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Jackson locals comment on Wyoming's future

Downtown Jackson, Wyoming's antler arch
Cooper McKim
/
Wyoming Public Radio

Jackson Hole is in a unique position in Wyoming. While it's a cornerstone of the state's economy, it's often considered separate from the equality state. Energy and natural resources reporter Cooper McKim recently visited the western Wyoming town to gauge how locals felt about the state and the area's future. He spoke with news director Bob Beck about the visit.

Bob Beck: So, Cooper, what were some of your takeaways after visiting Jackson Hole and asking folks about the state's future?

Cooper McKim: First of all, it just was not what I expected. For context, I went to Rock Springs right before getting to Jackson and had a much different experience. When I asked locals there about the state's future, most of the comments were related to energy and that, to me, is the huge question relating to the state's future. Wyoming's economy relies on resources like coal, which are going away. So what's next?

But in Jackson, the responses were just different. Energy clearly wasn't on people's minds. Almost no one brought up the state's economic woes or energy in general, unless I explicitly brought it up.

Beck: "Almost no one." So, it did come up to some extent?

McKim: Yeah, for a few folks. So, I walked around for several hours and visited with around 20 locals. I got rejected a lot, which was a different experience than Rock Springs already. A lot of people were in a rush or otherwise uninterested in talking with me.

I had the most luck meeting people just walking down the street. Like I said, nearly no one mentioned the state's reliance on energy as a problem in its future, but there is one guy named Hans who was walking down a side street in downtown Jackson.

"The only thing I see in the state of Wyoming is that we rely too much on gas and oil and not taxing the rich. Now finally, we're out of money. We're slowly depleting everything that we have," said Hans.

The only explicit comment I got about the state's economy came unprovoked. It was actually a young person and former University of Wyoming graduate named Riley. She said the state has to move away from its boom-bust economy.

"It's not only not sustainable for the environment, but it's not sustainable for the people to be reliant on a non-renewable source," said Riley, a waitress in downtown Jackson.

The other energy comments I got were about more or less green energy, which is a huge question for Wyoming's future. There wasn't resounding support or opposition honestly. I probably heard three or four people with some skepticism about renewables, like this one young guy named Chris Bates.

"I have heard that wind does affect both animal populations, and then from [an] ecological standpoint, that is not as highly touted as it could be," said Bates, who has been in Jackson for about four years.

Beck: So, the comments you got weren't what you expected in general. Did Jackson locals bring up other issues that weren't on your mind?

McKim: Yeah, so, I heard some people wanted a better education system in the state, wanted more carbon capture, which was surprising. One woman working at a shop downtown said she's happy because the state's conservative.

"I definitely like our conservative government or governor. Jackson is definitely liberal," said the employee, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Others said they're happy because the economy is doing great -- at least locally. Some said they wanted the state to tax the rich, do a better job addressing the state's constant droughts. And a lot of people brought up issues related to wildlife, like wanting more overpasses. That's a bit more expected considering we're right near Yellowstone and the Tetons. I also heard several folks wanting the state to do more to protect against climate change.

"You can see with your bare eyes the changes to our winters. There are more days than I can remember where you couldn't see the Tetons because of smoke. Water temperatures, water levels, you know, all of that affects what we're doing and what we care about," said Randolph, who works at an outdoors store downtown.

Beck: Was there anything else surprising that you found during your visit?

McKim: Yeah, how often people talked about housing. To be clear, I am not that familiar with Jackson. I cover energy first. I know housing is an issue generally there, but I don't think I realized just how intense discussions were. Every single person brought up housing as their number one issue.

"We have a major housing shortage," said Joline Crosby, an employee at an outdoor store.

"A big part of the issue is definitely housing. So local housing populations," said Chris Bates.

"I'm more concerned about all my friends' housing. Really that's the big issue," said Pat, who was on the job.

McKim: So yeah, it's not totally unexpected, but there were wrinkles I didn't really know about. Like, I met several workers who have to drive into Jackson from Idaho just to work. I heard some definite frustration from one worker.

"The little man's getting shit on in this town. You know, we're getting stomped down. So it's like, right now I'm looking at having to move over to Idaho, possibly even out of the city and state," said Hans.

Beck: Sounds like you heard from plenty of opinionated people. I heard you ran into a state legislator as well?

McKim: Near the end of my day, I did run into a state representative from the area, Mike Yin. I asked him the same question I've been bothering everyone else with. Is Wyoming on the right track? He had an interesting perspective, saying, there needs to be more vision.

"So that's what I'm interested in is, where do we want our state to be economically in 5, 10, 15 years? What do we want that to look like? And I don't think anyone in the state has put forward a clear plan of what that is, and what that means," said Yin.

Beck: Well, Cooper thanks for joining us and sharing all these perspectives out of Jackson. And this is your last piece for the station. We will sadly miss you.

McKim: Thanks, Bob. My pleasure.

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