State website offers resources, highlights innovation
A new spotlight is shining on Wisconsin’s rural communities and their residents with the launch of a state website: ruralwi.com—”a place for rural Wisconsin to find opportunities, celebrate our success and build a strong future.”
A project of WEDC’s Office of Rural Prosperity, the website provides a window into the multitude of resources available to assist rural development projects as well as examples of innovative programs that have boosted the economy, bolstered educational opportunities, increased involvement in nature and expanded services to rural communities. The website also plans to feature the voices of and resources for Wisconsin’s Native American tribes.
“Wisconsin’s rural communities face unique challenges,” said Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO. “There are numerous state and federal programs, as well as nonprofit resources, out there that can help communities and residents. But finding and navigating those programs can be difficult, especially for smaller communities that may not have dedicated staff.”
The site is designed to help rural residents and organizations make those connections.
“We like to say that this site is rural Wisconsin’s front porch,” said Marcy West, director of the Office of Rural Prosperity. “It’s a place to come to learn the news, share good ideas, build relationships and get help. We’re hoping everyone will stop over and check it out.”
Q: What will I find on ruralwi.com?
A: The ruralwi.com website features five main sections: a resource directory, a list of support organizations, a description of the mission of the Office of Rural Prosperity, a series of success stories, and news stories on rural economic development. There is also a contact form for residents to communicate with the office.
A video featured on the new website shows off Wisconsin’s farms and rivers, its factories and cafes, its schools and libraries—elements of the rural beauty and character that bring ingenuity and a sense of community to the “1,852 towns we call home.”
Q: What kinds of resources are accessible?
A: Seventy-five programs, ranging from farm conservation and business startup tax credits to services for homeless people, are listed in the resource directory. They are available through state agencies, federal agencies and non-governmental organizations.
Some of the programs offer technical assistance or toolkits; some provide grants and loans for projects such as community development, workforce training, brownfield cleanup and energy assistance. Others call attention to nonprofit organizations and community connections.
Q: What are the support organizations?
A: The support organizations are more than 20 government-related agencies and local groups whose programs are highlighted in the resource directory. In addition to WEDC, some of those organizations are the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance; ArtStart Rhinelander; the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative; and Renewing the Countryside.
Q: What is the Wisconsin Office of Rural Prosperity and when was it created?
A: In January 2020, Governor Tony Evers announced the creation of the Office of Rural Prosperity, to be housed within WEDC. Its goals include helping people in rural areas of the state better navigate state programs, giving them tools to collaborate and innovate, and strengthening their voice in Wisconsin’s future.
The governor established a Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity to hear from rural and agricultural leaders, assess their needs and come up with a series of recommendations to better address their challenges.
Q: How did the ruralwi.com website come about?
A: The Blue Ribbon Commission recommended creating the website, both to celebrate and to encourage the accomplishments of the state’s rural communities and to help rural residents learn more about the types of support available to them.
Q: What types of success stories can I find on the website?
A: The success stories highlight some of the many projects, programs and accomplishments achieved in Wisconsin’s small towns and rural communities. They are about connections made through organizations like Soil Sisters, where women in farming have banded together and supported each other, as a collective voice helping to initiate change in state laws and in collaborations that have resulted in new businesses such as Landmark Creamery and Driftless Traditional Tannery.
There is the Snow River Cooperative—a group of longtime employees of a Crandon wood products manufacturing company who, when faced with the unexpected closing of the plant, bought the factory and made it flourish.
The stories also include community development projects such as Cuba City’s Presidential Plaza, a downtown gathering space created with combined efforts from local high school and college students, property owners, construction trades employees and city officials.
Q: How does ruralwi.com plan to keep in touch with Wisconsin’s rural residents?
A: A section of the website is devoted to news involving the state’s rural areas, including the report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity and Governor Evers’s 10 action recommendations designed to offer a comprehensive approach to address challenges and create more innovation and prosperity for rural communities and their residents.
The Office of Rural Prosperity also seeks comments, questions and news from residents themselves via a contact form on the site.
“Whether you’re an individual, a business or a community organization, the Office of Rural Prosperity is here to connect you with the right programs, tools, partners and resources to build on your strengths,” says West.