Doug Kerr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Series: Growing Rural Wisconsin's Economy

Rural Wisconsin faces a broad array of economic challenges. Many communities are experiencing a decrease in population and struggling to retain young people and attract newcomers. As the workforce ages, additional factors including limited infrastructure, agricultural and manufacturing business woes, and the dictates of distance and cost can combine to frustrate entrepreneurial and job opportunities. At the same time, the distinct attributes of rural areas can encourage economic development, and both public and private efforts to revitalize individual communities and broader regions are being pursued around the state. One particularly notable element is access to broadband internet, which is sparse in many rural areas but has the potential to be transformational for both work and lifestyle. Rural Wisconsin's economy is changing, but its future course has yet to be charted.
 
Iron County has among the worst health outcomes in Wisconsin, with a high rate of premature death. The area suffers from high unemployment, high rates of mental illness, social isolation during winter months and childhood traumas.
Wind turbines have become a familiar part of the landscape in the rural Midwest, and with them have come jobs, income for farmers and tax revenue for communities.
Craft beer fans seeking different flavors are accustomed to hitting the road to taste offerings from breweries both near and far from home.
Limited access to reliable, high-speed internet services is an issue facing rural Wisconsin that generates a lot of attention and calls for action, yet may seem to be moving at a crawl.
While the idea of rural economic development is an increasing mainstay of political rhetoric, its implementation is not as widely discussed.
The Telemark resort in the town of Cable, in southern Bayfield County, could see a new life. Art Hancock, the town chairperson, discusses what a rejuvenated resort would mean for the community as it seeks the state to implement a special tax district.
When it comes to jobs in Wisconsin, there are unique differences between the urban communities of Milwaukee and Madison, with their legacy-industry manufacturing and government-education tandem, respectively, compared to agriculture-, manufacturing- and tourism-intensive rural counties.
As Wisconsin struggles to grow private-sector jobs, there is potential to expand telecommuting work outside urbanized areas of the state by improving broadband connections.
Wisconsin is making strides in improving broadband access for rural communities, but the state remains a checkerboard of digital haves and have-nots. In Pepin, though, residents are finding differing levels of access to high-speed internet connections.
They're as familiar a part of America's car-oriented transportation infrastructure as the roads themselves: Highway travel centers with gas, commercial truck and RV parking, Wi-Fi, a convenience store and maybe an in-house fast-food joint or and other amenities.