A bipartisan group of legislators have introduced a bill that would address Wisconsin’s rural workforce shortage by offering student loan relief to college graduates who move to rural communities.
The Growing Rural Opportunities & Workforce in Wisconsin Program, or “GROW Wisconsin,” which would pay off as much as $15,000 in student loan debt to individuals who relocate to rural communities, was introduced by state Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), state Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), state Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva) and state Rep. Nick Milroy (D-South Range).
“Business leaders in rural parts of Wisconsin have told us that the state’s skilled workforce shortage is hitting them especially hard,” Lassa said. “GROW Wisconsin would offer an attractive incentive to encourage people with university and tech college degrees to come to rural communities, allowing businesses to grow and strengthening the economies of our small towns, villages and cities.”
“It is essential that the Legislature do all that it can to attract talented, young professionals into rural parts of our state, including the 93rd Assembly District,” Petryk said. “I have heard from many business owners around our district who are in desperate need of workers and with the passage of this legislation, we will be able to help our rural communities find the talented workforce they need.”
GROW Wisconsin would provide grants that are matched by counties that choose to designate themselves as GROW Communities. Individuals who have completed a higher education program and who move into a GROW Community will have payments made on their student loans equal to 20% of the individual’s outstanding student loan balance, up to a maximum of $15,000.
“It is important that Wisconsin has a skilled labor force ready to support the industries that are starting and expanding throughout our rural communities,” Olsen said. “This initiative would be another tool for attracting workers to grow our economy.”
“Today’s young people want the quality of life that rural communities can provide, things like scenic beauty, safe streets, affordable housing, good schools, and a strong sense of community,” Milroy said. “If we’re going to keep those communities intact, however, we must find new ways to attract more skilled, educated young people to live and work in these areas so that we can bolster job growth and create a stable tax base.”
GROW Wisconsin is based on recommendations made by the Governor’s Council on Workforce Development, as well as on Kansas’ successful Rural Opportunity Zones program, which has helped rural counties attract millennials who are starting families and who want to take positions within their home communities or start new businesses.