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.
 
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.
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.
University of Wisconsin-Madison telecommunications specialist Barry Orton said some rural areas are "off the grid" when it comes to broadband access.