SHERIDAN — Wyoming’s younger generations had an opportunity to weigh in on the state’s future at the ENGAGE Summit over the weekend.

The ENGAGE Summit was created due in large part to the efforts of Sheridan native Jonathan Updike. Updike, who recently graduated from the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and will start a residency in psychiatry at Stanford next week, said he had been following the ENDOW initiative from its inception and was impressed that the initiative made involving Wyoming’s younger generations a priority.

ENDOW, which stands for “Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming,” is an initiative created by Gov. Matt Mead in 2016 to develop and promote statewide efforts to diversify Wyoming’s economy. During the 2018 legislative budget session, a suite of bills passed that authorized funding for several projects that support ENDOW’s recommendations. 

When ENDOW released its preliminary recommendations in January, however, Updike said he was disappointed by the lack of focus on that priority. He reached out to five young Wyoming professionals and together they wrote an op-ed for the Casper Star-Tribune calling for ENDOW to do a better job incorporating the concerns and insights of Wyoming’s younger generations into its planning.

ENDOW director Jeremiah Rieman contacted Updike in March in response to the piece and asked him to help facilitate the conversation between the initiative and the state’s younger generations. In response, Updike and his co-authors put together a proposal for the ENGAGE council, which stands for “empowering the next generations to advance and grow the economy.” The group would also host a single-day summit for the Wyoming’s young people and lead the long-term discussion about the younger generations’ role in the state’s future.

That summit took place last Saturday and gathered over 200 Wyoming residents between the ages of 16 and 35 to discuss ideas for economic and cultural development throughout the state.

Josh Law, the founder and chief development officer of Flood Marketing in Sheridan, said he helped with marketing and messaging in planning the event but attended to participate in the discussions.

Law said he wasn’t sure what to expect at the start of the day but was happy to find the discussions functioned mostly as free-flowing brainstorming sessions.

“What I quickly realized was, this was a time to throw out ideas and know that someone will read them,” Law said.

Law attended discussions on business and entrepreneurship, tourism, advanced manufacturing and agriculture and said one of the common themes across those discussions was the need for Wyoming to find better ways to develop, and make available, the resources it already has.

“It wasn’t so much that the jobs aren’t here, it’s that strategies aren’t here, the ideas aren’t here,” Law said.

For instance, Law said one of the ideas that emerged from the entrepreneurship talk was for the University of Wyoming to create an entrepreneurship track that would be a conglomerate of all the colleges and let students explore their ideas by customizing an interdisciplinary curriculum. Law suggested adding to that by allowing UW graduates to take a gap year in which student loans and other post-graduation expenses are deferred while the graduates use the university’s resources to research and launch business ideas.

John Strandholm, who grew up in Sheridan and is now an assistant economics professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate, said he asked if he could contribute to ENGAGE as a former Wyoming resident who hopes to one day return.

Strandholm said he is helping ENGAGE analyze the data collected from the conference and while it’s too early to draw conclusions, his preliminary observations match up with Law’s.

Specifically, Strandholm said he heard frequent mention of the desire to create more connections among communities in the state that would provide young people with opportunities like internships and mentorship.

“It sounded like [people thought] the individual communities throughout the state were almost isolated from one another,” Strandholm said.

Emily Beagle, who also grew up in Sheridan and recently graduated from UW with a PhD in mechanical engineering, was one of Updike’s co-authors on the op-ed and said she was a note-taker during the entrepreneurship talks Saturday and noticed similar feedback.

“It’s not necessarily that there was a lack of resources in the state,” Beagle said. “But that it’s not clear how people can access these resources.”

A lot of that, she said, came down to communicating what was available in the communities around the state. She used Sheridan as an example. 

“Sheridan has a really thriving art community and a lot of great cultural opportunities that exist there,” Beagle said. “So [the goal is] making that more apparent not only to the people in the community in Sheridan, but also just around the state as well.”

The ENGAGE council will present its recommendations report to the ENDOW council June 28. It will also release it publicly. ENDOW is scheduled to draft its final recommendations by August, and while there is no guarantee the council will incorporate ENGAGE’s recommendations, the group’s presentation will ensure the voices of Wyoming’s younger generations are heard.