A Note From Pete:
Sometimes the world outside Wyoming’s borders changes faster than we do, and for all the pride we have in our independent nature it can be a detriment as much as an asset. These ideas are evident in this edition of The Pete Simpson Forum. Wyoming businessmen Scott Kane and Shawn Houck take separate paths to arrive at the conclusion: Wyoming must change its ways.
Kane sees an opportunity for Wyoming to lead in renewable energy and energy efficiency — an opportunity that is perhaps overshadowed by an intense focus on preserving a coal industry that might not ever regain favor in a carbon constrained world. “The time has come for Wyoming to reinvent its relationship with energy and, to some extent, its self-image,” Kane writes.
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As a young entrepreneur who launched a successful advertising business, Houck understands that Wyoming will not make the most out of its unique qualities until it adapts to the values of today’s young professionals. “It’s clear that if we want to continue to enjoy the abundance of opportunity that exists in our state, we need to make retaining and attracting young professionals a top priority,” Houck writes. That includes adapting progressive social values, as well as investing in communities in ways that diversify cultural and entertainment opportunities.
Change and challenge go hand in hand and, as the old fable has it, both are inevitable. Let’s hear from you. What do you think change in Wyoming might look like in 10 or so years, and how best might it be addressed?”
— Peter K. Simpson
Wyoming must shift its economic and social policies
by Shawn Houck
— July 1, 2014
Wyoming is blessed with serious abundance: natural resources, scenic views, wildlife, jobs, award-winning craft beers. Among these we’re fortunate to have more than our fair share.
We also take pride in our strong economy, low unemployment and minimal individual tax rates. By these measures, Wyoming is a good place to live and own a business. When I started my company back in 1999, I was pleased to discover yet another abundance: opportunity.
There is simply no limit to the number of projects that a smart, talented team can attract. And in my naive beginnings, I believed that there could be no such thing as too many projects or clients. After all, more clients means more money, and taking care of those new clients should be as simple as investing that money into more creative minds. Growth, I thought, is as easy as spotting a pronghorn on a golf course. Simple.
As it turns out, I was wrong. In Wyoming, there’s nothing simple about growth, because there’s at least one thing we do not have an abundance of.
You see, I work in marketing, and so the kinds of jobs we create are perfect for young programmers, graphic artists and writers. And nearly 20 years after Windows 95 ushered most of us into the internet age, the desktop publishing age and the interactive gaming age (Myst, anyone?), it’s fair to expect that these young, talented folks would be pouring out of our state’s schools and into our workforce. But they’re not. And it’s not just the creative kids who are MIA. Wyoming is aging fast. A 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report estimates that 32.2 percent of Wyoming’s population will be over the age of 60 by the year 2030.
It’s clear that if we want to continue to enjoy the abundance of opportunity that exists in our state, we need to make retaining and attracting young professionals a top priority. More jobs for young, creative Wyomingites means more young families, more amenities and more enthusiasm for the beautiful state that we call home. Here are a few things we can do to get the ball rolling:
Build communications infrastructure:
Wyoming is a large state with lots of open spaces, few people, and money in the bank. We should be investing in infrastructure that increases connectivity and improves access while lowering (or eliminating!) fees to residents and businesses operating in the state. Ubiquitous, fast, cheap data could be a point of pride and spur innovation among young entrepreneurs. By making a significant investment in communications infrastructure, Wyoming could position itself as the place to be for emerging technologies in everything from data storage to self-driving vehicles. The jobs these industries create will attract, retain and support bright minds and young families.
Support vocational training programs in high schools:
Kids who leave high school with advanced certifications and specialized job training can make an immediate impact for Wyoming companies. Programs like Natrona County’s CAPS will equip students with the skills they need to land a high paying job right out of school.
Hire the right teachers:
Teachers will play an enormous role in developing Wyoming’s young professional community, especially when it comes to technology-based industries. A simple rule of thumb for deciding if your teachers have what it takes to train the leaders of Wyoming’s new information economy: if industry doesn’t want to steal them away from you, they aren’t the right teachers.
Support social policies that attract and protect non-traditional families:
If we want young people to stick around, it’s important that our state’s social policies reflect their beliefs. Take, for example, the hot-button issue of marriage equality. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 78 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 support same-sex marriages. Yet in Wyoming, our lawmakers have repeatedly introduced legislation that would prohibit same-sex marriage (most recently in 2011). Other issues such as healthcare and urban development should be tackled head-on if our mission to attract and retain young people is to succeed.
Build cool shit:
Young people crave innovative places to live, work and play. Our state has a proud tradition of developing top-notch recreational facilities and parks, and it’s high time that same commitment to excellence be applied to housing, workplace and retail spaces. Support your local downtown’s efforts to create loft living spaces. Vote to support the construction of innovative spaces in libraries, on college campuses and on Main Street. Allocate resources to business incubators, conference centers and concert halls.
Buy tickets to sporting events, concerts and cultural events:
Young people won’t stick around if they don’t have anything to do. Supporting events helps to build a more stable social scene. If they can’t find friends and potential spouses in your home town, they are going to move to someone else’s.
— Casper native Shawn Houck is president of adbay.com Inc., a company he founded in 1999. The company recently completed renovations on a new office facility in an old warehouse space in Casper’s Old Yellowstone District. Houck has an English degree from the University of Wyoming.
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