By MaryBeth Matzek
A host of factors play into whether a community is considered healthy.
Things like access to and quality of medical care, the environment, the economy and quality and length of life. Kewaunee County continues to rank among the healthiest in Wisconsin, most recently second in annual state health rankings.
In the economic area, the county’s agricultural community is vital. Agriculture accounts for more than $80 million in economic activity each year. Of that, an estimated $65 million is driven by dairy farming, said Jim Smidel, a member of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp.’s board of directors.
“Dairies and agriculture are a big part of the economic engine in Kewaunee County,” said Smidel, who is an assistant bank manager and ag banking officer at Investors Community Bank and owns a small dairy farm with his brothers. “The dairies contribute taxes, create jobs, help support strong infrastructure and use local businesses.”
Kim Kroll, an owner of Rolling Hills Dairy in Luxemburg, sees the positive economic impact firsthand.
“Our family farm supports so many community businesses, such as implement dealers, veterinarians, hoof trimmers, the feed mill and other businesses that provide us with other services or items we need for our farm,” Kroll said. “The construction industry is also very busy in Kewaunee County as many farms are investing in their properties and making improvements.”
When driving through Luxemburg, Kroll sees many small businesses that her dairy directly supports.
“Our farm is family-owned and we are proud of being able to economically contribute to the area,” she said. “Without farms, many businesses in Kewaunee County would be hurting. We don’t have a lot of big industries here so the dairies are really a top job producer.”
In addition to several family members, Rolling Hills employs 25 full-time and two part-time employees.
Smidel said farmers also pay taxes on their properties, which help fund local schools and government services.
“There are a lot of misconceptions out there about dairies and the role they play in the local economy,” he said. “Some people think they don’t pay a lot in taxes because the land is charged at a lower rate, but that is not true. Farmers pay taxes on the improvements they make on their farms.”
Agriculture is the third largest employer in the county behind local government and the county’s three school districts. About 2,300 jobs are directly tied to agriculture, said Jennifer Brown, executive director of Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp.
In recent years, the county lost two large employers when Dominion’s Kewaunee Power Plant and Algoma Hardwoods Door Factory closed, but the county’s dairy employers remain strong and inject money back into the local economy, she said.
The county’s unemployment rate ranks among the lowest in Wisconsin.
This summer, dairy farming will bring in even more to the local economy though Farm Technology Days, which is hosted by Ebert Enterprises Inc. Thousands of visitors will descend on the county to see the latest in farm equipment and technology, and they will bring money to spend for lodging, food and fuel.
“We are also encouraging those visitors to see other places in the county, whether they are ag-related or not,” said Smidel, who is also working with the Farm Technology Days Committee.
“Kewaunee County has a lot to offer and we want them to see that.”