MADISON – Governor Scott Walker today announced new initiatives to bolster Wisconsin’s rural communities and farming families as part of his Ambitious Agenda for Wisconsin in 2018. The plan centers around creating a Rural Economic Development Fund, a long-term investment in economic development projects in rural counties across the state to support workforce development and encourage innovation. The plan also re-purposes the Dairy 30x20 program into the Governor’s Family Farm Fund, increases support for protecting and conserving soil and water quality, and includes investments to help dairy farmers increase profitability in local, regional, and international markets.
“We’re investing in our Wisconsin’s rural communities to help them overcome the unique set of economic challenges they face and meet their true potential as engines of economic growth and prosperity,” said Governor Walker. “By providing resources for worker training, promoting business development, and incentivizing private investment, we’ll invigorate rural communities throughout the state.”
The proposed Rural Economic Development Fund is a $50 million a year investment in economic development projects in rural counties across Wisconsin. The funds would primarily be used to stimulate private investment, improve productivity, and to fill open jobs in rural communities.
The program would be operated by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Funds could be distributed through existing programs offered by WEDC and through others created by WEDC with legislative approval. Projects would be eligible for grants in counties with a population density less than 155 persons per square mile. This would include 56 out of 72 Wisconsin counties. Grant recipients would be subject to repayment parameters, including being required to repay the grant if the recipient provides false information to WEDC or if the business fails to meet agreed upon employment or investment levels.
“Wisconsin agriculture is a pillar of our state, helping feed and employ thousands with an annual economic impact of $88.3 billion,” Governor Walker continued. “With our Ambitious Agenda, we are creating a Family Farm Fund to keep more of our family farms in Wisconsin, we are providing additional resources to improve water and soil quality, and we are striving to improve product development for Wisconsin farmers through research and development. We are helping make sure that today’s farmers will be here tomorrow and long into the future. Wisconsin is and always will be America’s Dairyland.”
Following discussions with Wisconsin dairy industry leaders, Governor Walker directed DATCP to fund a scholarship program through the newly-created Governor’s Family Farm Fund. This additional $200,000 is being repurposed from the Dairy 30x20 program which was created in efforts to produce 30 billion pounds of milk by 2020 and achieved its goal four years ahead of schedule. These scholarships encourage students to take advantage of agriculture-related courses of study at a Wisconsin technical college or UW-College of Agriculture that would help someone begin a rewarding career in agriculture. This will help advance the state’s agriculture industry for years to come.
Governor Walker will sign an executive order during the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag Day at the Capitol later today directing the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to utilize existing loan program revenues to encourage research and new dairy product development to increase domestic and international markets for Wisconsin. The order also directs DATCP to work with agricultural stakeholders to support farmers and agribusinesses as they work to grow markets locally, regionally, and internationally. A copy of the executive order is attached.
Additionally, to secure and improve Wisconsin’s agricultural industry, Governor Walker called for further funding to increase awareness of and participation in farmer-led soil and water conservation projects. The Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant program has received a recent increase in demand for funding, and the grants have proved an effective tool in addressing the unique soil and water quality challenges of local landscapes throughout Wisconsin. We are adding an additional $500,000 each fiscal year over the biennium.