Rural prosperity, needs discussed at roundtable hosted by Ripon College

The first Rural Prosperity Roundtable in the nation was held Monday, Feb. 5, at Ripon College. Anne Hazlett, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, led the first of several national Rural Prosperity Roundtables with federal, state and community leaders.

Panalists discussed rural America’s unique challenges and needs. The roundtable was held in Ripon College’s new Willmore Center, a $23.5 million signature athletics, health and wellness facility that opened in August 2017, thanks in part to a $14.3 million long-term, low-interest loan from the USDA Rural Development Program and private donations.

Hazlett said the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity has been given “a really big role: to build prosperity in each place. Each day, we’re tackling that goal by focusing on three things: infrastructure, partnership and innovation.”

She said the goal is to work together with partners in the community such as those who joined the panel.

Zach Messitte, the president of Ripon College, said Willmore Center is the only facility of its kind in a wide surrounding region, so it is attracting users from all around that area. Already, more than 300 memberships have been sold.

He said an impressive part of seeing the community come together to support the facility is “we see the different businesses who have their names up on the walls and that they saw the benefit to having a facility like this.”

He said this effort “raises up Ripon College in the community,” and in return, Ripon College has had a significant impact on economic development in downtown Ripon. “A building like this is a game-changer,” he said, “and really has made a difference.”

Panelists included:

  • Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development
  • Frank Frassetto, State Director, WI Rural Development
  • Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah)
  • Allen Buechel, Fond du Lac County Executive
  • Zach Messitte, President of Ripon College
  • State Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac 18th District)
  • Phil Stuart, CEO of Tomah Memorial Hospital
  • Cristina Danforth, CEO of Oneida Tribe Chairwoman and Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council Inc.
  • State Rep. Nancy VanderMeer (R-Tomah 70th Assembly District)
  • Kate Zueske, Department of Administration
  • Dan Smith, Division of Ag Development, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
  • William Martin, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Foundation
  • Angie Dickison, Public Service Commission
  • Steve Schneider, Bug Tussel Wireless serving Wisconsin’s rural communities

The full roundtable discussion can be viewed here.