Wes Womack is an engineer at Epsilon Technology Corp in Jackson Hole and a volunteer with the Jackson Hole High School robotics program.
WBC: How’d you find yourself in Jackson Hole?
WW: I would call it a God thing. My parents moved to Jackson about 15 years ago, and we would come visit. After graduate school at Colorado State University, my wife and I came to Jackson to hang out for the summer while looking for work. My wife is also an engineer; we had no expectations of finding work for both of us in Jackson and we were looking throughout the whole Mountain West. I heard about a robotics position open at Square One Systems Design, related to what I’d just been doing in grad school, right here in town. I walked over and ended up getting a job there for a couple of years.
WBC: And your wife found work, as well?
WW: Yes, in fact, at Epsilon. She convinced them they needed her, and they did. And after a couple of years, I had the opportunity to move over to Epsilon, as well. We’re very fortunate to have found meaningful technical work here.
WBC: What is Epsilon and what do you do there?
WW: We produce sensors for material testing used by all sorts of companies like GE, Amazon, Tesla – any major manufacturer that makes physical stuff, our equipment is probably used somewhere in their process. We’re one of the top manufacturers in the world for our niche market, and entirely located in Wyoming, from design to production. I am the director of engineering here.
WBC: You volunteer with the Jackson Hole High School’s robotics program, too, right? How did you get involved with that?
WW: Yes, I love the First Robotics program. In my second year here in Jackson, a teacher at the high school who was just launching the robotics program came by looking for volunteers, and as soon as he described it, I was on board immediately. It is a fantastic program that I wish I’d had as a youth.
WBC: Can you describe the program?
WW: The kids spend a few weeks or months designing, building and programming robots for competitive tournament “sports” with robots. It’s a lot of fun. It’s like a cross between a sporting event and a rock concert.
WBC: What is the robotics program doing for the kids?
WW: It builds up a skillset that prepares them for so much in life. They’re given a problem, like how to make a robot climb a pole, for example. Everybody tosses out ideas, and they figure out that most of the ideas don’t work. But they must be brave enough to put their idea out there, have it dissected, defend it, and then let it die. That really is a skillset that the younger kids have a hard time with: having an idea chopped up and tossed out. It develops resiliency and teamwork that will serve them well in all sorts of capacities throughout their lives.
WBC: And what is it doing for your industry?
WW: The program fosters a creative technical approach to problem solving that’s just so valuable. The resilience and willingness to jump in and make mistakes is what makes them great interns. I’ve had several of my robotics kids intern with me at Square One and Epsilon. I always prefer a kid who’s gone through the robotics program than one who didn’t.
WBC: Have you hired any?
WW: Yes, I’ve hired two or three. Many alumni end up at the University of Wyoming, and many come back on their school breaks to help with the robotics kids because they loved the program and they miss it.
WBC: Are they finding work in Wyoming?
WW: Some do. I can think of several that are still here. Some would prefer to stay in Wyoming but end up in bigger cities for the job opportunities. And they’re young; some want to go somewhere else for social reasons. But if we keep building up tech opportunities in Wyoming, maybe down the road they’ll come back. Jackson Hole, specifically, has the added problem of cost of living. There’s no shortage of people who want to come here, but the majority are turned off by the compensation relative to the cost of living here, either right out of the gate or after a couple of years.
WBC: Besides your work, what keeps you in Jackson?
WW: I love what I do and I love where I live. Love it, love it, love it. Plus, I get to commute on my bike something like 250 days a year. There’s a bike path that I can ride half-way to Yellowstone from my back door. Summer and fall in the mountains are what I love most; and in the winter, of course it’s the skiing. Wyoming is just great, but you must be committed to being here, as you must make sacrifices to stay. I took a trip to Los Angeles this year and visited several major manufacturers you'd know, and got down in weeds, into way-cool technical nerdy stuff. I had a moment of nerd envy and wondered if maybe I’d made the wrong choice by locating in Jackson. But then I walked outside and I was in Los Angeles. Right away, that envy was gone. I don’t feel drawn to other places; I can’t imagine being away from the Mountain West.