The return of a Wyoming expat

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Four months ago, I returned to Sheridan, my hometown, and The Sheridan Press, my professional home.

At age 15, I began writing in these pages as a youth reporter, reviewing movies and interviewing students. My tenure continued as an intern during college breaks and a full-fledged staff reporter after graduation. During each stage, I loved experiencing and sharing the different worlds in our town. 

I took a break from Sheridan and The Press in 2012, when I flew to Italy to immerse myself in Italian food and language, passions that deepened when I moved to New York City. But after nearly five years of subways and skyscrapers, my husband, fellow Sheridanite Erik Hoversten, and I decided to return to a slower pace of life. 

So, we went city shopping! Our list of requirements included a close-knit community, access to mountains and opportunities to grow professionally and personally (plus, a solid brewery scene wouldn’t hurt). We narrowed down the list to Fort Collins, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Sheridan.

And here we are!

Since we moved the contents of our tiny Brooklyn apartment into our human-sized Wyoming house, Sheridan has checked all the boxes. Friends and family live within walking distance. We are in the friendly Bighorns within 20 minutes. Boredom seems impossible; my first event as a WYO board member is today, Rooted in Wyoming’s farm-to-table fundraiser is next weekend and an Italian class at Verdello is in the works. (Don’t even get me started on the soon-to-be three breweries within a quarter mile.) 

OK, OK, you get it, I love life here — but all of this positivity has a point, I promise. With my satisfaction, I have been asking myself where all my childhood friends are. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

To answer these questions, I reached out to Wyoming native Jonathan Updike, who grew up in Banner and is a psychiatry resident at Stanford. While we have never met, I have been interested in his take on Wyoming expatriatism since I read an op-ed in the Casper-Star Tribune on Feb. 2 in which he and his co-authors passionately argued that ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming), an initiative by Gov. Matt Mead, should seek input directly from millennials, a generation that is overwhelmingly leaving the state.

“None of (ENDOW’s) preliminary recommendations included anything urgently addressing young people,” Jon told me. “It was a bit of a disconnect: We are the people who will inherit the economy of the state 20 years from now. Where is the avenue for us to provide feedback?”

Less than a month after the publication of the op-ed, Jon was contacted by the governor’s office to create a new organization led by younger generations under the ENDOW umbrella.

Enter: ENGAGE (Empowering the Next Generations to Advance and Grow the Economy). Comprised of Wyomingites ages 16-35, its first summit was in June, and its council continues to collaborate directly with the government.

Tempting home our younger Wyoming expats will not be easy nor immediate, Jon admitted, citing a “lack of robust institutions” that provide diverse jobs as one of the bigger deterrents. 

“It’s a shame that you have to leave for your career,” he said. “And it’s not that it’s not possible (to create your own opportunities), but it will take some energy and capital to establish that.”

I get it. I am a millennial who grew up in Sheridan and left to pursue opportunities that I did not readily find at home. Even now, I think of high school friends scattered around the world — the dance teacher in Oregon, the biologist in Utah, the graphic designer in South Korea — and realize it could be challenging to find the right job in Wyoming. But it can happen!

Fifteen years after my first job at The Press, I am “director of special projects,” a position dreamed up with Kristen Czaban, who I met 10 years ago when I was an intern and she a newly minted reporter. Now, as our youngest publisher ever (and the first woman!), she is leading the newspaper to the future. Our goal? To inform and engage the community, from the eye-opening gubernatorial debate to the playful National Doughnut Day. More Sheridan experiences, stories and worlds to explore are in store.

Let’s do this, Wyoming.

By |September 15th, 2018|

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