News & Media

Kelly Ryan: An Economy in Transition – Toward a Shared Vision

Fri. Nov 30, 2018

I’ve been listening to the General Motors downsizing announcements with a familiar feeling of angst and empathy; the pain of economic transition is undeniable and real.

Over the last two decades, Incourage has come to understand that we may not be able to stop the forces of the global markets, but we can be smarter and more intentional about transitions. 

We’ve learned a few things about what matters.   

We’ve learned that increasing local ownership, community led decision-making and inclusive economic growth are essential to transitioning single-industry economies. Because of this, Incourage has focused our efforts in these areas with training programs, grants, convenings, research, capital projects and partnerships/initiatives that have impacted thousands in our region.  

We’ve learned that effective economic transitions benefit from ingenuity, willingness to think differently, accepting ambiguity and perseverance – working for an economy of the future that is emergent. The real task is keeping the faith, or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

We’ve learned that accelerating economic and cultural transitions requires examining our own behavior as individuals and institutions. Incourage assessed our policy and practices to become smarter and more intentional about how we use all of our resources, including our investment portfolio, for greater mission impact and economic growth.

As a result, we now include holdings in publicly traded companies whose operations have a bearing on our community, including paper companies and large retailers. Incourage votes its shares and otherwise gives voice to resident concerns in favor of positive moves by these companies, such as increases in their minimum wage and effective governance practices.

This strategy is increasingly important as corporate ownership structures have changed over time to now include control by remote private equity firms with short-term incentives to maximize shareholder gains, often times at the expense of workers and community. Further, we are working in partnership with like-minded shareholders, stakeholders and public officials to set new standards for how corporations manage transitions. 

We’ve learned that we need diverse and strong businesses who embrace mutual value and shared benefit for all stakeholders – business, workers and community. This is particularly important in rural, less densely populated communities like ours where one restructuring, sale or closure can disrupt an entire economy.   

Finally – and most importantly – we know that effective transitions require all of us working toward a common vision of the future and a recognition that we are all connected by virtue of this place we call home. 

Thanks for reading,


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  • About Incourage

    Established in rural Wisconsin in 1994 to serve the changing needs of the south Wood County area, Incourage has become a nationally-recognized leader in place-based philanthropy and community development. Guided by values of equity, opportunity, and shared stewardship, Incourage envisions a community that works well for all people. One physical manifestation of this vision is the redevelopment of the Tribune building, which demonstrates Incourage’s user-centered approach to growing a strong and inclusive local economy.