Baldwin Award: Rural Youth Identity in south Wood County

Wisconsin Wood County

in 2000, the south Wood County area was devastated by economic hardships brought about by the sale of a Fortune 500 paper company. While the immediate result was a 40% loss in total employment, the enduring impact was the hollowing loss of community identity and a staggering shift in migration choices of area youth. From 2000 to 2010, the south Wood County area saw a 10.9% drop in its 30 and under population while comparatively, the state of Wisconsin saw a 1.7% growth. Out-migration is approaching crisis level in south Wood County. Regional employers confirm there will not be sufficient local workforce to replace loom mass retirements projected in the coming years.

The ability to develop a positive identity and sentiment for a community of residence is crucial to migration choices; and while strong progress to rebuild and redefine the local economy is evident, the common point of concern is how to engage youth – individually and collectively- in the process of redefining the narrative of south Wood County.

This project seeks to explore how the dramatic shift in identity, catalyzed by the sale of the paper mill, has affected measures of community sentiment and identity of today’s generation of youth, compared to generations of students graduating in the late 1980s and 1990s. The primary objective of phase one research is to identify an equitable sample baseline from which a mixed method survey design approach to phase two research may build.

The intended audience for this research is UW students, faculty, and staff as well as local residents, key educational and organizational stakeholders, and other community leaders in south Wood County. Project leader is Kristi Anderson,  graduate student researcher in the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies within SoHE.

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