Extension, WEDC support economic development in rural communities

(Image Source: Dave Hoefler / Unsplash)

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.

“This initiative is designed to give our state’s smallest communities the tools needed to plan and build a prosperous future,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development agency. “What’s most exciting about this program is that it is just a beginning. The goal is to develop the tools and resources so that more rural communities can strengthen local economic development efforts.”

The pilot program, Community Economic Analysis for Rural Wisconsin Communities (CEA-RWC), gives rural communities the necessary resources to engage in comprehensive economic development planning. CEA-RWC is a joint effort between the Division of Extension and WEDC. The pilot is funded through a $150,000 Capacity Building Grant from WEDC.

“Extension is very excited to work with local community leaders as they set out to create strong local economies to support their residents,” Brandon Hofstedt, Extension’s Community Economic Development program manager, said.

The five communities chosen to participate are: Brodhead, Gilman, the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, Mellen-Morse, and Pittsville.

Brodhead is a city in Green and Rock counties with a population of nearly 3,300. Officials there are looking to increase economic development to make Brodhead a more resilient community for current and future generations. Specifically, officials want to address needs around housing and child care and promote entrepreneurship.

Officials in Gilman, a village in Taylor County, aim to reach 3,000 residents by engaging the surrounding communities that comprise the Gilman School District. Officials want to conduct a housing study and develop a strategic plan to make commercial space more attractive to new businesses.

The Lac du Flambeau Tribe has a population of nearly 1,850 in Vilas County. Officials there are looking to improve workforce development training and programs, which will assist in diversifying the local economy. Officials also hope to develop a strategic plan to address needs around housing and child care.

Mellen and Morse, neighboring municipalities in Ashland County, have a combined population of nearly 1,200. Officials want to diversify the local economy, which includes exploring the development of a tourism economy. In doing so, officials hope to serve as a model for other rural communities.

Officials in Pittsville, a city in Wood County, aim to reach 3,000 residents by engaging the surrounding communities that comprise the Pittsville School District. Officials want to develop a marketing strategy to promote the district to prospective residents and visitors alike and identify potential projects to meet housing needs.

CEA-RWC seeks to understand the challenges unique to rural communities in Wisconsin by bringing a structured strategic planning process to these communities. Lessons learned from this initiative will provide valuable insight that other communities can use. Pilot communities will work with Extension and WEDC through June 30, 2024.

This project is supported through a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Capacity Building Grant Program.

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