New Extension agent is ready to team up and maximize community potential
By Correne Martin
There’s a new agent in the Crawford County Extension Office who is ready to help local communities become more successful, sustainable and competitive places where people want to live, work, play and do business. Will Cronin joined the office on Jan. 2 as the Community, Natural Resources and Economic Development (CNRED) educator. He is available to work in partnership with people in local government, civic organizations, volunteers, business owners, industry officials and others who have a need for support and resources.
“I love to meet people and I want them to know I’m here to help,” Cronin said. “What makes positions like mine so powerful is that we have an extraordinary amount of resources, colleagues around the state and specialists who are uniquely suited to provide support to communities. We are kind of like the nerve center, the connective tissue in a community.
“It’s cool to have a job where I work in a broad spectrum of areas.”
Though Cronin’s position as CNRED educator is not new to Crawford County, it has been vacant for about a year. Laura Brown held the job in the mid-2000s and then Bryan Wood followed her as an interim employee until the end of 2012.
Cronin, who is originally from Michigan, came to Crawford County from Monroe County (Wis.), where he was also the CNRED educator for three years. In that county, one of his biggest projects was researching and creating the position of county economic development coordinator. Thanks to a boom in mining there, Cronin also quickly became an “expert” on the issue of sand mining.
“Nobody got more big industrial mines faster than Monroe County,” he said, “and my job was to provide research-based, unbiased information about them.”
Cronin holds a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in urban and regional planning. He previously worked as an intern in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a regional economic development organization.
“My educational background is in American politics and history,” he said. “I’m interested in policy and regional planning and helping citizens navigate that system.”
One of the big draws that brought Cronin to Crawford County was the beauty of the Driftless Area. He’s excited about working in Prairie du Chien and being by the Mississippi River. His hobbies include outdoorsy activities like snowshoeing, hiking and camping; hobbyist photography; reading books; following the Detroit Tigers and being a “humongous train nerd.” He said he takes lots of pictures of trains and enjoys model railroading.
He has been in his office for over a month now, but Cronin said he’s still settling in and meeting new people every day. He’s excited to meet more new faces, talk to clubs about his position and generally get out and about to let people know he’s here.
“I encourage people to give me a call. If it’s not something I can specifically answer, I can help find the answer,” he stated.
The Crawford County Board feels strongly that the UW-Extension and its CNRED program are an asset to the county and its residents. They are happy to have Cronin on board and accessible for the benefit of residents and businesses.
“When you create businesses, you create growth; and when you create growth, you enhance the quality of life in an area. When you have families that have good jobs with small businesses and they feel stable, they can be active in schools and organizations. That’s very important to a community as well,” Cronin explained.
According to the UW-Extension system, its 55 county CNRED educators (out of 72 counties) are a great public investment because they work to coordinate services and programs and share resources and expertise, making public programs not only more cost-efficient, but more effective.
For Cronin, he will be in regular contact with local government officials, community and economic development boards, regional planning commissions, business owners, inventors and entrepreneurs clubs, workforce development representatives, tourism commissions, active citizens, volunteer groups, etc. He is available to address the communities’ educational needs, such as local leadership training, public policy issues, natural resources education, land-use planning, decision-making, technology access and more. He can collaborate with other counties if necessary. He is willing to sit down with organizations and talk about development and progression too.
“So many community organizations are just so busy trying to survive, it’s hard for them to look long-term,” Cronin said. “I would like to sit down with some of them and talk about what they are doing, why they are doing it and what they might be able to do to improve their strong investment in their community.”