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The number of people starting their own business is growing in Wyoming

A clay pressing table in the corner of an old classroom.
Yasmin Acosta
A pressing table tucked into a studio corner at the Laramie Civic Center

Yasmin Acosta shows me how she turns a brick of clay into a new home for plants.

“Yeah, yeah, so I guess it's, like, the leftovers,” said Acosta, hovering over a block of clay.“But I would basically make this into, like, a ball and then flatten up a little bit and then throw it in the slab roller.”

Acosta runs a pottery business called Little Leaf in Laramie Wyoming. It started as a hobby for her, growing house plants and making pottery to hold them. But then she started posting pictures of her work online.

“I think people were like, ‘Oh, I love that. Do you sell it?’” said Acosta. “And the first time I actually sold some, like, took some of my stuff to the farmer’s market, I was so scared. Like, ‘What if people think it’s not great? I’m so new at this.’”

Two years later, Yasmin’s studio is covered with ongoing projects and a large machine for pressing clay. Yasmin is one of 44 million Americans who are self-employed. Starting your own business has become a much more realistic goal in the past few years due to increased internet access and economic change. People in Wyoming have jumped on that opportunity.

Wyoming has the highest rate of entrepreneurs in the country, but Sheridan County has the most in our state. Some 50 percent of residents own their own business.

One such couple is the Sturdevant family. Myca Sturtevant is the owner, lead designer and “chief bucket washer” at Whirly Girl Flowers.

“I was able to go full time, quit my office job in 2018 and be home full time, operate the floral studio,” said Myca.

Her husband Nathan is a licensed land surveyor and runs Northern Wyoming Surveys.

“In 2020, I opened my doors up and kicked off. It was a tough start, but it's been super fun,” said Nathan.

In addition to their businesses, the Sturtevants are also raising a family.

“The first year and a half that we had our son, I was still working part-time in an office setting. And it just was heartbreaking to have to leave him somewhere else, with somebody else,” said Myca. “And so that was my motivating factor to be able to build something so that I could be home with him. But also have a little bit more control over our earning potential.”

However, being self-employed doesn't mean working alone.

“There is help,” said Nathan. “I ended up going to help her schlep buckets. Sometimes I ended up building some of the archwork. I ended up sometimes helping clean the floors in the studio and sweeping all of the beautiful petals out the door.”

“Yeah, it's very much like a joint effort here, you know,” said Myca.Before we even launched his business, we used my business to help grow our savings so that we would have a cushion so that we weren't always operating on such a tiny margin. Because the buck stops with us.”

That joint effort and savings have paid off for them, in part thanks to Wyoming’s business-friendly environment, including the lack of individual or corporate income tax. Another reason is the luck of the marketplace. There’s no guarantee of success when starting your own business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within their first year and the number goes up with each year, 30 percent by the end of the second year, 50 percent by the fifth. In recent years, many who started a self-owned business when COVID hit have returned to the stability offered by a regular paycheck.

So why in Wyoming are a little over a third of full-time and part-time jobs self-employed businesses? Well, according to Wenlin Liu, Chief Economist with the State of Wyoming, it’s three simple factors. Location, location, and you guessed it, population.

“So I think one of the reasons we are the highest in the nation is that we are a big state with the smallest population. Relatively speaking, we do not have many large employers. So that's why probably, for many people, they do not have that chance to become an employee,” said Liu.

According to Liu, self-employment was already growing faster than waged and salaried jobs. Once COVID-19 hit, people began looking for alternative sources of income, less populated areas and ways to save money. The result was places like Sheridan County exploding in self-employment rates.

Many workers probably lost jobs. They have to face economic uncertainty. So that's why that happens and why some of them create their own businesses,” said Liu.

While Liu notes this trend could change in the future, it appears that Wyoming will remain a heavily entrepreneurial state. Wyoming’s population, tax rate and ever-expanding broadband build-out means more and more people have the opportunity to try their hand at self-employment.

If that sounds like you, here’s some advice from fellow, self-employed Wyomingites: figure out your goals, save some money, get ready to be a jack of all trades instead of a master of one.

And then, Acosta says, “Go for it. Because I was so scared. And it took me a while to do it. But I love it. And it was so great. I think people just need to trust in themselves. Like, you got this. You're good. Just do it.”

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.

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