Young crowd

CHEYENNE – Leaders of Wyoming’s economic diversification efforts heard from hundreds of residents under age 35 this past weekend, hoping to better understand how to keep young professionals in the state.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative, which stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming, hosted the ENGAGE summit Saturday in Laramie.

ENGAGE, or Empowering the Next Generations to Advance and Grow the Economy, is a volunteer-led statewide initiative that looks to residents age 16-35 for input on how to best protect the state’s future.

During the conference, participants attended one of 10 theme-based group sessions, offering an opportunity for brainstorming areas critical to economic diversification, including advanced manufacturing, agriculture, natural resources, tourism, health care, technology, education and arts. 

“I think of Wyoming as the land of opportunity,” Mead said. “I cannot believe that the state will continue to export 60 percent of our young people out of the state and be OK with that. It is a loss of talent and a loss of relationships. If you love Wyoming, we want to be able to let you stay here.”

Using live feedback technology, organizers collected and distributed preliminary data from conversations at the end of the event.

Suggestions included eliminating barriers to the agriculture industry, helping aging ranchers find successors, increasing business networking opportunities and supporting both traditional and new forms of energy.

Keynote speaker Jillian Balow, Wyoming superintendent of public instruction, said in a state with one of the highest percentages of workers without bachelor’s degrees who hold good-paying jobs, Wyoming must re-evaluate what it considers its “best and brightest.”

She said notions of a “brain drain,” or the emigration of intelligent people from the state, is a misguided notion.

“In my mind, we are not losing the best and brightest young adults in Wyoming,” she said. “We focus on those only with four-year degrees, and we have so much more to offer if we think beyond a four-year degree. We need to think about college, career, workforce training and military service.”

Balow said continuing to focus efforts on computer science and other digital skills will lead the state in its efforts to diversify.

“Wyoming currently has 360 open computing jobs,” she said.

Some students questioned whether classes in science and technology would displace humanities in an attempt to improve workers’ skill sets.

Balow said many students have a free hour or an extra elective period during their K-12 experience that could easily be filled with additional curriculum.

“We hear that if you are going to put something more on the plate, then you have to take something away,” she said. “But what I hear from students is that the plate is not quite full.”

Melissa Smith, 22, of Cheyenne attended a number of the group sessions as an observer and said many shared similar concerns.

“It seems many of the younger people in Wyoming are worried they will not be able to stay here because there are so few resources,” she said. “They really just want more options.”

To address this, Mead announced a vacancy on the ENDOW Executive Council that he intends to fill with someone from ENGAGE in the next 30 days. Applications can be made at http://governor.wyo.gov/boards-and-commissions.

Chrissy Suttles is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s business and health reporter. She can be reached at csuttles@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3183. Follow her on Twitter at @chrissysuttles.

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