Over the course of the past year, I have utilized the term “ecosystem” on a more frequent basis as we look to and envision the future of the County. An ecosystem is defined in two ways 1) a system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment; or 2) any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts. As we begin to look at the County as an ecosystem, there are many interconnected elements that must work together to change the trajectory of the ecosystem in a positive way. This includes work of local government, community groups, non-profits and private sector working together to achieve positive outcomes.
Jefferson County has been working in the planning phases to help define what the future of the ecosystem is. This started with the development and on-going refinement of the County’s Strategic Plan. Building off this the County has begun it Comprehensive Plan process. Like our municipalities and townships, counties have a statutory requirement to update this document every 10 years. Requirements of this plan include looking into areas of Housing; Transportation; Community Facilities & Utilities; Agricultural, Natural & Cultural Resources; Economic Development; Intergovernmental Cooperation and Land Use & Regulations.
So what does this have to do with the United Way? As you see, many of the requirements of a comprehensive plan are areas that the United Way has been a part of improving through grant dollars raised in the annual campaign or through direct resource coordination and engagement by our Executive Director Megan Hartwick. So accordingly, the County has asked Megan to serve on the Steering Committee of the Comprehensive Plan to represent non-profits as we look to the future of the ecosystem of Jefferson County.
As we look to define what is a successful ecosystem, data is part of this analysis. The United Way of Wisconsin helped produce a report called the ALICE report, which recently published its second version. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. In essence, this data looks at those households that are above the Federal Poverty Level but still have difficulty in affording basic household needs. This report has developed a household survival budget for each county in the state and compares it to the number of households earning fall below this budget. This is the ALICE Threshold. Per this report by United Way, in Jefferson County, 10% of our households are in poverty (state average 11.7%) and 27% of households are beneath the ALICE Threshold (state average 25.8%) (2016 data).
The goal of our United Way, the County and other stakeholders in our communities is to collectively work together to improve upon this data set by looking at ways to improve the lives that are impacted by services and opportunities provided by all. This data is part of the ecosystem we look to improve upon as we make plans for the future.
Please continue to support the United Way and please engage in the County’s Comprehensive Plan process to help envision the future.
County Administrator, Jefferson County