MANITOWOC, Wisc. (May 11, 2023) — Land O’Lakes, Inc. and the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) in partnership with Progress Lakeshore today announced that Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, is the next American Connection Community to join CORI’s Rural Innovation Network.
Manitowoc County is the latest in a set of rural communities, supported by Land O’Lakes, to benefit from several months of strategic planning and engagement through CORI’s Rural Innovation Initiative to help them create innovation hubs, assist with applications for state and federal funding, and gain access to tech skills and tools.
“As a member of the Manitowoc community, it is great to see this partnership come together to bring much-needed economic development and digital skilling opportunities for the broader community. Each rural area is different – and Manitowoc is on a mission to offer unique opportunities that will attract new businesses, families, and growth for the area,” said Pete Kappelman, senior vice president of member and government relations for Land O’Lakes, Inc. and fourth-generation farmer from Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
"Connectivity creates opportunities for everyone, including farmers," said Evan Hillan, co-owner of Rusk Rose Holsteins in Ladysmith, Wisconsin and Land O'Lakes dairy member. "In 2021, my family and I installed artificial intelligence monitoring on our fourth-generation farm to monitor the health of our 500 cows. This wouldn’t be possible if our farm didn’t have access to rural broadband. We’re excited to see this effort expand in Wisconsin, home to incredible innovators in our rural communities. American Connection Communities have the potential to demonstrate for leaders and policymakers how new, effective and transformational models for rural development can be implemented and scaled at the state and national level.”
“My father bought my family’s multi-generation farm in Manitowoc County in 1945. He started with six cows, and today we have 500. As we scaled, my family and I installed a robotic milking system that’s helping us keep pace and gain efficiency. Learning new digital skills to operate the robots showed us how innovation is essential to rural economic growth and development. I look forward to seeing how this initiative will create more opportunities for families across Manitowoc County,” said Joe Holschbach, owner of Cloveredge Farm, LLC.
The effort in Manitowoc County, led by Progress Lakeshore, involved working with CORI to produce an assessment of the region’s tech economy ecosystem. Now, Project Lakeshore is exploring feasibility studies to begin building out exciting, new assets to help local innovators and entrepreneurs. By becoming a member of the Rural Innovation Network, Manitowoc joins a growing nationwide collective that includes 36 other communities that have also shown an ongoing commitment to advancing their economic futures.
Manitowoc County’s progress follows the success of Aberdeen, South Dakota, which piloted the American Connection Community project in 2022. After working with CORI, Aberdeen went on to secure nearly $1.5 million in funding through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale grant program.
"Manitowoc is a beautiful community and has so much potential to attract new economy innovators," said Matt Dunne, executive director of the Center on Rural Innovation. "Every day, we’re seeing potential emerging from small communities across the country. We are excited to work with Manitowoc to unlock the tech talent and empower rural entrepreneurs across the region that’s home to Wisconsin’s Coolest Coast."
“We were very excited to be selected and supported by Land O’Lakes to participate in this unique process. Using the guidance, tools, and expertise from the CORI staff we identified initiatives to increase awareness and expand our tech-based economy. Capitalizing on our existing community assets and strong regional partnerships, we look forward to the opportunity to bring more investment and residents into the community, diversifying the economy for the future,” said Jamie Zastrow, executive director of Progress Lakeshore, Inc.
The American Connection Communities initiative is part of Land O’Lakes’ broader American Connection Project (ACP), which has demonstrated success across rural communities nationwide through the opening of more than 3,000 free, public Wi-Fi locations and the creation of the American Connection Corps. This endeavor under the ACP umbrella expands opportunities for direct investments in rural communities and supports rural economic development via a dynamic, high-return technical assistance program that can be replicated at the national level.
For general information on the ACP, please visit: americanconnectionproject.com.