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UW hoping to help feed growing tourism industry

Pictured here is Steve Farkas—Associate VP for Economic Development, Diane Shober—Executive Director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, UW President Ed Seidel, John L. Koprowski—Dean of Haub School, and Dan McCoy,—Coordinator of ORTM Degree and New Director of WORTH Initiative.

• WORTH Initiative striving to fill in-state demand.

While Wyoming is well-known for oil, gas, coal and other natural resources to lead the way for its economy, the second-largest industry in the state is travel and tourism. It’s a segment of the economy that’s expected to grow in the coming years. The University of Wyoming is wanting to not only help fill those jobs but perhaps address the issue of keeping UW grads around.

“We do have a degree in outdoor recreation and tourism management,” state Chad Baldwin, Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications with the university. But we have a new report called the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality (WORTH) that is out. The expectation is that where will be a big increase in employment growth in the next six years and there is a shortfall of people coming from the educational system in that industry. So we felt we needed to produce more from our own state.”

Baldwin spoke with SVI as part of the Weekday Wakeup radio program.

According to the numbers from the WORTH report, in 2023, Wyoming’s travel industry supported more than 33,000 jobs, and travelers spent $4.5 billion, making a significant impact on the state’s economy. Despite these impressive figures, the report identifies a gap in the skilled workforce necessary to support the industry’s continued growth and development.

The report, supported by Gov. Mark Gordon’s Wyoming Innovation Partnership, found a decline in enrollment and graduation in tourism and hospitality-related programs post-COVID-19, with recovery lagging behind the demand for skilled workers. Programs related to outdoor recreation and leadership have seen increasing popularity, indicating a shift in demand.

Key findings from the report include:

— A 24 percent projected increase in employment within the travel industry by 2030, significantly outpacing the overall state employment growth.

— A shortfall in the number of skilled workers emerging from educational programs relative to the needs of the industry.

WORTH researchers recommended focusing on boosting enrollment and program visibility, enhancing partnerships between educational institutions and industry stakeholders, and expanding training programs to address specific industry skills gaps.

Baldwin pointed out that the tourism in the state lends itself to helping keep UW graduates in Wyoming.

“We hear a lot about students who come to UW and get their degree and leave,” he said.  “This is a degree where in-state demand is high and we’re going to try and fill those spots.”

“It will be a student-recruitment effort. It might involved some marketing or face to face recruitment. I think it will be a multi-faceted approach to this.”

Dan McCoy, WORTH interim director, emphasized the importance of the findings.

“Our report highlights the need for strategic investments in education and workforce development to keep pace with the industry’s demands,” McCoy says. “By strengthening the ties between educational institutions and the travel industry, we can ensure a more robust and skilled workforce to support Wyoming’s economic future.”

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