Posted on

Focusing on 2020

In the blink of an eye, the teen years of the century are over. As with most teenage years, they were filled with turbulence and challenge along with growth and the glimpse of the maturity that comes with time and experience.

As the calendar turns and the 21st century enters its 20s, it is once again time to focus on the coming year and beyond to see what issues and opportunities will impact the people and places of Taylor County: Education — The Medford School Board is looking at the high school building and options on how the district can serve current and future generations of students. The current high school is more than 50 years old and, while it is well-maintained, it was designed to meet the needs of an educational era where smartphones and tablet computers were the stuff of science fiction.

In the past year, the school board has hired experts to examine the building’s needs, both educationally and structurally. This past fall the district held a series of listening sessions to share the results of those studies and to get feedback from the public about priorities. Video recordings from those sessions can be viewed on the district’s website at

District administrator Pat Sullivan also attended each of the Christmas concerts to update those in attendance about where the district was at in the process and to invite residents to give board members feedback. In coming months the district will be sending out detailed surveys to invite even more feedback from residents.

When it comes to communication between residents and school board members, more is always better. While it remains to be seen what, if any, proposal ultimately comes to voters for their approval, it is essential for residents to keep these lines of communication open.

County-wide education issues continue to focus on attracting and retaining high quality teachers and other staff. This is no different than any other workplace in the county. With younger generations more likely to switch jobs multiple times in their careers, districts will need to rethink their recruiting strategies.

Demographics -- Taylor County, like much of northern Wisconsin, is going grey. The median age of county residents is 43 years old with about 25% of the county population between the ages of 50 and 70.

While there is promise with statistics showing coming booms in teenager and younger children populations as Millennials are having multiple children, there is a significant demographic trough in the working population. Economic leaders must work with businesses to address this shortfall to ensure the area retains long-term economic vitality.

At the same time, local government agencies must be ready to address the needs of a growing population nearing retirement even as governmental agencies struggle to compete with the private sector for employees.

Leadership — City of Medford voters will have a choice this spring when it comes to the mayor’s position. Alderman Mike Bub is challenging incumbent mayor Mike Wellner in the city’s first seriously contested mayoral race since 2004.

When it comes to elections, choice is always a good thing. In Medford voters will choose between a continuation of the status quo and someone who has routinely questioned the growing power of the city bureaucracy.

At the county level, there should remain stability with no challenges filed for any of the incumbent positions. While this stability has been a strength for the county as it works through complex issues such as expanding rural broadband and the issues around the Chelsea Lake Dam, in the long-term the county needs to look toward the future.

By design, the county government is decentralized with each department, and its oversight committee, having near total authority over their small part of county government. The system works largely because of the personnel in place in the departments. The challenge for the future as long-term staff retire is if the culture of cooperation leaves with them, leading to a collection of competing princedoms rather than looking out for the common good.

Economic infrastructure - It is no secret that Wisconsin’s dairy farmers are struggling. More than 10% of the state’s family farms have closed their doors in the past two years. For those living in rural communities this is a terrifying reality.

In addition to their crops and livestock, farmers raise the capital needed to keep rural America viable. The consolidation of farms into larger and larger producers will have a direct impact on rural communities, casting doubt about their long-term sustainability.

Economic leaders at the local, state and national level must work with current and former dairy farmers to develop alternative crops and markets for their products. Economic leaders must work to encourage the next generation of agricultural entrepreneurs to take the place of the dairy farmers who have left farming.

The future always brings challenges, but area residents should have optimism for 2020. On the balance sheets there are far more things that remain good about Taylor County and northcentral Wisconsin than there are bad.The challenges the area faces, both the ones listed here and others that will arise over the coming year, are far from insurmountable and will leave a stronger community in their wake.