Building a Resilient Community

By Rob Henken

“Resilient” is a word that is most often associated with individuals who have experienced trauma, or with materials (like nylon). But in the small village of Wind Point, it’s a word that is being used to catalyze collaborative action to shape a community.

The “Resilient Communities” initiative is a new project spearheaded by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. Its aim is to bring together elected officials, business leaders, and citizens from the seven Racine County municipalities located east of I-94 to consider “what more we can do together to keep our communities moving forward versus lagging behind.” The initiative kicked off with a three-part speaker series on June 14.

The Forum has been retained by the Johnson Foundation to help lay the factual groundwork for the initiative. One of our work products is a comprehensive set of “community indicators” that speak to how the Greater Racine community is doing both economically and socioeconomically. We hope to do additional work on specific possibilities for cooperation and service sharing in Greater Racine as the initiative moves forward.

I had the pleasure of presenting the community indicators as the second speaker in the briefing series last evening. While the indicators contain lots of data that can be interpreted in several different ways, a few key takeaways emerge:

  • Racine County’s continued reliance on manufacturing jobs makes it distinctive from adjacent counties and raises the question as to whether this is a strength that should be built upon, or a weakness that should be addressed.
  • The City of Racine is suffering from slow growth and high levels of poverty when compared to its surrounding communities, and it lacks the geographic advantages of nearby Kenosha (i.e. its close proximity to I-94) that would be helpful in allowing it to address those challenges.
  • The City of Racine has greater need than its surrounding communities to spend more on municipal services (e.g. public safety), but its tax base has much less wherewithal to support that need.

Taken together, these takeaways suggest the need for community-wide planning and action to address the specific challenges facing the City of Racine and to ensure that both the city and the larger region are on the same page when it comes to promoting economic growth and providing essential government services to citizens. That’s what the Johnson Foundation initiative is hoping to accomplish, and the Forum is honored to be a part of it.