CHEYENNE — Millennials across the country are playing an active role in shaping the future – and young Wyomingites are doing the same.
“Millennials are voting,” Gov. Mark Gordon said to a crowd gathered at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper Saturday during the annual ENGAGE Summit.
“It turns out that young millennials have a whole spectrum of political attitudes, but the one thing they are doing is they are voting in higher volume than they ever have before,” Gordon said. “The last two elections have seen the largest turnout of millennials anywhere.”
ENGAGE, a coalition of young Wyomingites aged 16-35 formed in 2018, wants to play a role in shaping Wyoming’s future. The group held its second annual summit with breakout sessions from Wyoming Business Council leadership, nonprofit organizers, representatives from the business sector and a keynote address from Gordon, in Casper this weekend.
Since its inception over the past year, a lot has happened for ENGAGE, President Amber Savage said during her opening remarks Saturday.
“We have been stuck in a strange phenomenon where we are getting a lot of feedback as a leadership team. People are saying, ‘We love what you are doing!’ which is followed shortly by ‘Wait, what are you guys doing?’” Savage said.
Part of the question, she said, is simple: What is this movement young people of Wyoming are calling ENGAGE?
“It is a movement, an initiative to help create the Wyoming we want to inherit, which seems logical, right? Here we are, young professionals, whatever that might mean for our stage in life, committed to helping build the state,” Savage said.
From an ENGAGE leadership team perspective, there are four major goals for the organization. First, the team wants to host the summit to bring young people of Wyoming together, where, secondly, they can make connections and get good information about how to be involved. Its third and fourth priorities, she said, are to make the board and commission processes at the state level accessible to young people.
“We want to help open doors to (allow) some of our-age folks to help participate and represent at the state level,” Savage said. “Of course, we want to help (foster) opinions and insights from people in our age group to help inform decisions that are made across the state as well.”
When asked what ENGAGE is doing, Savage can answer in two ways. First, she said, the leadership team does the “boring” work of organizing events. The more exciting work, she said, comes when ENGAGE connects young Wyomingites to each other.
“We look to people who are already doing incredible stuff throughout the state, and our goal is to just help break down barriers to help people do what they want to do and need to do in their communities to help them thrive,” Savage said. “By being here, we are all part of this movement to help invest in our communities, which is really a beautiful thing.”
At the first summit in 2018, the leadership team learned that many people felt uninformed about what was happening at a state level, or what resources were available to young entrepreneurs.
The entire first session of the day Saturday focused on economic development, funding and project support available through groups like the Wyoming Business Council, followed by discussion about resources young Wyomingites want to see developed in their own regions.
The summit featured more than 40 presenters.
During his keynote address, Gordon said that earlier this week, he was at another event where an older generation of Wyomingites was trying to understand the state’s up-and-coming leaders.
“It is terrific to be here and to see this being used for the really exciting opportunity to expand our future,” Gordon said. “The other evening, I was at a Petroleum Association of Wyoming meeting, and they had a pollster who came in and started talking about millennials. It was a fascinating thing … Here is sort of what is going on.
“Some of us that grew up in a different generation heard that millennials weren’t going to vote, weren’t going to make any big changes,” Gordon said. “Here’s the thing. They are. The world is changing. It is changing dramatically.”
There are often two stories told about Wyoming, he said. One is that the state needs to diversify and focus on economic development, but the other is that there are no opportunities or jobs available for skilled young people in Wyoming.
“My focus is trying to attract young families, and have stickability, because it is a great place to be. We do that by building an entrepreneurial landscape that allows people to start businesses and build families,” he said.
Gordon said he supports this idea at the state level, but it must be adopted on a local level too.
“It is in the communities where it is really going to happen,” Gordon said. “My effort has really been about, how do we build those stronger communities … from a state level, we are really trying to push that agenda.”
The median age of the Wyoming Legislature is 55, and each year, the Legislative session requires people to take between 20-40 days off from work. When asked how to make Wyoming’s boards, commissions and even the state Legislature, accessible to young people who are beginning their careers and families, Gordon encouraged the summit attendees to just keep voting.
“Wyoming, I am very proud to say, has a citizen legislature. When I look at some of our colleague states where they are professionals, it is a whole different career. Wyoming still has that accountability, and I think that is very important,” Gordon said.
“The reason I talked about the fact that millennials … are voting in greater terms, which means they are much more politically engaged, they have a notion of what the future holds. By God, step forward. Do that,” Gordon said. “This is your state. So do like all the millennials are supposed to do – vote a lot.”