Tuesday, July 01, 2014

How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Portland?

Thoughtful column by Adbay's Shawn Houck on today's wyofile. He argues that Wyoming needs to change its economic and social policies to attract and keep young workers, especially those graduating from UW and our state's community colleges. Bright young people in Houck's line of work -- marketing -- look to Denver and Chicago and L.A. for opportunities that don't exist in their home state.

But it's more than just jobs. As Houck points out, people 18-29 are much more accepting than their elders of progressive ideas such as marriage equality. They advocate for alternative energy, smart cars, lively downtowns, local foods and the arts. Sure, they sometimes seem like a horde of craft-beer-swilling, kale-chomping, smartphone-wielding ingrates, but you can't impugn their passion and imagination. They push hard for their ideas and sometimes we just have to get out of their way -- or see how we can help.

Houck graduated with an English degree from UW. He could be in a happening big city but he founded a biz in his hometown of Casper. He and his Adbay team are now renovating a warehouse in Casper's Old Yellowstone District and will soon move in. According to the Adbay web site, the new space will include "a theatre, pub, basketball court and collaborative studio spaces." A pub! I'm going to float that idea by my boss tomorrow.

Do you know what's going on in Casper? Besides its tendency to elect loons to the state legislature? Downtown is booming. New businesses opening up and people swarming around on weekday nights when they should be home watching soccer from Brazil. It's exciting to see. I wasn't able to get to last weekend's Brazil-themed NicFest sponsored by the fine folks at the Nicolaysen Art Museum. Heard it was great, though. The Nic is a real treasure, one I wish we had in downtown Cheyenne.

Still, I'm an old guy so what do I know? What seems exciting to me may be ho-hum to a 22-year-old college graduate who's seen what's happening in Portland and Miami. Cities are in and the best and brightest are flocking there. And, surprisingly, so are retirees. A lot of my peers are chucking their jobs and the suburbs and moving into urban condos close to museums and bistros and light rail and good medical care. Seems funny that two such different demographic cohorts have the same destination. It's possible that the gray wave may panic the youngsters, causing them to flee back to Wheatland and Meeteetse. But I don't think so. Cities have that heady mix of all ages and ethnicities that makes America such a wonderful place. Sure, you can be afraid of it and lock yourself into a gated golf community in Arizona. But what will that get you? Paranoia and skin cancer and death by golf ball. Fore!

Houck proposes some good ideas on moving Wyoming forward. Go read the column and see. You might see it as pie in the sky dreams. But what is youth without dreams?

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