Wisconsin’s rural urban divide and its impact on the economy

Tessa Conroy, UW-Extension economic development specialist
Department of Ag & Applied Economics
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Total Time – 3:12

0:16 – Rural Urban divide definition
0:45 – Rural economy not recovering
1:08 – Positive news about rural economy
1:42 – Entrepreneurial opportunities
2:10 – High amenities in rural areas
2:27 – Surprise in research
2:48 – Future of rural Wisconsin economy
3:01 – Lead out



Lorre Kolb: Wisconsin’s rural urban divide and its impact on the economy. We’re visiting today with Tessa Conroy, UW-Extension economic development specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Ag and Applied Economics at UW-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Lorre Kolb. What is the rural urban divide, what does that mean?

Tessa Conroy: I mostly focus on the economic differences in the rural urban divide, so what makes the rural economy different from the urban economy and I think one of the most pressing issues coming out of the recession is that the rural economy has seen a less robust jobs recovery. So with the most recent data that I have we’re showing that both that rural economies were hit harder in terms of job loss and that they haven’t recovered even back to 100 percent yet of the jobs they lost.

Lorre Kolb: Why aren’t they recovering?

Tessa Conroy: I think part of the story is that the rural economies tend to depend more, this is true in Wisconsin, depend more on manufacturing and agriculture and these are two sectors that are incredibly successful in terms of output and productivity, but they’re also able to do that with fewer and fewer workers, so we’re just not seeing the job creation from these sectors like we have in the past.

Lorre Kolb: Is there anything positive that you saw in your research on work and jobs in rural areas?

Tessa Conroy: One of the things that I think is pleasantly surprising in rural areas is that they’re quite entrepreneurial. Rural areas tend to both have more proprietors per 1000 residents, so proprietorships are indicative of at least one person creating a job for themselves and that businesses survive longer in rural areas. So on average they have a higher share of businesses that survive to five years, and that’s a critical point for most businesses. We call those first five years the valley of death. So if you can get to age five, you’re doing pretty well.

Lorre Kolb: With the entrepreneurial jobs being more robust in rural areas, do you see more people moving there perhaps to start businesses?

Tessa Conroy: I think this is an opportunity for rural areas. More and more people can work remotely for example. A lot of areas in Wisconsin, for example, have very high natural amenities so they’re quite desirable places to live for some. So if they can move to a rural area and become self-employed that can be a real opportunity for a rural areas.

Lorre Kolb: Can you explain what you mean by high amenities?

Tessa Conroy: Sure, high amenity, when I’m talking about high amenity I mean high natural amenity. So these are places with cool summers and low humidity, these are places with scenic terrain for example. Things where people find it pleasant to be outside.

Lorre Kolb: So, what surprised you most in your research?

Tessa Conroy: I think that this is maybe surprisingly hopeful story for rural areas. I feel like a lot of the coverage has been somewhat pessimistic about rural economies. The way I look at it, seeing the higher up levels of entrepreneurialism combined with the fact that a lot of these areas are high amenity, these are all opportunities.

Lorre Kolb: So, what do you see for the future of rural Wisconsin?

Tessa Conroy: I’m hopeful that we can enhance our broadband offerings in rural Wisconsin. I think that that’s part of the story with rural economies and boosting entrepreneurialism.

Lorre Kolb: We’ve been visiting with visiting with Tessa Conroy, UW-Extension economic development specialist, Department of Ag and Applied Economics at UW-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Lorre Kolb.

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