ROCK SPRINGS — Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon visited Western Wyoming Community College Thursday to tour the campus and to discuss his initiative for modernizing and refocusing Wyoming’s higher education system.
The Wyoming Innovation Network (WIN), calls for closer collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges to promote and develop innovative solutions that will support and enhance Wyoming’s economy and workforce.
Governor Gordon said that the state has been through a “time of plenty” but that this past year many serious adjustments had to be made, including to the state’s budget. With the decline in the fossil fuel industry, Gordon said there are opportunities to expand Wyoming’s workforce to fit the current industrial scope. This includes supporting the fossil fuel industry with new technologies, Gordon said, such as with carbon capture projects.
“Because jobs are changing, because workforce needs are changing, and technology has come along so strongly, there’s constantly a need to continue to upgrade our education,” he said.
WIN is designed to address the economic needs of the state through recalibrating education to accommodate emerging industries while continuing to advance current industry.
“All of that is at the center of what WIN is. Better education for our people, more accessible education who are place-bound, more of a horizon for those who want to build businesses here in Wyoming, and really putting into place leadership,” Gordon said.
Both University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel and WWCC President Kim Dale emphasized how important collaboration between the state’s university and community colleges is to grow the state’s economy.
Seidel said that due to Wyoming’s small size, it might be the only state that can have this sort of collaboration.
“We’re probably the only state that actually could do that because we’re small enough, we get to know each other, we get to be friends, we really are dedicated to what the future of the state is,” he said.
Seidel said that the initiative aims to look at how the state can address the current workforce as well as the workforce of the future.
“By that I mean thinking about how do we train our kids for the future of the state’s economy, and then how do we take mid-career or adult workers and help them transition as they might need additional skills as the economy changes,” Seidel said.
The University of Wyoming is looking at how they, as an institution, can drive the future of the economy by supporting existing industries while also helping to diversify the economy as technologies are introduced, Seidel said. However, he said the university is too small to do this across the state. That’s where the collaboration between the university and the state’s community colleges becomes so important.
“Imagine you have eight institutions, seven community colleges and one University of Wyoming, really working hand in glove to figure out how to address these needs that the state has,” he said. “There’s not enough critical mass at any one of these community colleges or even at the University of Wyoming. To really do this at a statewide level, if we work together, we could make a lot of progress.”
President Dale added upon the importance of the collaborative effort, saying that, “we’ve got to partner to move from surviving to thriving.”
“We’ve got to expand our workforce and help our communities grow, ultimately, to help our state grow. And we truly believe that Southwest Wyoming is poised to grow, and it will require all of us to work together to find that workforce and to train that workforce,” Dale said.
Western’s Effort to Expand Programs
At Western, there is a constant and conscious effort to expand their programs in both established industries and growing industries to help build a local workforce. Western works closely with the Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition to try to recruit industry and businesses to the area. Dale said the most common question asked by those looking to bring their businesses to Sweetwater County is “do you have a qualified workforce?” Dale said it is Western’s responsibility to be able to answer yes to that question.
In addition to growing industrial programs, Dale said they are also planning to start up an outdoor recreation program to address the need for quality of life.
“We understand the importance of the quality of life issue. If we are going to grow our economy here in Wyoming, we have to address that as well,” Dale said.
The issue is twofold, Dale said: how does the state recruit industry and how does the the state keep industry here. Sharing resources from college to college and from community to community will be an important aspect to addressing both of these issues statewide.
“We feel strongly that this collaborative effort is really going to boost economic development here in the state, and we’re looking at expanded programming related to new and emerging industries,” Dale said. “Sharing these resources is something that we have to do because we’re all in a situation where we’re having to do more than less, so as partners we can figure this out together.”