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Lighting the Way for Rural Prosperity: A collaborative opportunity for change.

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Nathan Franklin - Director of External Affairs - Gundersen health System
Brent Ridge - CEO & President - Dairyland Power Cooperative
Brad Pfaff - State Senator (D) - Wisconsin's 32nd District

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Hosting a collaborative meeting, Dairyland Power Co-op partnered with to bring stakeholders in to share best practices for addressing challenges for advancing rural Wisconsin communities.

Rural challenges involving bridging the digital divide, workforce shortages, lagging technical education, and healthcare access limitations.

One example of addressing healthcare needs is when Gundersen Health put in a clinic in Onalaska. Not long after they looked at patient numbers and discovered roughly 30,000 patients came from Winona.

With that knowledge they decided to open a clinic in Winona to help with the commute for their patients.
External Affairs Director for Gundersen Health Systems, Nathan Franklin, a panelist at the event, felt that sort of practice is key to overall patient well being.

"They're healthcare is just an aspect of their lives," Franklin said. "And to improve their wellness, you need to make their lives easier. And that includes less travel, less burden, time off from work, time off from school, time away from home. The quicker a patient can get home, the better they're gonna recover. And we took that philosophy and used it in expanding our Winona facility"

Philosophies in practical applications, like Gundersen's, is what panelists and guest speakers at this event feel is the best way to ensure smaller communities get the same support, service and opportunities as larger ones.

CEO and President of Dairyland Power, Brent Ridge, explained the challenges the rural community has in advancing renewable energy. Solar and wind farms are growing but it's not going to be enough to support Wisconsin's energy needs.

"We have to plan it for those very very difficult days," Ridge said. "When the sun's not shining and the wind's not blowing. How do we keep the lights on in a cost effective way? And that's the challenge, and it's a challenge that we're up for. And we are really excited about what the electricity industry is gonna do to meet the challenge of decarbonizing while maintaining safe, reliable electricity."

Another hurdle, conservation minded farmers are supportive of wind and solar energy, but there needs to be a balance for the acreage set aside for crops versus energy production. Ridge says a working relationship with western Wisconsin farmers will be key to advancing solar and wind initiatives.

State Senator Brad Pfaff was also in attendance. He says getting broadband internet access to rural communities is a non-stop effort. Plus, shaping education to provide technologically specific training for agriculture and manufacturing will also provide good jobs to incentivize staying in rural communities.

"It's important to recognize that we need to continue to work with our education system and we need to recognize that there's not a one-size-fits-all," Pfaff said. "We need to customize our training, we need to look at the workforce that we have right now and the needs in our workforce for our economy going forward."

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Joe Minney

Joe is Weekend News Anchor at WXOW

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