RICHLAND CENTER — Wisconsin has a lot going for it — in some cases even more than people think — so understanding and helping local economies thrive is key to our future.
That was the theme for the Navigating the New Economy roundtable Oct. 24 at UW-Richland, presented by UW Colleges and UW-Extension along with Wispolitics.com.
Unemployment is at a historic low amid a stable population, a manageable cost of living, a healthy educational attainment level for working-age adults and a strong success rate for business startups.
“I would argue that the state of Wisconsin is in the best shape it’s been in for the past 18 years,” said panelist John Koskinen, chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Wisconsin is a “sticky state,” too, meaning “people tend to stay here or come back,” said UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen, who moderated the roundtable.
This is no surprise because “people like Wisconsin” and “when we walk outside our door, we see tremendous natural gifts,” said Will Cronin, community resource development educator for UW-Extension in Crawford County.
While people in today’s gig economy can choose where they want to live and “buy that house with a little bit of lake frontage a lot cheaper in the Driftless Area, you have to have broadband” to make business connections and transactions, Cronin said.
It can be tough to get fiber in the ground due to the region’s topography, Cronin said, but the Broadband and E-Commerce Education Center is a good example of what Extension does and supports his efforts to help make broadband more accessible.
Cronin talked further about his role as the “connective tissue to bring organizations together” to find efficiencies and solutions. One example is in grass-roots economic development through farmers markets.
Securing a grant to hire staff, implement payment systems and promote his county’s three farmers markets builds a community’s food system “from the ground up.” Efforts like that and a hog marketing cooperative are “maybe not the most flashy thing in the world” but important nonetheless, he said.
Agriculture, food production and food processing are already strong for Richland County, accounting for nearly four times the Wisconsin county average for number of business establishments.
That conclusion, drawn from a new data set made available through work done by UW-Extension at youreconomy.org, presents opportunities that the county can build upon, Sandeen said.
Richland County also has a desirable balance of jobs – 34 percent from local trade companies, 31 percent external trade and 35 percent nontrade (government, health care, education) in 2016, said panelist Mark Lange, executive director for UW-Extension’s Division for Business & Entrepreneurship.
Understanding your businesses and how to foster them is critical to job growth, Lange said, because for local economies, recruiting is not in your game. We need to help existing companies increase their performance.”
This event was one of three Navigating the New Economy roundtables held in October; the other two were in Hudson and Sheboygan.
“Local economies are the key to Wisconsin’s overall economic vitality, so we welcomed the opportunity to work with WisPolitics and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to hold this series of community conversations,” Sandeen said. “Part of our mission at UW Colleges and Extension is to leverage our statewide reach and bring information and knowledge to different parts of the state. This series provided new ways to look at and think about local economies, and hopefully it helped community members and local business leaders better understand, think about and plan for the economic issues facing their community.”