Thursday, May 29, 2014

Socioeconomic intervention

An open letter to Northwoods citizens

There is perhaps nothing more frustrating than recognizing someone’s vast potential for success and then witnessing them squander it right in front of you.

Often this seems to happen with the naturally talented folks who are not fully aware of the great gift they possess. Other times it happens with people who simply take for granted all that they have been given. And still yet it happens to those in denial or who are blinded by something to distract themselves with, whether that be money, substance abuse, or even a pious nature. Focusing inward too long breeds these deviations.

Each of us reacts differently in this scenario, but if it’s someone close you normally try to help if you can. Maybe you’ll stage a sit-down talk or an intervention or even acquire the resources you think will help that person and hand them over as gifts (be forewarned that money does not mend hearts). Maybe you’ll be as innovative as to ask what they really want out of life, or maybe you’ll just cut ties and get on with your own business.

Probably the hardest thing to do is confront the individual. A confrontation means you’ll be putting all your thoughts and feelings on the line, and that may either force the person away from you or leave yourself open to cross-examination. If you really care though, that’s exactly what you’ll do...

The confrontation is all about timing, and sometimes it takes a lot longer than you’d like. Timing is vastly important because without it you’re just a bothersome fly who’s repeatedly buzzing against the screen door. Becoming annoying isn’t helping anyone.

In my opinion, your best bet is to lead by example, and the best way to do this is never expect more from someone than you do of yourself. Work hard and follow through on your word. You’ll find out what you’re made of pretty quick.

All that said, what do we do when that person is not a person, but a place? Can we apply the same line of thinking to the social and economic problems we face right here in our own communities?

We are bleeding young people. Of all the kids that just graduated, how many of them can we expect to return to us after school or military service? What do we have to offer to people ages 18-35?

If I have to hear one more time that more industrial jobs are the answer I am going to scream. We need to fix our thinking before we can fix anything else. Wake up, folks, the world has changed.

For the past how many decades has the up and coming generation, called Millennials (of which I admit for full disclosure I am one), been asked what they want to do after graduation? For the past how many years have our parents been told an expensive education is the best investment to make in your child?

And then you want to turn around and try to sell today’s most promising young minds on manufacturing jobs?

If you’re looking for the cause of your interest-gap, generational disconnect, brain-drain, Millennial mass exodus, whatever you want to call it, there it is.

Two things happen after a person obtains their degree. First, they expect to have options in their field. They expect to have some say in where they get to start building their life. Finally, after investing so much of their youth into education they want to find a place that suits the sort of lifestyle they want to build.

What are we doing to make that place this place?

Secondly, that person is likely left with a tremendous bill. Education is not getting any cheaper and finding a job (dare I say career?) that will help them pay off their investment is a top consideration.

Now I ask you, when has putting all your eggs in one basket ever been sound practice? If all we’re toting is manufacturing jobs, how do we expect to draw back to the area the very diversified seniors who graduated last weekend?

Recently I attended the Wisconsin Rural Partners Summit held this year in Stevens Point. Among speakers and breakout sessions, the central topic was the Rural Wisconsin Today report, a status of trends in rural Wisconsin conducted by non-profit Wisconsin Rural Partners and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The following are a few hard facts to consider:

Fifteen percent of Wisconsin’s population is in 3/4 of its land area. The percentage of rural Wisconsin residents age 25 and older with at least a bachelors’ degree has almost tripled from 6.7 percent in 1970 to 18.7 percent today. Price County lost 10.5-percent of its population from 2,000 - 2010 (only Florence and Iron were higher around 13-percent). Price County’s median age is 48.8 years of age. The average household income in Price County is $50,741 compared to the state average of $67,188.

Guess what, Price County, it’s time for an intervention. We need to discuss some of these trends. I’m telling you because I care about you and I don’t want you to squander your vast potential for success.

Please stop looking inward at yourself and getting high on industrial park grants - it’s holding you back. What do you really want out of life, Price County? And how are you going to follow through on your word and lead this next generation by example?

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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