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New West Daily Roundup for July 29, 2016

Today in New West news: U.S. plans to “speed up” drilling permits on federal/Indian lands, Chipotle’s entering the burger business, Sierra Nevada Corp. Space Systems launches hiring spree, and Cleverywhere launches dual headquarters in Salt Lake City, New York.

According to the Missoulian, U.S. officials are looking to get more oil and gas drilling permits approved so companies can start working more quickly on federal and Indian lands. The reason? Amid a slump in energy prices, applications have slumped as well—not good news, the Missoulian notes, for states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Alaska, who depend on oil and gas revenue for a good chunk of their annual budget. According to U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, under the new system, permit applications would be submitted online, in order to expedite the process and reduce costs. From the Missoulian:

The move follows years of criticism from the energy sector over the Obama administration’s handling of drilling applications. Companies say lengthy delays have driven up costs.

Online-only permitting would allow 90 percent of drilling applications to be completed within 115 days, bureau spokeswoman Beverly Winston said. The average time in 2015 was 220 days.

“The new system is a big improvement over the current, hard copy-based application system,” Kornze said in a statement.

Industry representatives welcomed the attempt to make permitting more efficient, and said they have worked with Kornze’s agency to fix glitches that emerged in the automated system in the past few months.

But Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance voiced doubt about the potential time savings. She said the long time to process permits is driven in part by environmental studies and other requirements not counted in the administration’s 220-day processing average.

As an example, she said a drilling application could be filed in January, but surveys of whatever plants are present at the site might have to be done during the summer when the plants are blooming. The intervening months are not included in the government’s processing time estimates, she said.

“We’re a bit skeptical that the (automated) system will result in significant time savings,” Sgamma said. “Generally companies avoid public lands if they can, because they know there’s no certainty on getting through all the leasing.”

It’s uncertain how much the move could stimulate new exploration, which is driven predominantly by oil and gas prices that have fallen dramatically over the past two years.

Oil was selling for less than $43 a barrel Thursday on international markets, versus more than $100 a barrel as recently as mid-2014.

Over in Colorado, we’ve been following the decline of Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which was rocked last year by an outbreak of e. Coli and norovirus, infecting hundreds across the nation. The drop in consumer confidence, coupled with criticism of the fast casual restaurant’s menu, has tanked stocks and approval ratings. Company execs have been wringing their hands over how to bounce back as one of America’s most beloved restaurant chains, although nothing has helped.

Now, according to CNN Money, Chipotle is looking to rebrand itself in a whole new way. Indeed, earlier this week, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. announced it was entering the burger business.

Yes, burgers. From CNN Money:

The struggling restaurant chain known for its burritos announced plans on Thursday to open a burger restaurant called Tasty Made this fall in Lancaster, Ohio.

Tasty Made will exclusively focus on burgers, fresh-cut French fries and milkshakes. Chipotle (CMG) said the new restaurant will use high quality ingredients, such as beef from animals that are raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones.

Chipotle also said it will use fresh-made buns free of preservatives and other artificial ingredients and that its shakes will be made with real ingredients.

“We think we can appeal to peoples’ timeless love of burgers, but in a way that is consistent with our long-term vision,” Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells said in a statement.

Nate Appleman, an award-winning chef who worked in San Francisco and New York, helped develop the Tasty Made concept.

Chipotle’s foray into burgers come at a very difficult time for the company. The restaurant chain has suffered an exodus of customers as a result of an E. coli outbreak. Chipotle profits plunged 82% last quarter as the company resorted to pricey promotions aimed at luring customers back.

Rumors about Chipotle branching out from burritos swirled earlier this year when the company filed a trademark request for a restaurant chain called “Better Burger.” At the time, Chipotle described this concept as a “growth seed idea.”

Chipotle has two other similar concept chains it has invested in: Pizzeria Locale and ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.

Keeping with Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, Louisville-based Sierra Nevada Corp. Space Systems has set off on a hiring spree ahead of a planned test flight for its Dream Chaser space plane. The Dream Chaser will be tested by SNC and NASA on the same airstrip where NASA tested the space shuttle 39 years ago. From the DBJ:

Late this year or early 2017, a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter will haul the Dream Chaser nearly 2.5 miles above the Edwards runway and drop it.

If everything goes according to plan, Dream Chaser will fly on its own for 10 minutes and land after conducting a series of small maneuvers to test the spaceship’s aerodynamics, handling, flight software and other features.

The flight and tests leading up to it will be a critical stretch in Dream Chaser’s development. But it’s also momentous, said Mark Sirangelo, lead executive SNC Space Systems and the driving force behind creating Dream Chaser for the past 11 years.

“We feel like we get to pick up the torch of the space shuttle program,” Sirangelo said. “We get to be housed in [the] same building and use many of the same facilities. The flight will be on [the] exact same approach as the first shuttle landing. It feels special.”

While tests are underway, SNC hopes to increase their Louisville staff fivefold—to over 500. The company is also looking for additional manufacturing space near its headquarters at the Colorado Tech Center industrial park.

Finally, down in Utah, educational gaming company Cleverywhere has announced will build dual headquarters in New York and Salt Lake City. According to Utah Business, the company is one of nine who emerged from the BoomStartUp Accelerator an intensive 12-week business mentoring program; Cleverywhere, along with their cohorts, received $20,000 in seed capital and $100,000 in business services for succeeding at the Accelerator. From Utah Business:

“The BoomStartUp Accelerator offered Cleverywhere a special opportunity to intensely analyze my company and refine our vision and product strategy,” said Clancy Marshall, CEO and founder of Cleverywhere. “Our goal is to provide games accessible by any student in every corner of the nation. Beginning today, we are offering ThemePark to students. In addition, we will complete the deployment of ThemePark in several school districts in New Jersey and California for the 2016-2017 school year.”

Cleverywhere’s role-play adventure games, which have been in development for more than a year, reside on a kid-inspired, teacher-influenced gaming platform to engage students both in and out of the classroom while improving standardized test scores, and above all, having fun while learning. Parents can participate too by tracking their child’s progress. Cleverywhere is offering its first kid-tested app for students to enhance math and vocabulary skills during the summer learning bridge.

“Cleverywhere is one of our leading startups and we expect the company’s products to be embraced by schools nationwide,” said Sumner Douglas, Managing Director at BoomStartUp. “Clancy and her team are ready for the challenge of launching and growing a business with their goal of making learning fun using the enticing world of gaming to improve and enhance the education of students around the country.”

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