Younger Population in Rock Springs, WY
Sweetwater County is looking pretty young these days. In less than 10 years, the average age of its residents has dropped from 47 to 32.7.
“That’s a dramatic shift in a short amount of time,” says Dave Hanks, director of the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce. “The national average age is 35.7. We used to be an older community, but in recent years that’s changed.”
The largest factor is the retirement of the area’s aging workforce, many of which work for area mining and extracting corporations.
“A lot of people working at those plants came here in the 1970s and early 1980s,” says Hanks. “They were in their early 20s and have worked for 30 to 35 years. Now they’re retiring and up to 40% of the workforce is turning over. Their jobs are being filled by people 35 and younger. The huge influx we saw in the 1970s and 1980s, we’re seeing again.”
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the population in Sweetwater County grew by 16.5 percent, which was among the top five growing counties in Wyoming. The large swell in the population has impacted area schools, health and safety services and recreational opportunities.
Growth in Major Industires
Enrollment in area schools has increased during the last eight years; the previous 12 years saw a decline in student enrollment. Five different construction projects on schools have happened, including the addition of three new elementary schools and two school expansions and remodels. During the 2011-2012 school year, 55 new teachers were hired due to expanding classrooms and teacher retirement.
The hospital is also being impacted, especially in the maternity ward. In the past, 200 to 300 babies would be born in the county each year. In 2011, 857 babies were born.
Hanks says a lot of people who grew up here and moved away after graduating from college in the late 1990s and mid-2000s are moving back because they like the area.
Dylan Schmidt grew up in Rock Springs but moved to Des Moines, Iowa, with his family. When the housing market there crashed, he moved back to Rock Springs to work at Unique Signs & Designs as a designer.
“Rock Springs has grown a lot,” he says. “To see a Starbucks in town was great! I’m glad I gave it a second chance.”
In addition to Starbucks, other stores are being drawn to the area’s changing demographic. Retail chains, especially those that cater to infants, toddlers and preteens, are coming. For adults, cutting-edge clothing stores, such as Trendy X Change, are opening. And a wider variety of products geared to the younger market, such as electronics, can be found at discount prices.
“The area is changing dramatically,” Hanks says. “Opportunities are here that didn’t exist before.”
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