One of the highlights of Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State speech on Jan. 13 was his proposed initiative called Wyoming Grown. It was prompted by the fact that Wyoming is “losing 60 percent of our greatest talent” when young people educated in Wyoming move elsewhere after graduation. Gov. Mead wants to “keep kids in Wyoming after graduation.” So, Wyoming Grown will recruit those “who have left the state and bring them back."
He was skimpy on the details, which I’m sure he supplied those in his budget request for this program. But it will include a new web page by the Tourism Office. It will strengthen businesses that will be able to hire these young people in Cheyenne and Casper, Lusk and Meeteetse.
Concluded the Governor: “Let’s open the door to get our young people home.”
Kudos to Gov. Mead. This goes along with his description of Wyomingites as builders, not hoarders. We all want to build the state, not see it wither away. The state is aging rapidly and we need new blood desperately. This Republican Governor is big on technology and infrastructure and new jobs. He promotes local economic development, which has led to a downtown resurgence in Rawlins, Casper, Rock Springs, Lander and many other communities. He’s also a supporter of the arts and creativity.
I cannot speak for young people as I’m not young myself. I am a parent of two Millennials, one of whom – my son Kevin -- lives and works elsewhere, namely Tucson, Arizona. What would lure him back to Wyoming? Well, he likes the outdoors. He was a Boy Scout and is a dedicated camper and rock climber. His parents and sister live in Wyoming and we would like to see him more often.
But Tucson is a city with a lively arts and cultural scene. Kevin is involved in theatre and music and also is a dedicated gamer. He’s a big fan of public transportation due to the fact that he’s never had a very reliable car and, well, insurance and car payments really add up. Tucson has light rail and a marvelous bus system. A university with lots of cultural offerings. It’s warm, too. His first summer there he described as “hotter than the surface of the sun.” But he’s acclimated and, like most Tucsonans, ventures out in July only under cover of darkness. But January, well, that’s when his Wyoming family visits.
Wyoming really can’t compete with the lights of the big city. How you gonna keep ‘em down on the ranch after they’ve seen Portland and Austin and Nashville? See, we’re not even talking about huge metropolises such as New York and L.A. It’s the urban mix that draws young people. If they aren’t progressive when they arrive, they tend to get that way by mixing with folks that aren’t like them. Different genders. Sometimes people who are bending the genders and shattering the status quo. Different ethnicities. People from different parts of the country – different parts of the world. To be a part of the urban mix, you need tolerance and flexibility. Curiosity, too, a sense that you’d like to know what makes your neighbors tick. Sure, you can say the same thing about city folks coming to Wyoming. They have to be flexible and respectful when living and working in a more conservative climate. Some are better with that than others.
Wyoming has one big problem that won’t go away anytime soon. Some of its residents think that they exist in a “Wyoming is what America was” bubble. Right-wing loonies air their prejudices and grievances as if it were 1915 rather than 2015. We live in a world when the dumbest ideas hit the airwaves with lightning speed. Witness how much fun the talk show hosts had with all of the many nonsensical Republican responses to Pres. Obama’s recent SOTU speech.
So, when a conservative legislator proposes an anti-gay piece of legislation, the news travels far and wide. Young people, the heaviest users of smart phones and social media, are privy to the news immediately and spread the word about those dumbbells in Wyoming. I don’t like it when the legislators in my adopted state get painted as wackos.
But if the shoe (or boot) fits….
So, our Republican legislators promote a “right to discriminate against people we don’t like” (HB83) bill and an “Agenda 21 is a U.N. commie plot” (HB133) bill. Rep. Jaggi from Uinta County speaks like a bit player in an old Hollywood western when he refers to Native Americans as “Injuns” in a public meeting. This makes me wonder if Republicans really care about bringing our young people back to the state. Maybe they are angling for a certain type of young person, one who is already a diehard Republican, watches only Fox News and already believes that it is OK to discriminate against those who don’t think/act/look like you do.
I don’t think that’s what Governor Mead has in mind. He is a college graduate, earning everything up to his J.D. His wife, our First Lady, is a college graduate and a strong supporter of education. They have two children who will go to college and may be the future leaders of the state just as Gov. Mead’s mother and grandfather were leaders. I think that Gov. Mead is thinking ahead to the kind of Wyoming he wants to leave to his children. That’s not the regressive version of the state that the extremist members of his own party envision, if it’s appropriate to use that term. To envision, you need a vision, not just a tendency to dig in your heels and say no to all change and all progress.
I don’t know if my children or grandchildren will live and work in Wyoming.
I do know what kind of state I want to live in.