W

yoming suffers from a bad case of brain drain.

Too many of our young people leave the state after high school or college to pursue more diverse opportunities and never return. Others who choose to stay are locked in to lower-paying jobs or unstable careers. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s marketing efforts sometimes fail to entice entrepreneurs and undersell the state’s incredible start-up ventures, exciting innovations and exceptional quality of life.

At ENDOW meetings held around the state over the past year, we have heard the same refrain over and over: We are proud of our community character and don’t want to lose it, but we worry that there are not the right opportunities in place today to allow our kids to come back.

At a meeting in Pinedale, a Sublette County commissioner remarked that he hoped ENDOW’s work could help grandparents like him keep their grandkids in the same town. Unfortunately, the reality today is that too frequently young professionals and young couples want to stay but cannot find good-paying, fulfilling work.

ENDOW’s role as conduit for public-private cooperation and economic diversification offers a natural vehicle to recommend the changes that will allow a diverse cross section of industries to flourish.

Diversifying the economy isn’t about catering to any one darling industry. Instead, it is about supporting a bright future for Wyoming’s young people and sustaining the viability of the tight-knit communities we are so proud to call home.

Of course, lasting economic diversification can only be accomplished through the private sector. It has to begin at the community level and build out from there. As business people and civic leaders, all members of the executive council agree on this point.

That is also why the governor selected private sector leaders, not politicians, to serve as voting members of the executive council. The council’s business and civic leaders understand Wyoming and deal with the challenges of building a business and strengthening their communities every day. The only motivation for serving on the council is the deeply held belief that if we want to shape a prosperous economic course for our state, we must work together, communicate and articulate an actionable yet optimistic vision for the future.

ENDOW doesn’t advance mandates or prescriptions. Instead, it is focused on making recommendations that reflect the insights of the private sector and the interests of Wyoming families.

In ENDOW’s preliminary recommendations, the executive council advanced recommendations that address several core barriers to growth with solutions that could be implemented quickly at the local level through cooperation between state agencies and private business owners. These initial recommendations mark an actionable start toward a long-term goal.

Critics like to throw stones at the costs of implementing ENDOW’s recommendations. And, to be fair, there are costs associated with many of these recommendations. However, the cost of doing nothing is far greater. Certain conditions foster economic diversification and create a foundation for success that the private sector looks to build around. Cultivating the optimal conditions for a variety of businesses to grow and prosper is where ENDOW can lead.

In 2018, ENDOW is focused on developing its final recommendations. These recommendations will be built around five economic engines that are naturally well suited to take root or expand in Wyoming. They are advanced manufacturing, agriculture and rural communities, tourism and outdoor recreation, value-added natural resources and knowledgable and creative economies.

By acting on ENDOW’s long-term vision, Wyoming can break down barriers and underpin a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. By improving transportation, infrastructure, access to capital, quality of life amenities, mentorships and training and other essentials, Wyoming can improve its appeal to entrepreneurs, young people and existing small business owners.

As Gov. Mead said recently, “Success begets success.” And the Wyoming Business Council’s recent recruitment of Weatherby to Sheridan is a great lead-off success. Now we must build on this success.

By leveraging our existing assets while cultivating underdeveloped strengths, Wyoming can build an entrepreneurial ecosystem that invites young people to come, stay or return home and contribute to the vitality of local communities.

ENDOW offers a long-term vision and opportunities that can capitalize on our state’s recent momentum within the industries where we enjoy a natural advantage. That means building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports innovators and welcomes those risk-takers willing to come to Wyoming and build great businesses from the ground up.

 

This guest opinion was written by ENDOW Council members Rosie Berger of Big Horn, Karen Hostetler of Buffalo and Jesus Rios of Sheridan. For more information on ENDOW, see www.endowyo.biz.