New Rural Wisconsin Report Underscores National Call for a Coordinated Rural Policy Agenda

December 17, 2020

Action recommendations for rural prosperity stem from the input of 500 Wisconsinites who participated in Blue Ribbon Commission process

Contact: Clifford Deaton
Program Associate, Community Strategies Group
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, and Madison, WI, December 17, 2020 — Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ office and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group released  “Rural Voices for Prosperity: A Report of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity.” The Commission report calls for coordinated measures across state government to meet the challenges facing the state’s rural communities. Wisconsin is one of only a very few states to establish a rural-specific coordinating office in state government.

The report features 10 overarching recommendations that, taken together, suggest a comprehensive approach the state can use to build rural prosperity in Wisconsin, but that can apply to all levels of government – including other states and the federal government. The report calls for creating new partnerships with rural and tribal communities to better design and deliver state services and offers a roadmap for investing more thoughtfully to address rural America’s critical challenges and most promising opportunities.

“The need for a rural lens when designing both state and federal policy and programs – and for engaging rural people in that design – is emerging across the country as critical to changing rural prospects,” said Janet Topolsky, executive director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, which assisted in conducting the Commission process. “The fact that Wisconsin has established its new issue-spanning Office of Rural Prosperity and this Commission is clear evidence that its state leaders recognize that need.”

The report makes the following recommendations for Wisconsin:

  • Create and appropriately resource a place within the Wisconsin state government that understands and champions the unique attributes of rural Wisconsin – including Native Nations.
  • Continue the Governor’s efforts to make the needs and priorities of rural communities and Native Nations a forethought, rather than an afterthought, in policy and program design.
  • Take an “all-of-government approach” to doing right by rural and tribal communities.
  • Ensure rural places and Native Nations in rural Wisconsin get a fair shake in accessing state and federal resources.
  • Look beyond Wisconsin’s borders for good ideas.
  • Unleash the full power of communities to innovate and act by updating state laws that restrict local agency.
  • Reinvest in the Wisconsin Idea and the University of Wisconsin, its satellite campuses, and the state’s network of community and technical colleges as unique and valuable assets for community and economic development as well as education.
  • Rebalance the use of state business and economic development incentives to ensure that they prioritize investment in the existing assets of Wisconsin people, communities, and businesses.
  • Invest in vital ingredients for rural recovery and better rural futures – like broadband, child care, housing for striving and working families, food security, physical and mental health care, career education, and growing industries, like renewable energy systems.
  • Continue the work of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis strap local and state revenue, it is even more important that government action be informed at the outset by local knowledge and targeted to the needs of communities. Wisconsin’s report offers a roadmap for how government at any level can put local knowledge to good use. From August through mid-October, the Commission conducted virtual conversations open to all rural residents, invited submission of written ideas through the Commission website, and met in-person or virtually with stakeholder groups. Over 500 rural people and stakeholders from across the state provided their ideas to the Commission.

This report from the State of Wisconsin joins and echoes newly published research on actionable and effective strategies to move rural America forward. A new Brookings research brief makes the case for ambitious federal leadership and structured coordination to support economic and community development in the rural U.S., while Aspen CSG’s new Thrive Rural brief provides transformational ideas and pivotal moves that government at every level can take to help rural communities become more dynamic, healthy places where everyone belongs, lives with dignity, and thrives. The Commission report’s call for rural communities to work together across regions also echoes Aspen CSG’s recent research that identified the phenomenon of regional non-profit intermediaries acting as “rural development hubs” to catalyze successful innovation and action.

To learn more about the work of the Commission and to read the full report, visit:

To learn more about the work of Aspen CSG and Thrive Rural at the Aspen Institute, please visit: or contact Clifford Deaton: to speak to an expert on rural issues and policy.


Since 1985, the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group has helped convene, equip and inspire local leaders as they build more prosperous regions and advance those living on the economic margins – with more than 75% of that work in rural America. Committed to increasing opportunity and equity and improving economic, social and health outcomes, CSG advances an asset-based and systems-building approach to community and economic development. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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