Young Wyomingites’ insights sought at up-coming 2019 ‘ENGAGE’ Summit in Casper

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Dillow Photography via ENGAGE)

CASPER, Wyo. — Amber wants young Wyomingites to consider joining the 2019 “ENGAGE” Summit in Casper. And so does Amber.

Those Ambers are ENGAGE President Amber Savage and Backwards Distilling Company co-owner Amber Pollock, who sits on the “ENDOW” Executive Council after former Wyoming Governor Matt Mead appointed her to this position in 2018.

Savage grew up in Lovell and says that as a kid, she remembers thinking Casper was “always kind of a drag.”

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But not anymore.

“Casper has suddenly become cool in the last four years,” she says. “Casper didn’t become cool on accident.”

That’s one reason that Wyoming’s second largest city was selected to host the second annual ENGAGE Summit.

“ENGAGE” stands for “Empowering the Next Generations to Advance and Grow the Economy.” While the economy will be part of the focus of the Saturday, Sept. 7 summit, other things will be discussed as well.

The summit is geared mainly toward 18-35 year old Wyomingites, aiming to bring “together the next generation of Wyoming citizens to learn, educate, network and engage on economic, civil and social topics critical to the Cowboy State.”

People can register online to attend the free summit. Those who fall outside of the 18-35 age range can register to attend as observers.

Pollock will be involved with the event as Backwards is set to host an opening mixer from 5-8 pm Friday, Sept. 6 at their distillery location at 158 Progress Circle in Mills.

People can register at that mixer as well and begin to network with other attendees. Pollock will also present on Casper as a case study during a breakout session on Saturday.

“This year’s theme is ‘New Roots,'” Pollock says. “The kind of bent of it is to give young Wyomingites 18-35 the tools to put down new roots in their communities.”

She explains that ENGAGE is related to the ENDOW initiative, which aims to “dramatically change Wyoming’s economy over next 20 years.”

“Inspired by the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) initiative, and with encouragement from former Wyoming Governor Matt. Mead and current Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, ENGAGE provides a platform for young Wyoming people to make their thoughts, hopes, and vision for Wyoming heard and work collaboratively to build a future Wyoming they want to live in, work in and inherit,” an event announcement says.”

Savage says that with the right tools, young people can “create the state we want to inherit.”

She adds that Casper’s “vibrant” downtown, art walks, David Street Station and other assets and activities make it the perfect example for those around the state thinking about what is possible for the future.

“I think Casper is the greatest case study of what can be possible when people put effort into their community,” Savage says.

Part of that requires a mindset change on her own part.

“Don’t just assume these communities are dead or a drag,” Savage encourages people, adding a few questions young people can ask themselves. “What are your dreams? What would make the biggest difference?”

“How can we leverage what we have in the state?”

Thinking about these things doesn’t mean shying away from a critical look at the state. Revenue, for example, is something that Savage says people need to think about how to address in a long-term, sustainable way.

She also says people should acknowledge the demographics of Wyoming.

“Wyoming is undeniably homogeneous,” Savage says. “That is not a criticism.”

One aspect of the summit will be to discuss such issues, thinking about ways Wyoming can encourage more diversity and inclusion.

The summit will include various breakout sessions, all held at locations within walking distance of one another in downtown Casper including: Yellowstone Garage, Good Food Hub, Adbay, Casper City Hall, Basement Shift and the Nicolaysen Art Museum. (A full schedule is available online).

Discussion topics include:

  • Grant Writing
  • Local Food Systems
  • Nuts & Bolts of Entrepreneurship
  • Civic Engagement
  • Communities & Higher Education
  • Arts & Economy
  • Diversity & Inclusion

“The goal is for every individual to leave the Summit with a new or expanded set of tools, enabling them to advance their own passions, contribute to their communities, and be a part of advancing and growing Wyoming,” the event announcement says.

Pollock says the summit is organized a little differently than some conferences in that people won’t be asked to just sit quiet and listen to lecturers.

“It’s really for anybody who has interest in the future of Wyoming and feels motivated to help contribute to making Wyoming a place they want to be on a long term basis going forward,” she says. “It’s really kind of a response to the fact that so many young people leave Wyoming because they’re not finding the kind of opportunities they want to find here.”

“This is trying to put together a grass roots effort to change that, to make it a place that people will want to stay.”

Another way the summit will attempt to support that is by offering breakout sessions geared to bring people from similar regions of the state together.

“People from similar areas can get together and talk,” Savage says.

That may help foster more ideas about what can be done to enliven the state.

“You can do some things in Wyoming you can’t do in any other place,” she adds.

Savage says that over 200 people attended the 2018 summit in Laramie. Feedback from that summit suggested people wanted a little more info about what resources are available to them around Wyoming, so organizers aim to provide more of that this year.

But ENGAGE doesn’t want to direct people in a top-down way.

“The last thing we want to have happen is have ENGAGE tell people what to do,” Savage says. “Community building happens at the ground level. We don’t need to wait.”

Pollock says that “anybody who is compelled or motivated to have a hand in that development in any capacity” should consider attending.

With Wyoming being spread out, she also asks people interested in what ENGAGE is doing to share the word with others.

She says it is critical that young people be heard in discussion about Wyoming’s future.

“We want to make sure the voice of that demographic is being heard,” Pollock says. “There is a risk of their voice not coming through.”

“I think it is really critical that perspective is at the table.”

While there is no registration deadline, Pollock says people should do so as soon as possible since event coordinators are working to figure out how much food they’ll need, which will be provided for free.

“I think right now Wyoming is in this really cool spot,” Savage says. “What’s next? That’s what people are trying to answer.”