Karen Hostetler believes sheep raised by northern Wyoming ranchers produce better quality wool than even New Zealand’s famed herds.
She is proving it one country at a time.
Hostetler, president of Buffalo-based Mountain Meadow Wool, ships Wyoming wool to Canada, Germany, Denmark, Italy and points beyond.
The family-owned operation, founded in 2002, turns raw product from ranchers into higher-value yarn and fiber. This allows ranchers to fetch better prices and brings money into the Wyoming economy from outside the state’s borders.
Her work earned her the regional 2017 Small Business Exporter of the Year award from the Small Business Administration.
“Sometimes these businesses do their work so quietly you would never know, until you ask them, about the amazing things they’ve accomplished,” said Susan Jerke, an advisor for the Wyoming Small Business Development Center who nominated Hostetler for the award.
Hostetler wants to make Wyoming wool a worldwide brand as recognizable as Idaho potatoes and Florida oranges.
She attended the Wyoming ExporTech workshop to learn new strategies in pursuit of that goal. The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, along with the Wyoming Small Business Development Center and Manufacturing-Works, conducted the workshop with the assistance of a State Trade Export Promotion (STEP) grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Business Council also helped Hostetler market her products by providing trade show incentive grants.
The Small Business Development Center provided market research assistance to create a website that includes high-quality videos.
“She has amazing footage that tells the story of sheepherders and takes viewers through the entire wool milling process,” Jerke said.
In 2007, demand for Hostetler’s fibers increased enough to expand Mountain Meadow Wool. She turned to the Business Council for help securing a new facility. The agency provided nearly $1.7 million to Johnson County through two different grants to purchase a publicly-owned, 25,000 square-foot building and improve infrastructure in the area to assist Mountain Meadow and other local businesses.
Mountain Meadow has also become a hub for other wool mills across the United States to get their product cleaned before processing.
Hostetler designed a proprietary process to machine clean wool with the help of the Wyoming SBIR/STTR Initiative (Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer). The initiative is a partner organization of the Business Council.
Mountain Meadow received a $5,000 contract from the initiative to pay grant writers and consultants with expertise in procuring federal research money. That initial contract spurred $540,000 in investment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
About 90 percent of Wyoming’s 34,000 businesses employ fewer than 20 people. Helping small firms like Hostetler’s gain a handful of jobs through programs like the SBIR/STTR Initiative has a magnified effect on the state’s economy.
State resources like the Business Development Center, Manufacturing-Works and the Business Council can help others like Wait create business plans, secure loans for expansion, learn to export, operate leaner and nimbler and add jobs.
This National Small Business Week, we celebrate the partnerships like these that help Wyoming’s economy grow. For more information, visit wyomingbusiness.org.