January 2023

Director’s message

Supporting small and rural businesses

The Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP) enjoys celebrating new ideas, best practices, and creative solutions to challenges that face rural Wisconsinites. This month we feature resources and models that support rural innovation in the areas of collaboration, technology, creativity, and sustainability.

ORP also recognizes the significant investments that were made in rural Wisconsin through the Workforce Innovation Grant (WIG) Program in 2022. More than $90 million was awarded to rural communities to address issues that impact rural prosperity in areas ranging from childcare to transportation. The GROW Cooperative, which consists of the Cambridge, Lodi, Sauk Prairie, and Wisconsin Heights School Districts, was awarded a grant to foster a “grow your own” program to develop teachers using a multi-layered approach, and address the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers in rural school districts. Learn more about these investments.

These success stories exemplify the dynamism of rural Wisconsin, and they demonstrate that with commitment and ingenuity, community members can drive positive change when the support and resources exist to support their vision. Does your community have an innovative project in need of support or resources? Visit RuralWI.com to search the ORP resource directory or submit a request for assistance for staff support in navigating state and federal resources.

Beth Haskovec
Director, ORP

The Office of Rural Prosperity wants to help you find your stride!

A central part of the Office of Rural Prosperity’s mission is assisting community leaders in fostering vibrant, prosperous and resilient rural communities across Wisconsin. Our project specialists are available to help rural stakeholders navigate programs and resources serving rural communities and businesses, including:

  • Helping economic development and community leaders make best use of technical assistance and programmatic support to meet the evolving challenges brought on by the pandemic
  • Promoting innovation and economic diversification to help businesses and communities build resiliency against economic downturns
  • Supporting evaluation of the disparities experienced by ethnically diverse business owners during the pandemic and development of strategic recommendations on how to improve support, reduce barriers to resources and enhance business sustainability

Let us know how we can help you!


Innovative Grants & Resources

Innovative Collaboration

The Partner Up! grant program from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families will provide $21 million in funding to support partnerships  between businesses who purchase slots at existing regulated child care providers. The funding will be awarded based on existing community child care needs throughout Wisconsin. The funding from this program can be used to increase staff compensation, pay expenses, reserve child care slots for local business employees, improve the quality of a child care program, and more.

Guiding Rural Innovation and Development (GRID) is a collaborative economic development initiative focused on building a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in northern Wisconsin to generate a vibrant and diverse rural economy.

Technology Innovation

The need for accurate data pinpointing where broadband service is available, and where it is not available, has never been greater. Accurate service maps will help identify the unserved and underserved communities most in need of funding for high-speed internet infrastructure investments. Rural communities and stakeholders now have an opportunity to help verify the accuracy of the data shown on the map by participating at Broadband Data Collection, an initiative of the Federal Communications Commission.

The Center for Rural Innovation helps rural towns across the country become strategic about economic development in the 21st century.

Rural Creativity & Innovation

Under Grants for Arts Projects, available from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), applicants may request cost share/matching grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Designated local arts agencies eligible to subgrant may request from $30,000 to $150,000.

NEA's Challenge America program offers support primarily to small organizations for projects in all artistic disciplines that extend the reach of the arts to underserved groups/communities with rich and dynamic artistic and cultural contributions to share.

Rural Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Given the entrepreneurial potential of rural communities to bring forward new innovations, the UW Division of Extension’s Rural Innovation Report takes a closer look at several measures of innovation and entrepreneurship for rural Wisconsin.

Sustainability & Energy Innovation

The Consumer Tax Credits Table gives an overview for consumers on what clean energy tax credits they may qualify for.

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loans & Grants provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. Agricultural producers may also apply for new, energy-efficient equipment and new system loans for agricultural production and processing.

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Discretionary Grant Program from the U.S. Department of Transportation helps communities build transportation projects that have significant local or regional impact and improve safety and equity. (Projects can include environmental benefits; for example, diverting stormwater runoff and improving the habitat for aquatic species would be eligible for a RAISE grant, so long as it also advances the other goals of the RAISE program.)

County Forest Sustainable Grants - from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can be used for special, short-term or unanticipated projects that promote sustainable forestry.

The DNR's Land and Water Conservation Fund Program is a federal program administered in all states that encourages the creation and implementation of high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities. Funds received by the DNR for this program are split between DNR projects and grants to local governments for outdoor recreation activities.


New Definitions of Urban and Rural from U.S Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released list of qualifying urban areas shows the impact of a significant change in how the agency defines urban and rural. Before March 2022, the bureau defined urban places as those with more than 2,500 residents. Now the Census Bureau has raised the threshold to 5,000 residents and added a housing unit criterion so that places with over 2,000 homes are urban. Learn more about the updated definitions.


Entrepreneurship Opportunities & Events

WEDC and ORP are currently accepting applications for the Wisconsin Cooperative Feasibility Study Grant.  Applications are due to WEDC by 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 15.

The entry deadline for the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest is Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m. This contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice and mentoring, management talent, and possible sources of capital. It is designed to encourage entrepreneurs in the startup stage of tech-based businesses in Wisconsin. To learn more about entering the contest, register for a free webinar taking place Jan. 18.

The Governor’s Conference on Economic Development will take place Feb. 1-3 at the Hyatt Regency in Milwaukee.

Child Care Opportunities & Events

Business and Economic Voices Webinar: The Growing Intersection of Child Care, Business, and Workforce Productivity will take place Jan. 20 from 11 a.m.- to noon on Zoom. This webinar will address the critical need for business and economic voices in seeking state-level solutions to child care challenges. Register now.

A Child Care Symposium: Innovations for Today, Solutions for Tomorrow will take place Feb. 15 at the Glacier Canyon Conference Center, Wisconsin Dells. This event will feature: a perspective from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families; a keynote from Linda Smith of the Bipartisan Policy Center; a rich conversation among a chamber of commerce, a working parent, and a child care program to uncover continued challenges and point to long-term solutions; and afternoon breakout sessions. The event also will provide updates on Project Growth, Raising Wisconsin advocacy efforts, and coalition building amid the backdrop of the state budget process. To learn more and register, please visit the events page of Wisconsin Counties Association.


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Office of Rural Prosperity
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
201 W. Washington Avenue, Suite 1801, Madison, WI 53703