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Pilot Program Within CHIPS Act Could Help with Rural WI Development

US36 CHA0094
Danita Delimont
Adobe Stock
Last year, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. Smaller, rural communities want to be sure they aren't forgotten as those funds are allocated. They're hopeful an economic development provision in the CHIPS Act will even things out.

A program approved by Congress aims to give rural communities a leg up when applying for federal dollars. Municipal leaders in Wisconsin say this kind of help is badly needed in some areas.

The CHIPS Act, passed last month, boosts semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.

It also includes a $1 billion pilot program to help distressed communities apply for economic development funds.

Curt Witynski - deputy executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities - said there are 600 cities and villages in the state, with a median population of nearly 1,500. He said a lot of those smaller communities never really recovered from the Great Recession in 2008.

"If you don't have growth occurring and your tax base is stagnant, then you're not able to really create the services and the assets that might attract new employers," said Witynski. "And then, people who grew up in those communities, they tend to leave them."

Witynski said the smaller communities that are able to revitalize their Main Street areas often get the help of a local investor. He suggested that this grant program could help other towns that lack those kinds of donors.

Matt Hildreth - executive director of Ruralorganizing.org - said big cities typically are first in line for federal grants, but he believes this program could change that.

"It targets funds specifically to small towns and rural communities, and communities across the country that are economically distressed," said Hildreth, "and ensures that they have a shot at getting access to those federal funds as well."

He noted that the vast majority of communities classified as 'economically distressed' are rural.

Hildreth also noted that each place has different development needs, from more broadband to help transitioning between industries. He said under this pilot, communities will guide the investments.

"It allows local leaders to have the flexibility they need to invest in the challenges that they see in their specific community," said Hildreth. "It's not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a locally-led approach."

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.