Since 1999, civic initiative called Leadership Wyoming has sought to connect the movers and shakers from the private, public and non-profit sectors statewide. Participants leave their jobs for a few days each month to learn about different issues in different communities across Wyoming. Recently, Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez tagged along on the group’s visit to Lander. She filed this report.
DORAN FLUCKIGER: My name is Doran Fluckiger, I’m from Star Valley Wyoming. We’re here as Leadership Wyoming, and we're going to interview some of the small businesses in Lander, Wyoming. And we’re starting off at KOVE, a radio station, so we’re gonna ask them some questions and go from there.
REBECCA MARTINEZ: The focus of this week’s project is entrepreneurship and the economy, so Fluckiger and his and fellow Leadership Wyoming participant, Dan Ewart, are interviewing Joe Kenney. Kenney is a radio talk show host with a silver pompadour and side burns. He owns KOVE, an AM station that broadcasts across Fremont County.
FLUCKIGER: What’s your biggest hardship? What makes it difficult to do business in Lander Wyoming, or Wyoming in general?
JOE KENNEY: Well you don’t have, there aren’t people coming through the door every day looking for jobs.
MARTINEZ: Kenney says good help is hard to find, as not many people are dying to work in radio these days. KOVE makes its money from advertising, and Kenney wants more businesses to set up in Lander. He thinks it would help if uranium and other mining companies would move back to operate in the area.
KENNEY: Being in Business isn’t for the faint of heart, ‘cause you know how much it costs to unlock that door every day.
MARTINEZ: The Wyoming Heritage Foundation and the University of Wyoming created leadership Wyoming more than a decade ago, based on a Colorado program designed to develop leadership skills. Interested parties apply to join the nine-month program, and about 40 are selected each year from a range of jobs, ages, and geographic locations statewide. The ranks include people who work in healthcare, energy conservation, and government. Currently, there are three state representatives and a senator in the program. They network and make friends with participants they might not otherwise meet. And they visit work sites throughout the state. Beyond Lander businesses, they’ve toured and talked with workers at a ranch and a coal mine in Gillette, schools in Rock Springs, government offices in Cheyenne. Later this month, they’ll visit a welfare distribution office in Casper.
Leadership Wyoming Executive Director Bill Schilling says learning as a group makes participants more resourceful and open to group problem-solving.
BILL SCHILLING: They have a better understanding as how to ask questions and seek solutions to challenging problems that face the state. They tend to be less judgmental than, perhaps, they might have been when they came into the program.
MARTINEZ: John Gans, who directs the non-profit National Outdoor Leadership School – or NOLS – in Lander, used to serve on Leadership Wyoming’s advisory board. Gans thinks the program effectively represents Wyoming’s demographics, which are largely conservative and pro-business. But Leadership Wyoming events and speakers don’t delve as deeply into environmental, conservation and diversity issues as he’d like.
JOHN GANS: Overall I think the program does a great job of bringing in speakers from both sides. I just think realistically it can’t fully be done when the makeup of your citizenry is definitely skewed to one side in the state.
MARTINEZ: Still, Gans says the leadership training and networking opportunities are invaluable, and he sends an employee to Leadership Wyoming every other year.
But participating in these monthly trips means time missed from a participant’s day job. There’s also a fee to participate. That’s around three thousand dollars out of the sponsoring businesses or participant’s own pocket.
Participant Doran Fluckiger is an accountant at Silverstar Communications in Western Wyoming. Silverstar’s president, Ron McCue, says he sees potential in Fluckiger, and thinks Leadership Wyoming is a good investment in his future with the company.
RON MCCUE: There’s no doubt in my mind that company will benefit either financially through better deal making, more of a win-win proposition, instead of I win, you lose arrangements. I think Leadership Wyoming does that really well.
MARTINEZ: Cities and counties around the state have begun local, independent Leadership programs based on similar models.
Back at K-O-V-E, station owner Joe Kenney tells Fluckiger and his teammate that Leadership Wyoming has a reputation as a springboard for people with lofty aspirations.
KENNEY: Be careful, because you might just get elected governor. ‘Cause the last one that came here and did this was Matt.
FLUCKIGER: I don’t foresee myself running for governor any day soon, but I’m heavily involved with Boy Scouts, I’m heavily involved with different church activities and school activities, I will hopefully implement some of those things in my community.
MARTINEZ: Leadership Wyoming will accept applications for its 2013 class until April 4.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez.