Federal, state and local leaders discuss a variety of issues facing rural communities.
Federal, state and local leaders discuss a variety of issues facing rural communities.

   In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided a $15 million low-interest loan that enabled Ripon College to create the $23 million Willmore Health and Wellness Center.

   This week, the USDA finally got its first peek at the new, state-of-the-art facility.

   The federal department held the first of many “Roundtables on Rural Prosperity” it has planned Monday morning at the Willmore Center.

   The event was billed as a chance for “federal, state and community leaders to discuss job creation and business development in rural Wisconsin communities.”

   In practice, the event not only delved into such topics, but also served as an opportunity for Ripon College to thank USDA leadership for the gleaming building, as well as highlight its role in strengthening the Ripon economy in specific.

   “You all helped make this building we’re in possible ...,” Ripon College President Zach Messitte said during the roundtable discussion of the USDA loan. “That is, in my opinion, a marvelous example of how the public sector and the federal government work together with a private entity like Ripon College ... in order to promote economic development.”

   This was just one of many facets of rural success discussed during the nearly two-hour event, with the conversation ranging as far afield as the possibility of hemp production to the importance of rural broadband.

   The discussion was facilitated by Anne Hazlett, the assistant to the U.S. secretary for rural development, who pledged at the outset that “Today, I’m really here to listen.”

Read the full story in the Feb. 8, 2018 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.