In spring 2020, Graaskamp Center Senior Lecturer Tom Landgraf was invited by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to serve on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. Comprised of 12 members representing Wisconsin’s various geographic demographics and professions, the commission was tasked with tapping local perspectives on long-term, recent and future economic challenges facing rural Wisconsin people, communities and businesses.
Landgraf teaches affordable and sustainable development courses for the Department of Real Estate, and he has many years of experience in affordable housing in small, rural Wisconsin communities. This combination made him a perfect fit for the project, as the end goal was to increase economic activity and improve the quality of life for those communities.
From August through mid-October, Wisconsin residents and companies from all over the state were presented the opportunity to speak to Landgraf and the other commissioners about the issues facing them. Three different variations were presented for this: virtual town halls for all residents, individual sessions with nonprofits/regional planning groups and one-on-one meetings with individual corporations. By the end, over 500 people from across the state met with the commission, WEDC staff, and consultants to share their ideas.
These meetings helped identify the challenges that rural residents were facing on a daily basis, including state and local government effectiveness, most of which were amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most significant challenges mentioned included subpar broadband access, lack of childcare options, lack of affordable and workforce housing, both rental and for sale, tax policies and poor communication among state agencies.
After the frequent issues were determined, WEDC staff and the twelve Commissioners’ job was to give their ideas and suggestions on how the state can address the issues. The majority of Landgraf’s comments focused on housing, renewable energy and childcare. His recommendations, along with those of the other commissioners, turned into a report: “Rural Voices for Prosperity.”
The report — which was released in mid-December — summarized what issues the residents discussed earlier in the year and presented 10 over-arching recommendations to the state government for creating rural prosperity, important information to keep in mind as they craft the 2021-2023 state budget.
Landgraf described the commission as “probably the most significant” effort to his knowledge that the state has ever made to get the average citizen’s input.
“It wasn’t just focused northwestern Wisconsin or communities of a certain size. A lot of times, in the past, just the squeakiest wheel got the grease” he said. In contrast this time “The comments the commission received came from a lot of just regular folks who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to get their oar in the water. I think that’s something different.”
To learn more about the commission and to hear from the other commissioners, see Governor Ever’s press release.