Gov. Tony Evers Monday named leaders from around the state to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. The governor announced the commission during his State of the State speech in January. The commission will be tasked with developing long-term strategies on how Wisconsin can best support the needs of rural Wisconsinites and rural communities. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wisconsin’s rural communities were facing challenges to their very survival,” Gov. Evers said. “It is more important than ever to listen to the concerns of our rural residents and support them in finding solutions.”
Included in that group is Lauren Thompson, a senior-to-be at Baldwin-Woodville High School.
Thompson explained the Governor's office reached out to a state 4-H office asking for potential candidates who were from rural communities and would be interested in serving on the commission.
"Since rural communities and agriculture have always been a passion of mine, I would live to listen to citizens from all of Wisconsin and help to give rural communities a voice," she said.
Upon receiving word of the selection, Thompson said: "...I feel so fortunate to have grown up in the Baldwin-Woodville community where I've been given the opportunity to have my voice heard and have learned the importance of listening to others."
The rest of the commission include:
• Bob Atwell, President & CEO, Nicolet National Bank, Green Bay
• Thelma Heidel Baker, Owner Bossie Cow Farm, Random Lake
• Brittany Beyer, Executive Director, Grow North, Rhinelander
• Pamela Boivin, Executive Director and Loan Officer, NiiJii Capital Partners, Inc. (NiiCaP), Keshena
• David Falk, General Manager, ND Paper, Biron
• Tom Landgraf, Principal, Dimension Development, LLC, Madison
• Rachel Sauvola, Agriscience Teacher, New Richmond High School, New Richmond
• Gina Tomlinson, CEO, Cochrane Co-op Telephone Company, Cochrane
• Susan Townsley, Clinical Social Worker, Stonehouse Counseling, Viroqua
• Jeff Tucker, Vice President of Business Development & Care Innovation, Marshfield Clinic, Eau Claire
• Cheu Vang, Owner, Vang C&C Farms, Jefferson
As it can be seen, Thompson was the only high schooler selected.
"I'm really excited and encouraged that Governor Evers has chosen to include a youth on his Commission," she said. "He understands the need to listen to rural community members, including the voices of the leaders of tomorrow. Wisconsin 4-H as given me the opportunity to serve in a variety of youth and adult partnerships, and I look forward to using the skills I've learned on the Commission. Working with industry leaders from around the state will be a phenomenal learning experience and I am humbled to be given the chance to do so."
The commission is expected to hold listening sessions around the state later this summer on the impact of COVID-19 on rural communities and businesses, as well as the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has created. The commission’s recommendations will help to form the biennial state budget, which Gov. Evers will introduce early next year.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will provide logistical and administrative support to the commission. In his State of the State address this year, Gov. Evers directed WEDC to create the Office of Rural Prosperity, and the organization recently named Kelliann Blazek as the first director of the office. “WEDC is committed to helping rural communities and businesses in our state build long-term resilience,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “By exploring new economic opportunities and improving the quality of life we can help rural communities weather the current conditions and emerge stronger for future generations.” More information about the commission, its activities, and the Office of Rural Prosperity is available at wedc.org/rural-prosperity.
Upon graduation from B-W, Thompson wants to pursue a degree in Agricultural Communications.