Years ago, when I ran for the office of Sheridan mayor, my motivation was jobs. For too long, the conversation had been that our number one export was our youth.
Put simply, there was not enough opportunity for people who wanted to stay here to do so. Those that did often found it a hardscrabble existence to maintain a roof over their heads.
In this second column in my series on economic development, I will focus on education, and the workforce we already have in place here in northeastern Wyoming.
I’ve always been an advocate for economic development strategies created specifically for Wyoming. I quickly learned in my early days of public service that in recruiting or encouraging the growth of local employers, it’s critical for them to know that the skilled workforce they need is available, or can be trained. In this regard, it was important to have studies of our local labor market.
One such study continues to stand out in my mind. The finding: We have a regional labor market extending across Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell counties. People move or drive between the communities in search of opportunity. This is an important insight in two regards.
First, it proves to employers who would like to locate or expand here that we have a large pool of workers willing and able to fill open positions.
The second insight is that any solution to a lack of skilled workforce must be a regional solution.
In this regard, we have a stroke of good fortune — the footprint of Northern Wyoming Community College is exactly those three communities — what is often referred to as “Sheridan College” actually has a presence in Johnson County as well as Campbell County.
The K-12 system must also be involved in any systematic program to “up our game” on skilled training for local folks who desire to improve or gain skills. This too, is where our small size helps as that vast area of 11,509 square miles encompasses just five school districts.
Surely, in the months and years ahead, it would be possible to get all the key players—industry and education—at a common table to outline common solutions. These must address the need of our local employers for skilled labor, in order to grow and prosper and the desire of many local folks who would like to take advantage of the training, in order to improve their incomes and standards of living.
Together, we can make northern Wyoming a thriving place for employers and employees. In my next column, I will explore the reasons why we should be focusing on light manufacturing in our economic development strategies.
Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former mayor of Sheridan, Kinskey can be reached at email@example.com or 307-751-6428.