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The Community Economic Development program promotes local economic well-being and quality of life in Wisconsin communities. We work with and support community economic development practitioners and organizations, tribal and governmental entities, and business and nonprofit organizations and help gain access to the information, research, education, and technical assistance necessary to make informed decisions.

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Program Updates

Renewed Concerns Over Regional Cost of Living

With rates of inflation not seen in years coupled with the rising costs of housing, concerns over costs of living have been renewed.  But costs of living vary greatly across the U.S. 

Econ Quiz: Labor Force Participation

From the 1960s through the end of the 20th century the participation rate among all Americans aged 25 to 54 climbed from 64.2% in January 1948 to a peak of 84.6% in January 1999. This rise was fueled, in large part, by women entering the workforce.

Higher Share of Wisconsin Employees Working from Home

Overall, an estimated 35.1% of Wisconsin’s workers could potentially work from home.  The census tracts where these workers live are distributed throughout the state and somewhat reflect the overall distribution of the state’s labor force.  The exceptions to this distribution tend to be in Dane, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.  These three counties are the home of almost 33% of the state’s workers but are the county of residence for 36% of the employees who could work from home. 

Econ Quiz: Cost of Tuition

It’s no secret that higher education comes at a cost. A recent WIndicator, Returns to Higher Education,  from Steven Deller reviews the trade-offs in how higher education is financed. Public universities are funded, in part, by tax dollars with a portion of the cost of attendance covered by the state and the remainder paid by students as tuition and fees. This portion of tuition charged to students has varied throughout the decades.

Internet For All: Connecting Wisconsin Kickoff

This free day-long event will bring together critical stakeholders in Wisconsin from state and local governments, Tribal communities, federal agencies, and industry to discuss coordination on high-speed Internet infrastructure deployment and digital equity efforts as the state prepares to launch the Internet for All initiative in Wisconsin under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Supporting Business Succession & Transition: Lessons Learned from Minnesota

This webinar will describe efforts at the University of Minnesota Extension to work across organizations to raise awareness among business owners and create support for business succession and transition (BST) planning in rural areas. Minnesota Extension has done research on community BST efforts and created community cohort classes and online courses for business.

Latest Work

Supporting Business Succession & Transition: Lessons Learned from Minnesota
WIndicators Volume 5, Number 5: Understanding and Mobilizing the Potential of Entrepreneurs of Color in Wisconsin 
Pandemic Fad or Here to Stay? Impacts of Remote Work on Employees, Businesses and Communities
COVID-19 and the Economy: U.S. Resident Experiences in the Late Stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic
2022 Northwoods Economic Development Summit
A Broader Vision of Quality of Life as Economic Development Policy

County News

Rural Entrepreneurship Gets Boost with Outreach Funding

UW-Madison Extension is proud to join with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) on a new initiative to support rural entrepreneurship across the state. As announced by Gov. Tony Evers today, a $1 million initiative led by Extension and WEDC will provide much-needed resources, support, and technical assistance to rural entrepreneurs in need of support to start a business or bolster their existing business.

Extension, WEDC support economic development in rural communities

Five rural Wisconsin communities will receive help jumpstarting their economic development plans as part of a University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) pilot program.

Forest County Broadband Committee Named NDIA National Digital Navigator Corps Grantee

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced today that the Forest County Broadband Committee will be one of 18 organizations that will launch the National Digital Navigator Corps. The grant from NDIA is part of $10 million of support from Google.org, which will go toward the hiring of the community-based digital navigators alongside programmatic and technical support to further develop NDIA’s digital navigator model for rural and Tribal communities.

‘We’re not the only people struggling’: Bayfield County moves forward on efforts to address housing shortage

One northern Wisconsin county is moving forward on a plan to address its housing shortage as the county sees high demand for senior and workforce housing.The Bayfield County board unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to support the development of 40 to 60 housing units on nearly 10 acres of land that would be donated by the county.

Design Wisconsin: Hustisford Design Team

On May 12, 2022, a group of 20 planning and design professionals found their way to Hustisford (17 in person, and 3 remotely) to dedicate their time and expertise in hopes of helping the community discover a shared vision for the future. The purpose of this document is to provide details as to the purpose, process, and outputs of the Design Hustisford program.

Design Wisconsin: La Valle Design Team

In response to severe flood events, the Village of La Valle, Wisconsin has been awarded federal funding to assist in flood mitigation and recovery. As part of the planning process, a group of local residents formed the La Valle Revitalization Committee. The purpose of the committee is to provide leadership and community representation.

In the News

UW expert weighs in on possible recession, inflation’s impact on students
State ranked 30th for cost of living
Wisconsin’s housing shortage isn’t just a quality-of-life issue. It’s a workforce issue.
Crist misleads in tweet claiming Florida is ‘most expensive’ state
Gov. Evers, WEDC Announce $1 Million Initiative to Support Rural Entrepreneurs
Digital Navigator position to teach Forest County residents all about basic computer and internet skills

Recent Publications

Are We in the 4th Wave of Economic Development?

How states, as well as communities, have approached economic growth and development policy has varied over time, going through various stages or waves. The idea that we have gone through three such stages or waves has been widely discussed and studied by both academics and practitioners. In this address, I lay out a series of arguments that we have entered a fourth stage or wave in how communities approach economic growth and development. Specifically, communities are refocusing their attention less so on promoting business development and more on making their community attractive to people. Sometimes referred to as “place-making,” the idea is that if we make the community as attractive to people as possible, people will want to live in the community and create business opportunities. This shift from focusing on people rather than businesses is fundamental to how communities think about economic growth and development.

Where are Wisconsin’s Workers?

Wisconsin had an estimated 230,000 job openings in July 2021, which was by far the highest number in the last two decades. More recent figures suggest somewhat of a decrease from this peak, but the preliminary estimate of 210,000 openings in October 2021 remains well over the monthly average of 154,000 openings found in 2019. While it may be tempting to attribute the large number of job openings to factors stemming from the emergence of COVID-19, such as the availability of enhanced unemployment benefits, many employers expressed challenges with finding employees prior to the start of the pandemic. In fact, the number of Wisconsin job openings has been steadily increasing since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Consequently, we must consider a breadth of factors, both related and unrelated to the pandemic, to better understand labor availability.

Opportunity, Necessity, and No One in the Middle: A Closer Look at Small, Rural, and Female-Led Entrepreneurship in the United States

Female entrepreneurs in rural America are rarely studied, despite local economic context likely shaping their (self-) employment choices. Development literature suggests entrepreneurship is most prevalent at the lowest and highest income levels, creating a U-shaped relationship between economic development measured with per capita income on the x-axis and the entrepreneurship rate (startups) on the y-axis. At the county level in the United States, we find that female-led startup rates vary with per capita income in the predicted U-shape. Results provide support for place-based entrepreneurship policy and highlight challenges women face while trying to contribute to the rural economy.

Effect of Farm Structure on Rural Community Well-Being

The current crisis in US agriculture has seen a growing number of farm bankruptcies. The result has been a “hollowing out” of the middle in the distribution of farm size, with growth in the number of both very large and small farms. A growing number of farms are operated by part-time farmers whose primary occupation is no longer farming. What are some implications of these changes for the well-being of rural communities? Using U.S. non-metropolitan (rural) county level data, we explore how the changing nature of farming has affected community well-being as understood through seven diverse measures. In general, we find conflicting evidence on the impact of farm structure on community well-being. In the end our results suggest that the logical conclusion of what has become known as the Goldschmidt hypothesis line of thinking that the movement to fewer and larger farms will necessarily harm the well-being of the larger community is not supported by the data.

Rural Broadband Speeds and Business Startup Rates

Using 2014 U.S. nonmetropolitan county-level data, we explore the relationship between broadband speeds and business startup rates. Rural development policy discussions have presumed that access to broadband has become a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for economic growth and development. The relationship between broadband access on business startups, which are vital to local economic vibrancy, may be key to understanding the link between broadband and growth. In this study, we explore how qualitative features of broadband influence startup rates across different types of industries. To refine our insights into these relationships, we look at broadband by speed (both download and upload coverage across four speed categories). We also consider the importance of mobile broadband availability, which is often ignored in empirical studies. Because of the presence of spatial dependency within the data and the fact that data on business startup rates is limited to the minority of establishments that have employees, we use a Bayesian spatial Tobit estimator. After controlling for a host of variables likely to influence economic growth, we find that broadband coverage does matter and that download speeds tend to be more important than upload speeds. This pattern holds for mobile coverage as well. Perhaps the most important finding is that the results vary across business type: what matters for new businesses in one industry may not matter for other industry classifications. In the end, our results reaffirm the policy notion that access to broadband is increasingly relevant to rural entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship, Broadband, and Gender: Evidence from Establishment Births in Rural America

Broadband access may have important implications for establishment births in rural areas, which feature thinner markets. Broadband may be especially important for rural nonemployer businesses, particularly those without a storefront, for access to nontraditional market channels. As women are more likely to run these types of small businesses, we further expect that broadband may have important implications for women-led businesses. With an effective instrumental variable approach, we find evidence that broadband access is a key factor leading to a higher establishment birth rate across business size and gender in rural areas. This paper identifies the largest effects on nonemployer, women-led and remote rural establishments.

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