The local area may soon offer incentives to college graduates to move to the area. In a press release, State Representative Ed Brooks, who represents the 50th Assembly District, announced the Rural Legislators Workforce Package. The package is currently being circulated for authorship.
The package would create rural opportunity zones throughout Wisconsin, including Juneau County. Rural opportunity zones offer benefits to college graduates who move there, given certain conditions.
“The state needs to attract young workers from out of state,” the press release reads.
The incentives are designed to lure college graduates to rural areas. The goal is, “if they had been here (in Wisconsin), to get them to come back, and if they had never been here, to attract them to come here and start a profession,” Brooks said.
In Wisconsin, a college graduate who moved to a rural opportunity zone would receive a repayment of up to $25,000 or 40 percent of their outstanding student loans, whichever is lesser. Individuals have to meet certain requirements to be eligible for the program.
“(They) have to have a full-time job, have to not be on social services, have to be financially independent, and have to need help with student loan debt,” Brooks said.
Kansas and Oklahoma have enacted their own ROZ legislation. Wisconsin legislators “mirrored after” their concept when writing the workforce package, though there are differences. Kansas offers an income tax waiver of up to five years in their program. Wisconsin legislators did not include an income tax waiver.
Brooks anticipates about 50 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties being considered rural opportunity zones if the legislation is enacted. The determination is based on the Federal Office of Management and Budget’s definition of rural.
Locally, four of the five counties in Brooks’ district would likely be eligible. “I would think Juneau, Monroe, Vernon, and Richland,” Brooks said. “Sauk might be above it, because the population of Sauk is about 60,000. I would have questions if they’re eligible.”
In Brooks’ view, this is a chance to mitigate some of the sluggish or stagnant growth that has been seen in much of rural Wisconsin. “Our demographics show that we’re at very slight growth or static,” Brooks said. Though it won’t entirely offset the trend, the ROZ legislation will help. “We aren’t going to have a massive reversal, but it’s kind of a niche sort of thing… Our population issue is not going to be solved by any particular thing. But this is probably one of many things that is going to help.”
“An awful lot of these smaller communities have negative growth,” Brooks said.
Brooks was not certain if Governor Walker is supportive of this particular bill, but said he has emphasized the importance of rural Wisconsin. “I think this would be an initiative that would fall under the criteria of his,” Brooks said.
The Rural Legislators Workforce Package has not yet been voted upon.