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ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

Wyoming’s ‘brain drain’ exacerbates labor shortage

CHEYENNE – Wyoming is experiencing some of the same labor pains as the booming Front Range – but for a somewhat different reason.Call it the “brain drain” or maybe just a lack of new jobs. Where Colorado’s labor shortage can be traced to the rapid economic expansion and growing demand for new skilled workers, Wyoming’s labor shortage stems primarily from a lack of opportunity.
Wyoming’s economy has not experienced the boom of the Front Range and has been relatively flat for several years, prompting some of the state’s residents and many of its new graduates to leave looking for greener pastures.
“We’re exporting one of our richest resources – our youth,´ said Dick O’Gara, head of the Center for Economic and Business Data at Laramie County Community College, who contends that the state isn’t producing enough new jobs for its high-school, community-college or university graduates.
Even in Cheyenne, which has been one of Wyoming’s bright spots, the economy is growing too slowly to provide new jobs for new graduates. O’Gara’s recent Economic Indicators for Greater Cheyenne describes Cheyenne’s economy as “deeply mired in a growth recession” and “economic stagnation.”
Garth Massey, a University of Wyoming sociology professor who is studying welfare reform, puts it bluntly: “In Wyoming, we don’t have a labor shortage. We have a job shortage.”
“We’re seeing what appears to be a slight out-migration of labor … and our suspicion is that the pay levels are not competitive with neighboring states,´ said Tom Gallagher, who heads the Wyoming Employment Department’s Research and Planning office in Casper. “Our conclusion is they have been attracted by a brighter headlight.
“I’d bet that most families have more than one earner, and that means jobs have to be available in a sufficient mix for all members of a family,” he added. “What we’re experiencing is families where one member or another cannot fully utilize their skills, their training, their education, and that puts more pressure to move to a location with a little more complex job market, like the Front Range.”
One factor in Wyoming’s sluggishness is a decline in federal employment and spending, according to Gallagher and his boss, state employment director Frank Galeotos.
“The federal government’s presence in Wyoming has a dramatic effect on us,´ said Galeotos, who has experienced the job shortage first-hand in trying to hire computer programmers for his agency.
Concern over Wyoming’s labor shortage and other work-force issues prompted Gov. Jim Geringer to call a statewide Governor’s Conference on the Work Force last year and has led to increased dialog between the state’s business community, educators and state employment officials on work-force training.
According to Galeotos, a new generation of public-private school-to-work programs such as the Microsoft Project to train high-school and college students should help alleviate some of Wyoming’s shortage in certain skill areas, and the new technology will allow “lone eagles” to operate from Wyoming.
From a business standpoint, Wyoming’s labor shortage is not measured so much in quantity but quality, according to Rick Hunnicutt, a business development officer with the Wyoming Department of Commerce.
“Just talking with businesses, many are not too happy with the employees that are left (in the available labor pool), because they feel the unemployment rate has taken all the good people,” Hunnicutt said. “The problem is finding people who can work, who want to work and who are consistent in their work.”
“If we have enough lead time and it’s a good-paying job, we don’t find a problem of filling vacancies with people wanting to move back to Wyoming or switch jobs,” he adds. But finding specialty skills without lead time can be hard, and the caveat is that it must be a well-paying job.
“You can’t get good people unless you pay for them,” he said.

CHEYENNE – Wyoming is experiencing some of the same labor pains as the booming Front Range – but for a somewhat different reason.Call it the “brain drain” or maybe just a lack of new jobs. Where Colorado’s labor shortage can be traced to the rapid economic expansion and growing demand for new skilled workers, Wyoming’s labor shortage stems primarily from a lack of opportunity.
Wyoming’s economy has not experienced the boom of the Front Range and has been relatively flat for several years, prompting some of the state’s residents and many of its new graduates to leave looking for greener…

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