By Tom Still

ADAMS, Wis. – Without much rubber-necking, I counted 11 vehicles the other day marked “For Sale” on the side of Highway 13 between the town of Rome and the Highway 82 intersection in southern Adams County. Spread along those 30 or so miles were cars, vans, tractors, boats and trucks, all beckoning new owners.

Maybe it was spring cleaning time. Or perhaps some families decided they have too many vehicles. Or maybe it was a sign that not everyone in Wisconsin finds today’s economy to be booming.

Knowing Adams County a bit, along with other mostly rural parts of Wisconsin, I suspect it’s the latter scenario.

Many economists predicted the U.S. economy would be in recession by now, bogged down by a combination of inflation, high interest rates and poor job growth. Instead, prices have stabilized in some key sectors such as groceries and durable goods; interest rates haven’t fallen yet but they’re not rising, either; and employers have added 300,000 jobs since March and nearly 3 million in the past year.

However, personal savings have dwindled, delinquency rates on loans are rising and interest rates on credit cards and auto loans are at their highest rates in decades. A strong U.S. dollar may sound like a good thing, because it reflects a resilient economy, but it hurts prices of American stocks and bonds by making them more expensive for offshore institutional investors. That tends to hurt smaller investors first.

The net result is that more people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and that may be more likely in parts of Wisconsin that don’t enjoy the vibrant economies found in the state’s largest cities.

Toss in an aging population, older housing stock, stresses on education at all levels and uneven access to health care, the problems for rural Wisconsin can be more serious than those in urban settings.

None of this is to say rural Wisconsin should be counted out, however. It’s just that parts of the state are still waiting for the benefits of major legislative initiatives in Washington, D.C., to filter down to them. Meanwhile, some communities are working on their own to strengthen existing businesses – large and small – while embarking on new endeavors of their own.

That brings me back to Adams County, where the Wisconsin Technology Council will hold a free session May 14 at Mid-State Technical College on North Main Street in Adams to offer tips on launching, funding and growing young businesses.

Speakers include Patrick Gatterman, director of the Small Business Development Center at UW-Stevens Point; Joe Kremer, director of the Tech Council’s Investors Network; and Blane Huppert, partner and sponsorship associate with WiSys, which works with entrepreneurs and others connected to Wisconsin’s comprehensive universities. The Adams County Chamber of Commerce and Mid-State are hosting; the U.S. Small Business Administration is a major funder of SWIFT. That’s our acronym for State of Wisconsin Initiative to Fast Track entrepreneurs.

Mentors will speak and answer questions on areas such as legal steps to starting a company, funding sources for such firms, and public resources generally available to entrepreneurs. Attendees will engage in an exercise aimed at bringing forth their ideas and any challenges that lie ahead.

People don’t need to live in Adams County to attend; others who live in Wisconsin’s central sands region are welcome to stop by.

Predicted to be one of seven swing states, the coming months will see Wisconsin analyzed by political experts who want to know more about why the state may be a close call in the November presidential election. A likely reason is people in parts of the state view the economy – in their home towns, farms and businesses – differently than people elsewhere view their own situation.

Places such as Adams County have a solid economic foundation to build on, but it may take more work and longer hours to get there.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at