Looking forward in Wisconsin

Almost everyone who writes about the Midwest wants to focus on a narrative of loss; factories or family farms closing one by one; the sense of having to work harder just to stay in place. It sells newspapers.

But Wisconsin never has fit neatly into anyone’s script — and we’re not about to now.

This year as we traveled across the state and talked to people about our vision for Wisconsin, it wasn’t nostalgia for the past that fueled the conversations. It was an energy to move forward — to solve our problems, not just talk about them. When we talked about ideas and potential, we heard, “I’m in.”

It’s not surprising, Wisconsin has led in in transformational times before. The labor movement was founded in Wisconsin creating better working conditions for all. We created a top-tier UW System to broaden access to higher education. And let’s not forget the contributions of our farmers to modern agriculture.

Over the next decade, our country and our state will experience major social and technology change. We’ll see driverless cars and trucks, the ability to work from anywhere and jobs we can’t even imagine today.

Unquestionably, change brings uncertainty but it also brings incredible opportunity — -if we are willing to embrace it . Let’s start thinking about reconfiguring education so it’s possible to take classes on demand. Let’s bring more technology to schools so teachers can focus on teaching — not on administrative tasks. Let’s close the digital divide.

Let’s imagine stories like these:

With a low-interest business transformation loan, local retail shop owner, Pam leverages digital and social media to become a national home goods e-commerce business, creating +10 more good-paying jobs in Sheboygan.

With classes that he could afford on his schedule, Jon, a laid-off manufacturing employee, fulfills a dream of becoming a successful photographer.

And Clete, leverages a Made in Wisconsin equipment sharing program to help his family’s farm become a leader in organic milk while making a healthy profit so his farm hands can share in the success.

We’re not talking about impossible things. We’re talking about ideas that — with the right leadership and the right vision — are within reach now. We see examples coming from towns in Maine and cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga is now known as “Gig City,” a reference to “the Gig,” the name the locals use for the city’s new municipally owned fiber-optic network. Ahead of even cities like New York or Seattle, Chattanooga has managed to bring high speed internet access to all of its residents. The point? If it can be done in the heart of Appalachia, it can be done in Wisconsin.

What will it take? We’ll need to work across aisles; we’ll need to start talking to our neighbors again and, of course, we’ll need to harness our tenacity and ingenuity — hallmarks of our state. You couldn’t survive our weather-by-the-minute (or maybe Thanksgiving dinners ) without a little of both.

As we crisscross the state, we can feel the energy. There’s a growing momentum, but we need your help to fuel it. With your help, Wisconsin really can be the state where all of us can live, work and play.