Wyoming is the number one place to start a business, but labor shortages are severe

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By Renée Jean, business and tourism reporter
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The hairy, 400-pound gorillas in the room Wednesday at the Governor’s Business Forum in Laramie were inflation and a 3-to-1 ratio of available jobs to workers in Wyoming.

“There’s a word for the economy we’re living through today, and that word is just ‘strange’,” economist Anne Alexander summed up the situation succinctly.

Inflation affects everyone

Huge cash injections during the 2020 pandemic may have helped prevent businesses from bleeding out available jobs and saved many workers from losing income, but they – along with supply chain problems – have since contributed to record price hikes.

“Inflation is global now,” Alexander said.

In the United States, record high inflation has prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates at a rapid pace.

“They were very hawkish,” Alexander said. “They are trying to cool down an overheated economy. They’re trying to create a recession. And I’m sorry to tell you that that’s your job right now, because inflation is a tax on everyone. Unemployment is painful, but it doesn’t affect everyone.”

Business leaders from across Wyoming gather in Laramie to discuss affordable housing, challenges in the modern workplace, inflation and more during the Governor’s Business Forum. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Labor market “just crazy”

Inflation expectations remain moderate, Alexander said, but the labor market is “just crazy”.

“Another highly technical business term,” Alexander quipped. “The pandemic has accelerated the retirement of our baby boomer generation, and many people have become much choosier about the types of jobs they want to have.”

Adding to this picky job syndrome is a lack of childcare, Alexander said.

“We had 10% of the (national) workforce, so 100,000 people dropped out of this profession,” she said. “This is having a real impact on families who work. So we are here with a lot of sunshine right now.”

What’s wrong with millennials?

Josh Davies, CEO of the Center for Work Ethic Development, meanwhile, shed light on the many issues entrepreneurs face.

His presentation centered on what his company found to be the number one job requirement for employers – good work ethics.

Older generations don’t feel that younger people have a good work ethic, Davies said.

“What’s wrong with this generation?” asked Davies. “I will tell you what is wrong with this generation. The problem is that this generation is ‘privileged, narcissistic, entitled and spoiled’!”

However, Davies revealed that the quotes he quoted weren’t from the period, which everyone might have been thinking of.

question of perspective

These descriptions of young workers were actually from Life Magazine in 1968.

“We’re not talking about millennials, we’re talking about what we now call baby boomers,” he said, adding that complaints about young people go back even further.

“Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer stand up when elders enter the room,” he continued. “They contradict their parents, chatter in front of company, devour treats at the table, cross their legs and bully their teachers.”

This quote is from Socrates.

Meanwhile, everyone still says millennials when they talk about young people, Davies added.

“We have to stop this,” he said. “The oldest millennials turned 41 this year.”

If instead it’s about young people in the workplace, it should be about Generation Z.

“What’s the number one word Millennials use to describe Gen Z?” asked Davies. “Lazy.”

Work ethic can be taught

Regardless of which generation you want to point the finger at, work ethic is something that can be taught, Davies said. But not in the way we are all used to.

“The old approach is we point the finger and punish people,” Davies said. “We would tell them what not to do.”

But the motivation of fear is not as powerful as tapping into the core motivations that drive people. And in a job market where jobs are so readily available, that approach won’t do much to build loyalty either.

Not all doom and gloom

Meanwhile, Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, brought some good news to the forum, especially for Wyoming.

“In the last few years, the last two and a half years, in the United States we’ve seen the largest number of business applications ever,” he said.

That’s not the kind of trajectory the nation saw after the 2008 recession.

Then “we saw new startups crash,” Sullivan said. “It took 10 years to get the trajectory going again. After the outbreak of COVID, it took four months – fourth months – to start an uptrend.

“That are great news; great news for American innovation and ingenuity.”

Why is this good news for Wyoming?

“If you dig a little deeper into the stats, Wyoming leads the pack,” Sullivan said. “You’re seeing 85% more startup growth in this state than in 2019.”

Number two on that list is Delaware, Sullivan said.

“Given the energy in that room during this forum, I think Delaware is going to follow you for a long, long time,” he said.

bring it home

Meanwhile, the participants took everything with intact optimism.

Tandi Rinker, executive director of the Wyoming Health Fairs, told Cowboy State Daily that she particularly appreciates the work ethics panel.

“It’s refreshing to hear that some of the things we’re dealing with aren’t really new,” she said. “These examples go back to Socrates that they had work ethic problems. So the problems we have are not new. They are exactly the same problems.”

She also appreciated advice from Laura Lehan during the Modern Workplace panel on reinstating existing talent and from Chris Brown that smart employers find jobs for talented people even when their skills may not be a perfect match.

“I’m going to re-recruit all[my workers]not just my stars, because the people who need re-recruiting could become a star,” Rinker said. “You just need a chance. So that’s one of the things I’m going to go back and do right away.”

Like many employers today, Rinker is faced with staff shortages, which in turn leads to additional demand for existing employees.

“Everyone wants to travel — until they have to travel,” she said.

She hopes to open offices in Rock Springs and Riverton to reduce the need to travel and alleviate the pressures she believes are driving more sales.

She also no longer thinks about how many positions she has open.

“I wouldn’t stop hiring,” she said. “If you need three, hire five.”

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