New bill would address workforce shortage in rural Wisconsin

New bill would address workforce shortage in rural Wisconsin

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would eliminate tens of thousands of dollars of student debt for graduates who choose to live and work in rural Wisconsin.

Assembly Bill 730 aims to address employee shortages in rural communities and encourage graduates to move back to the state. College graduates who have lived out of the state for at least five years, but moved back and have worked in rural communities for at least six months would be eligible for the student loan reimbursement.

The Higher Educational Aids Boards would make annual payments equaling 40 percent of a graduate’s student loans or $25,000, whichever is less.

Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, a sponsor of the bill, said it’s a small part of the puzzle to help grow the workforce in rural communities. He said most towns don’t want a Foxconn moving in because they don’t have the employees to support it, but many rural communities would benefit from 25-50 additional employees.

“It would be important because these are small communities. You come in with 13,000 people and you’re blown away and I’d probably get run out of the country. But people are looking for employees. You can pick up any of the print media or go online and people are looking for employees,” Brooks said.

Brooks added that there are employers looking to fill open positions or add another shift, but they can’t find the people, so this bill would be an incentive to bring those people to rural Wisconsin. He said while it’s a small part of the puzzle to help grow the workforce, it would not only benefit the communities, but offer people a different lifestyle.

“Not everybody wants to hop in a bus and go to work and then come home and be locked in. They want to take a bike to work or something, which they could do out here if they lived close to their job,” Brooks said.

The bill defines a rural county as one that does not include a metropolitan statistical area, so counties like Dane, Columbia, Iowa and Rock would not qualify.