Around the County

The brain drain


One of the Park County Commission candidates, speaking at the first campaign forum, said something to the effect that you can’t do anything about kids leaving the county and the state. That’s what kids do! They do?

What that commissioner candidate said was certainly true of me and a lot of my classmates. I couldn’t wait to board a plane or train or hitch a ride in a car and get the heck “out of Dodge.” Off I went, oblivious to the fact that I was taking my education (paid for by Wyoming taxpayers) with me. I was off to explore the world; ready to put that education and my talents to work in another state or country.

Except I kept popping back into “Dodge.” Once a year, at least. Except I bought property here. Except I kept my permanent address here.

Then, one day, embroiled in a tight situation during the first Gulf War, I tried to make a deal with God.

“Get me out of this alive,” I prayed, “and I’ll go home to Wyoming and sit on my mountain and be a very good person forever and ever. Amen.”

It totally escaped my notice at the time that my bargaining chip was returning to Wyoming.

Why would God conceivably consider that of any particular value as opposed, say, to working for world peace or becoming a nun or devoting myself to healing the sick?

Whatever, having survived, I honored my side, retired early, and came home to set up a little horse breeding operation on the family farm — a quite satisfying outcome.

By contrast and comparison, a schoolmate from Cody, Jeff Willis, left Wyoming pretty much at the same time as I did, and we both ended up in the CIA. Jeff, though, put down roots in Washington, D.C., and while he continued to visit Wyoming, he never returned to live.

Yet another colleague, Gary Miller, who was from Torrington, advised me: “Pat, you can’t go home again. Not to Wyoming.” He marveled that I did after he retired in New York City.

“You can’t go home again.” Most of those who leave and stay away for more than a few years feel exactly that way. Which means that if the county intends to keep its young people here, our youth need to learn while they’re still in school that they have a future here ... something that never occurred to me as a possibility.

What would have changed my thinking? Maybe the offer of a year-round, not seasonal, challenging job. The prospect of personal and professional growth might have done it. Then, there’s money. I might have stayed if I’d had reasonable expectations of earning more than minimum wage.

When this subject of building our job base comes up, many of those involved in economic development mention attracting outside businesses, talk about big corporations, or futuristic concepts.

More sensibly, I found a handful of young entrepreneurs in both Cody and Powell who are trying to make a go here through grit and imagination. These school graduates know their professional lives (unlike mine) will be a process of invention and reinvention, of training and retraining. In that, they’ll be little different from their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

Which can lead us to wonder if, given the rapid pace of change and the prognostications of futurists, they aren’t simply in the vanguard of a trend.

One way or the other, bravo to them that they’re trying to make a life for themselves and their families in Park County and that they’ll never hear:

“You can’t go home again. Not to Wyoming.”