Ways to help rural Wisconsin outlined in new report
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Maintaining an office within state government to champion issues unique to rural Wisconsin, prioritizing the needs of rural areas and making sure economic development programs benefit rural areas are among the recommendations made Wednesday by a task force created Gov. Tony Evers.
The governor announced the commission on rural prosperity during his State of the State speech in January. The 12-member commission held three virtual meetings and received comments from more than 500 people across the state before issuing its report and recommendations.
Noting the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to rural areas, the report calls for dedicating more money and resources to those areas to help them recover from the pandemic.
To ensure that young people and new people want to live in rural areas, the report calls for implementing a strategy that includes support for the arts, expansion of high-speed broadband internet and building inclusive, welcoming communities.
Other recommendations include ensuring rural places and Native Americans in rural Wisconsin get a fair shake in accessing state and federal resources; adopting ideas being used in other states to benefit rural areas; and investing more into the University of Wisconsin's satellite campuses and the state's technical colleges.
Specifically, the report calls for investing in county-based educators employed through UW-Madison's Extension division. The task force recommended partnering with UW Extension to help every region of the state understand its assets and create an area-specific development strategy.
Evers, in a statement announcing the report's release, said its recommendations provide a "critically important view of what rural residents and community leaders across our state need" as he works on the state's two-year budget proposal and other priorities.
The Democratic governor will submit his two-year spending plan to the Republican-controlled Legislature, which will then debate it for months before passing a budget next summer.
Missy Hughes, secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., noted that Wisconsin is one of the few states with an office in state government charged with coordinating rural issues. The Office of Rural Prosperity, created by Evers and housed within the WEDC, should take the lead in executing many of the report's recommendations, the task force said.
That office should be charged with coordinating an effort focused on rural and tribal community affairs and making the state's programs and policies more accessible and helpful to rural areas, the report said.
The task force also emphasizes that Wisconsin's Native population must also be a focus of, and included in, efforts to bolster rural areas. That includes strengthening regional councils and regional capacity to help American Indians with applications for grants, loans and other assistance.