Sustainability Institute holds first-ever Community Resiliency Symposium

Group looking at ways to become more sustainable

Are we prepared for potential environmental and economic challenges ahead?

That was the question being asked by leaders at a first-ever event Wednesday.

The event is called the Community Resiliency Symposium, and is put on from the Sustainability Institute in La Crosse.

The event is looking at ways the city can become more resilient and sustainable in the face of environmental and economic challenges.

The answers could be closer than you think.

There’s plenty to compare between the cities of La Crosse and Dubuque, Iowa.

Dubuque’s Mayor Roy Buol was one of three speakers on hand to talk about the economic and environmental resilience of the La Crosse area.

“We want to know more about our planning, what we are preparing to do,” Western Technical College President Lee Rasch said. “What our strengths are – where our gaps are related to issues that could impact us: Environmental, technological, demographic?”

In addition to investing in more eco-friendly infrastructure, Buol stresses that diversifying a region’s economy is the key to resiliency.

“We lost a lot of that manufacturing workforce, but we’ve substituted or brought in a more diverse workforce around other industries like the tech industry, our medical industry, and our schools,” Buol said. “The major last recession that we had we didn’t get much over 7 percent unemployment rate because of the diverse workforce that we had.”

According to economists, La Crosse is well on our way toward that goal.

“We think of education and health sectors being fairly resilient to economic recessions, and we have more employment in those sectors than the average for the rest of the nation,” T.J. Brooks, professor of economics at UW-La Crosse, said.

But there’s plenty more that can be done.

“(They need to be) thinking about making investments that don’t appeal to a specific industry, but appeal to many industries. Make this is a great place to live, first, and employment follows,” Brooks said.

While there are plenty of similarities between the two towns, there’s also plenty to learn.

“Whatever help we can provide as a community, we’re willing to share it all. Because it’s all about future generations,” Buol said.

Following the speeches in the morning, those who attended the symposium participated in small group sessions in the afternoon, hoping to provide some solutions on becoming more sustainable over time.

Western Technical College, Gundersen Health System, and Organic Valley are just some of the organizations involved in the program.