recent years that would allow the use of state funds for economic development projects.

Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, told members of the minerals committee Friday that the state revised its business loan procedures after a handful of loans defaulted years ago.

In the appropriations committee, Rep. Gregg Blikre, R-Gillette, a banker, cast the lone vote against the bill, which would authorize moving $25 million in state funds into the pipeline for possible loans without specifying Cody Laboratories as the recipient.

"I'm going to vote no, because I don't think the state ought to be doing this," Blikre said. He said after the meeting he believes it would be bad banking practice for the state to lend the company the money.

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