By Ilana Newman, The Daily Yonder Read more
In small towns like Lander, Wyoming, it can be challenging to recruit young people for full-time jobs. Eric Andrews, a longtime accountant and board president of the Lander Chamber of Commerce, knows that challenge well. “We can go to the University of Wyoming all day long and recruit,” he says. “But we’re going to lose a lot of young people to bigger cities where there’s more to do.”
And when young people do choose Lander, businesses struggle to keep them around, in part because it’s hard for young people to build professional relationships and make connections within the community. It’s an endemic problem in Wyoming, a state with one of the fastest-aging populations in the country, where over the past decade the millennial population has decreased six percent, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
In the summer of 2021, a few Lander locals began working to change that. Tory Thoman, an accountant who works with Andrews at Fagnant, Lewis & Brinda, P.C., confided in him that she was craving more community. And together with Brian Craig, an engineer at Strike Consulting, she began building what has become the Lander Young Professionals (LYP)—a group of young people forming bonds over networking events and acts of service.
“We’re trying to set the foundation for people to build connections,” Thoman says. “It’s easier to be in positions of leadership when you do have good relationships.”
The first event, held in August at the Coalter Loft, brought in about 50 young people—and a few weeks later they gathered in a park to write letters to elderly residents of Westward Heights Care Center, a local senior living community. The group gathered twice more in the fall, which included organizing a canned food drive for the Lander Care and Share Food Bank.
“We’re trying to set the foundation for people to build connections. It’s easier to be in positions of leadership when you have good relationships.”
Around the same time Thoman and another LYP member, Michaela Kechter, were working with Andrews and Owen Sweeney, executive director of the Lander Chamber of Commerce, to bring the LYP group under the umbrella of the chamber—a move that allowed LYP to receive outside donations via the chamber. But they still needed help planning for the future, so Andrews introduced the LYP group to Michelle Escudero, community officer for the LOR Foundation.
Escudero met with the LYP members, who outlined what the group would need going forward. Namely, they needed funding for future events and they also needed guidance putting together their mission, goals, and marketing strategy beyond 2022. LOR made a $7,250 grant to sponsor five additional events—the bulk of LYP’s 2022 programming—and to develop a marketing and sustainability plan, which will help the group connect with other organizations and bring in additional sponsorship dollars.
“Employers in Lander spend a lot of time recruiting young talent, and many of those folks end up leaving within a year’s time,” Escudero says. “Young people need social connection; some need career and professional connection. This LYP group is trying to offer both—and helping them sustain that mission is something the LOR Foundation was eager to support.”
The most recent LYP event—the first sponsored by LOR—was held in February at the Coalter Loft and brought in nearly 60 young people, including more than 20 who joined for the first time. Thoman was encouraged by the connections she saw form, especially because the group is taking networking seriously. She sees it as the groundwork for a new generation of civic leaders in Lander—a foundation that just might keep young people around.
Get Involved with the LYP!
Want to make a donation to the Lander Young Professionals, offer a venue where they can host an event, or sign up to join? Contact the Lander Chamber of Commerce.Contact the Chamber
Share an Idea
If you have an idea for improving quality of life in Cortez or Monte Vista, Colorado; Lander, Wyoming; Libby, Montana; Questa or Taos, New Mexico; or Weiser, Idaho, use this form to start a conversation with us.