Kelsey Day goes to work every day in greater Washington, D.C., where she works for the International Baccalaureate program, an education non-profit. She interacts with fellow education professionals from Alaska to Argentina and finds the work engaging. Yet she would jump at the chance to move back to her home state of Wyoming, if she could find challenging work.

“I love Wyoming, and I would go back in a heartbeat if all of the pieces fall into place,” she said.

Day grew up in Cheyenne and attended the University of Wyoming, where she served as president of the Associated Students of UW. After graduating in 2009, she joined Teach for America and moved to southern Texas. When that job ended, Day moved to Denver, and then to Washington, D.C. Though Day would like to move back to Wyoming, she’s uncertain what opportunities she — or her husband who is in medical school — could find in her home state.

“Definitely job opportunities is a big thing for both of us,” Day said. Wyoming doesn’t offer many opportunities in international education, she said, but perhaps she could go back to being a teacher. “I definitely think I could find challenging, engaging work in Wyoming through education, and I think my husband could find challenging work in medicine, but I don’t know that for sure.”

Day’s experience traces an out-of-state sojourn that many of Wyoming’s young adults tread. For decades, Wyoming leaders have said that youth are the state’s most precious resource and, unfortunately, a main export. A loss of young people saps the economy and bleeds talent.

The outmigration isn’t as bad today as it was in the 1990s. Back then Wyoming’s sluggish economy spurred an exodus of young people that one reporter referred to as a “brain drain.” Census data from 2014 shows Wyoming’s population of young people age 25-34 has grown over the past decade, but mostly in the larger counties with active energy development.

Even so, young people continue to leave the state in droves — among 18-year-old workers in the year 2000, only four out of 10 were still in Wyoming a decade later, according to state data.

“Any given year, we have about 50 percent of youth leaving the state,” Gov. Matt Mead (R) said at a recent press conference. “We have great career opportunities and they are leaving the state.”

In response, Mead recently rolled out a Department of Workforce Services website called Wyoming Grown. The program touts a high quality of life in hopes of enticing Wyomingites living out of state to move back home, no matter what age. Mead said the program is aimed at recruiting workers for in-demand positions like computer programmers, doctors, welders, engineers and others.

WyoFile talked to 10 Wyoming expatriates around the nation and the world to find out what they are doing, and what would convince them to move back to Wyoming.

Bryan Fields

  • AGE: 31
  • HOMETOWN: Casper
  • CURRENT CITY: Brooklyn, New York
  • CAREER/JOB: Attorney working for the federal government

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

The longer you spend on the East Coast the more people you meet and the deeper your connections. I met my wife from New Jersey and her family is on the East Coast and her family is out here. It is not necessarily a conflict. She would move to Wyoming if there was a great opportunity. But the more you spend out East the deeper your network is out here and the more likely you are to develop lasting connections on the East Coast. My wife has been to Wyoming several times. We would move there if there was a great opportunity, and there is really not.

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK?

I have nothing but good memories of Wyoming and I would love to go back, I dream of going back, but I feel like I am sort of trapped in a black hole on the East Coast. Once you are here and your networks are here, it becomes that much harder to go back. Every person you meet is on the East Coast and it takes a very intense effort to get back to Wyoming, and the rewards I don’t think are quite there. You have to take a huge financial pay cut and the job opportunities just aren’t as advantageous as they would be somewhere else.

Nathan Biebel

  • AGE: 33
  • HOMETOWN: Sheridan
  • CURRENT CITY: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • CAREER/JOB: PhD candidate in Philosophy, Tulane University

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

One thing that might bring me back is a competitive wage in a field I am interested in, but there would also need to be a cultural shift away from extreme conservatism to be more accepting of people who don’t hold the same points of view. It would be good if there were more airports. It is so expensive to get there even for a visit, so that’s a big detriment.

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK?

I don’t know if I would take a job teaching in Wyoming. I would take it if it were the only job offered. Given the choice between that and something else, I would choose something else. I just hate winters with a bleeding passion that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.

Isaac Wallis

  • AGE: 36
  • HOMETOWN: Recluse (also Gillette, Elk Mountain, Laramie)
  • CURRENT CITY: Fort Collins, Colorado
  • CAREER/JOB: Computer programmer, telecommuting with a company in California

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAVE YOU FOUND, AND COULD YOU DO THAT IN WYOMING?

What I know how to do best is program computers for creative purposes, programs that have music, images, animated graphics, and I just didn’t see a lot of space for that in Wyoming. I know there are people who do program computers in Wyoming, but they are doing industrial work or doing websites.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

Certain jobs would get me to come back. A job in academia would get me to come back, or if they had a really awesome job in Laramie or Cheyenne doing what I do, I would probably come back and be just as happy as I am in Fort Collins. Barring some sort of family thing, like I marry someone that wants to live in Wyoming, I can’t really think of much [that would make me move back]….

My favorite place in Wyoming is my family ranch, but I can’t telecommute from there. … Satellite internet isn’t really good enough yet. If they had a form of internet that got out to 70 miles north of Gillette and I could go be with my grandparents, I would probably do it, but they have this dish internet that is slower than dial up, and I can’t really make it work.

Michael Cross

  • AGE: 33
  • HOMETOWN: Casper
  • CURRENT CITY: Denver
  • CAREER/JOB: Attorney

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAVE YOU FOUND, AND COULD YOU DO THAT IN WYOMING?

I worked at one of the largest firms in the country [in New York]. There were 800 to 900 lawyers, and my office had 250. I did bankruptcy litigation for companies like General Motors and Kodak. … I got fed up with how expensive New York was, and how far I was from family, and my wife and I decided as we started to have a family to move closer to Wyoming.

… I liked the idea of coming back West and having the lifestyle, however Denver still has more opportunities, especially with white-collar positions, than Wyoming cities offered.

DO WYOMING’S POLITICS PLAY A ROLE IN DECIDING WHERE TO LIVE?

I don’t think that the politics [in Wyoming] scares me away. I am a pretty independent person but probably lean to the right in a lot of issues, so I don’t think that scares me away.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

The big thing is overall job opportunities, not just for me but for my wife who works in finance. Places like Boulder and Denver have venture capital, and when she has to travel for work it is a lot easier to fly out of DIA and visit the groups she is invested in. In Casper or Cheyenne, you are not going to get any of that.

Shawn Day

  • AGE: 36
  • HOMETOWN: Sheridan
  • CURRENT CITY: North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
  • CAREER/JOB: Artist/DJ/producer

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK?

I would love to be based in Wyoming. I love it here. I love the air, the sky, the stars, the summers. Love the people and the community. Love the water. Just the basic elements that are so hard to find in a city I have really grown to appreciate.

WHY DID YOU LEAVE?

I decided to leave because the work dried up for me. I was playing in a rock band, Simply Jane, and we had support from Bob Dylan, and it was like “Maybe we could make it out of Sheridan and we won’t have to leave.” We ended up doing a show in Sturgis and the work dried up and I was 23 and I was like, “I have to do something else.” …

I had my sights set on Los Angeles because there wasn’t much opportunity here [in Wyoming]. We were looking to sign a record deal and get into publishing, and all those opportunities were miles and miles away from [Wyoming].

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

The reason I moved out there [to L.A.] is to succeed as an artist and [to move back] I would have to be in a situation where I was touring full time and working, and I secured publishing, … that would be the catalyst of “OK, we can consider moving back to Wyoming.” But right now it is deep in the development process of preparing the music, and touring full-time hasn’t come to light yet, but closer every day though. One step at a time.

Levi Wells

  • AGE: 25
  • HOMETOWN: Cody
  • CURRENT CITY: Denver
  • CAREER/JOB: Filmmaker and photographer

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK?

I’ll probably never live there again unless I make some bad decisions and lose all my money and have to live in my parents’ basement. I wasn’t comfortable living there, and I am not big on winter…

WHERE ELSE HAVE YOU LIVED?

I was in Costa Rica and I just didn’t want to go through another rainy season, and I decided to go back to Denver because I had lived there for a few months before. … It is booming. In the past two years this place has changed a lot in terms of architecture, art, music, and there are just a lot of opportunities for a guy like me here.

WHY DID YOU LEAVE?

I was working with Patti Fiasco and Jalan Crossland. … I shot a documentary and it aired on PBS and I got stuck in this cycle of been there done that, and I just got really bored and couldn’t take it any more.

DO WYOMING’S POLITICS PLAY A ROLE IN DECIDING WHERE TO LIVE?

A lot of countries aren’t like the United States — split up with different laws and different mindsets and you have states that are a little behind, and I feel like Wyoming is one of them in terms of laws, mentality, politics. I’m not going to say they are like Alabama, but if I was offered a job there, I probably wouldn’t go.

OF THE PEOPLE YOU GREW UP WITH, WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

All my friends have moved on. … Everyone is in Montana or Colorado or New York. I think it would be lonely if I moved back. A lot of my friends are like me and want to get out.

Kelsey Day

  • AGE: 29
  • HOMETOWN: Cheyenne
  • CURRENT CITY: Washington, D.C.
  • CAREER/JOB: Associate manager for the International Baccalaureate program in North and South America

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK?

I love Wyoming, and I would go back in a heartbeat if all of the pieces fall into place. My husband [from Colorado] would also be interested in moving back.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

I would say the two most important things are having challenging career opportunities and we would need to know there is a solid education system. Those would be my two biggest things. If I were moving to Wyoming next year, I would be doing lots and lots of research about the schools, how many advanced education programs are there, what are the graduation rates, what is the funding given to schools.

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAVE YOU FOUND, AND COULD YOU DO THAT IN WYOMING?

I am a teacher by trade, and if I went back to teaching, there are lots of schools I could teach in. My skills would be transferrable. … And I think my husband could find challenging work in medicine, but I don’t know that for sure.

So many people I have talked to have this awesome job in D.C. and it is so interesting and rewarding and the salary is so much better … It’s the same for a lot of people in D.C. no matter where they come from. To go back it might be like a demotion. A lot of times you can find something, but it depends on your profession.

OF THE PEOPLE YOU GREW UP WITH, WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

From Cheyenne out of the people I grew up with and knew well, only one of them moved back. Everyone else I know is in Colorado or on the coast somewhere.

Loren S. Hutchins

  • AGE: 33
  • HOMETOWN: Sheridan
  • CURRENT CITY: Seoul, South Korea
  • CAREER/JOB: Photographer/artist assistant to Jungman Kim

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

I would move back if I could work traveling the world, as I do now, creating photographic and artistic images.

COULD YOU DO THAT IN WYOMING?

I think it possible to do all this in Wyoming, but there doesn’t exist an international platform for the work to be seen from Wyoming. No major publications or galleries for the type of work I’m interested in exists, to my knowledge, in Wyoming.

… My wife is a fashion designer/international presenter born and raised in South Africa.  And she also requires opportunities in fashion that Wyoming doesn’t currently have.

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK?

I love Wyoming. It’s a place to be from. I don’t know about going back to Wyoming because those (like me) who grew up there before the Internet had an exceptionally disconnected and almost island-like youth. It lent the world to feeling like a very large place and perhaps even fueled my desire to see more. …

… We did live there for two years in Sheridan (2008-2010). It was a nice time but the economy tanked when we were trying to create an eco-friendly t-shirt design company. So we moved back to Korea to financial stability and cheap but advanced healthcare. … The state of healthcare in America in general is a big deterrent for coming back. That’s one factor worth mentioning.

Katherine Strand

  • AGE: 30
  • HOMETOWN: Rawlins
  • CURRENT CITY: Montreal, Canada
  • CAREER/JOB: PhD candidate in Anthropology/Environmental Studies

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK?

I’m living in Montreal, doing research in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, working on a PhD in Anthropology/Environmental Studies at McGill University. I left to pursue this degree and would only move back if the University of Wyoming offered me an academic job. I’ve been living in Canada for about 3 1/2 years and will apply for jobs in both Canada and the US.

Scott Neu

  • AGE: 44
  • HOMETOWN: Scottsbluff, Neb., University of Wyoming graduate ‘98
  • CURRENT CITY: Atlanta, Georgia
  • CAREER/JOB: Asset Manager, Goldman Sachs

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MOVE BACK TO WYOMING?

My answer is similar to many others, which is that you are making a trade between quality of life and compensation. I live in Atlanta. I would much rather live in Wyoming, but unless something arises that I am unaware or, the opportunities to earn the compensation I can get in Atlanta or Denver or any other city is not comparable enough [in Wyoming] to close the gap. It doesn’t mean there aren’t people that quit their jobs and move back to Wyoming ….

I would argue that Wyoming provides an extremely high value of quality of life. But earning power in Wyoming, after cost of living adjustments, is probably going to be less than it is in big cities. You have to reconcile that. Is that loss in potential consumption over your lifetime going to be made up for in quality of life? I think that is the general calculus that people do. … How much pay are you going to leave on the table to get that quality of life?

The other issue you’ve got is that most of the higher paying jobs are extractive industry related. That’s generally true. There are pockets of other higher paying jobs. … If you are 43-44 and you are going to move back to Casper, Wyoming, to work for Halliburton, that’s great until the next bust, but then what are you going to do?

Everyone has that value that they put on the quality of life, and I can assure you … the more you make in big cities, the harder it becomes to leave.

— Are you a Wyoming expat? WyoFile is interested in your story and what might bring you back. For those who did make a return, what convinced you to do it? Let us know if we can add a pin with your name and city to our expatriates map. Please comment below, or email editor@wyofile.com.

Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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7 Comments

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  1. The young don’t Want to work in oil and coal. They are stuck with that if they want better pay. If you don’t want to work in a job where men end up dead quite often, you leave. If you want a job where you get home each night, you leave. I returned simply because of aging parents. I will leave again because they have no health care, no decent jobs, and the renters are greedy, even when the boom dies. A city can grow without destroying the natural world but not with the leaders now and the greed in their hearts, they will flatten, dig, and all around screw up the land. As if it isn’t already. I can barely see the mountains when I travel 191 and 189, and not just when it snows, almost all of the time anymore. Who wants to live where their lungs, eyes, and skin, entire body are assaulted daily, every hour of that day? There may be no where to run already but, I am hoping.

    Nadine Girouard

  2. I’m originally from Laramie (moved there when I was 2, left for college at 18 and have never moved back – my parents and in-laws still live there). What would it take for me to move back to Wyoming? Probably nothing that is realistic. It would need to have a large urban city with liberal values and diversity of every sort. Wyoming is beautiful to look at, and you can’t beat the stars at night, but living there is another story. While I can appreciate the wide open spaces in small doses, I love the amenities and diversity (and volume) of people a big city offers. Also the politics of Wyoming is backward in so many areas. It should be a leader in climate change and ecological protection, but instead it panders to the oil industry. It should be leader in equality, but instead it can’t even get an equal protection bill passed for LGBT citizens. It should be moving science forward, but instead it’s trying to follow the dubious “lead” of places like Kansas and Texas in a race to the bottom. I’ll continue to visit, but doubt I could ever be persuaded to move back.

    Genevieve Steidtmann

  3. When you’re young, it seems, the main reason to live somewhere else other than Wyoming is to take advantage of a wider spectrum of better paying jobs. But what about health care? When you’re facing old age, the best reason to leave is that medical care is not even close to the quality it is in a large city–like Denver, where we live now. When my partner was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he was treated at a urology center in a building about the size of the largest building in Casper. His urologist called both of us in for an hour long consultation to explain why none of the treatment options were appropriate at that stage of disease, and the disadvantages of all treatments. Later, the oncologist, who was the only one in the Rocky Mountain region who ONLY treated bladder and prostate cancers (not breast and lung, too, like most oncologists do), did a gene test on the tumor the minute that became available, and determined that my partner needed radiation as well as hormone therapy. He answered every email immediately. The radiation therapy was extremely sophisticated, (I was taken behind the scenes to see the program and was shown how it was executed) and the therapists had been general radiation therapists before they were trained to do prostate radiation. Our general practitioner is also immediately available, and has a long list of excellent specialists she refers us to; her partner drew up a three-point plan to help my partner decide on treatment options, putting his doctor-in-training to work on doing research. Would all this happen in Wyoming? Young people do get sick, too….

    Vicki Lindner

  4. Nice story.
    Hi Levi Wells. Good to see you out there fighting the good fight.
    It would be a nice touch to go back and include Twitter handles so that it would be easy to follow our far-flung friends.

    Ron Feemster

  5. Might also be interesting to interview young professionals who have moved back–how are things going and do they plan to stay?

    Kathy Baker

  6. One question that may need to be asked is would Wyoming still be the place they loved if all the changes they want were to take place. In order to sustain high level jobs and become a place of art music and fashion you need big cities. But, Wyoming with big cities looses the quality of life people like about Wyoming. Somethings can’t be changed like winter, or would be slow to change like conservatism. However, a less conservative Wyoming is no longer Wyoming. However, if they want a more liberal Wyoming that will only be achieved if liberals stay and make those changes – if they keep moving away they will never get their wish.

    Things we could work on from the article is infrastructure in healthcare and internet service. An increased investment from the state in those areas would be great.

    Scott Neu, makes the point clear – are we willing to trade quality of life for compensation. Right now these young people say yes, but as they get older that will change.

    Do we want Wyoming to be like everyone else or is it ok for Wyoming to be different and recognize that may not attract as many people?

    Shaun Sells

  7. Interesting article, but the extreme gender disparity is bothersome. Ten individuals featured with just two of them women? That’s just wrong on so many levels.

    Pamela RW Kandt