How Wisconsin is channeling federal pandemic relief to support small businesses

When COVID-19 hit Wisconsin in March 2020, Amy Trimbo was running a sewing service business from a storefront in Washburn, doing clothing repairs. In response to the pandemic, she turned to making cloth masks.

Soon, she needed to expand and move into a vacant space in the building. Still, it’s an adventurous time for many small business owners. She knows making the mask is only temporary, but what happens next is uncertain.

“It’s hard to build a business around a product that you know demand is going to drop,” she said.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is helping in the form of the Main Street Rebound Grant, which funds small business relocation and expansion during the pandemic. “Being able to do what we want and need to do is really a great boost,” says Amy Trimbo.

Her husband, Jared, gave up his job as a waitress during the early shutdown of the pandemic, closing the bar and grill where he worked. He stayed at home with the couple’s children.

But by the following year, he was ready to go back to work, this time in business for himself, opening a coffee roaster in the same building as Amy’s. Jared also received a Main Street Bounceback grant to help remodel and buy stock. “To get started, I had to buy $5,000 worth of coffee beans,” he says. The grant “removes a little risk at such a dangerous time.”

More than any other state, Wisconsin has used its federal pandemic relief funds to help support small businesses through the economic storm clouds seeded by COVID-19.

Of the state’s omnibus pandemic relief funding — $1.9 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 and $2.5 billion from the American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) of 2021 — Wisconsin has Spending $1.3 billion to directly support businesses, primarily small businesses.This includes more than half of the state’s ARPA Appropriations, Budget and Policy Priorities Center Reported in September.

That record is at odds with repeated attacks on the government. Tony Evers on 2022 campaign that ended last week with Evers re-elected: The Republican claims he blew up the pandemic and rejected his business.

Milwaukee restaurateur Melissa Buchholz has never accepted the claim.

“We feel that Evers has steered our small business community through difficult, choppy waters and put in place programs to help us provide support when we need it most,” Buccholz said. Three years. “Evers is the one who stepped up and helped.”

small business first

WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes said small business support has been a priority since the start of the pandemic. Earlier, state health orders closed many businesses to curb the spread of the virus, and even after the Wisconsin Supreme Court lifted the order in May 2020, many businesses remained closed or saw their traffic slow down dramatically as people continued to Avoid crowds.

According to Hughes, WEDC believes that cafes, restaurants, hair salons and other places where people typically congregate will be the most vulnerable during that time of uncertainty.

“We really think that those businesses are going to take almost all of the hit from the pandemic,” Hughes said. “And we also recognize that those small businesses, the micro businesses, are going to have challenges accessing the coming federal funding, like payroll. protection plan.”

WEDC CEO Missy Hughes speaks with business owners and others in the summer of 2021, and DWD Secretary-designate Amy Pechacek will listen. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)

WEDC allocated $5 million from its existing budget to help small businesses. When the CARES Act money started coming in, and a year later from ARPA, Evers “really felt it was a priority to help support these small businesses because we could really deploy that broadly,” Hughes said.

Some of the first investments are helping businesses obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) and reconfigure their operations to encourage social distancing between customers and employees. The Main Street Bounce Initiative followed suit, offering $10,000 in grants to businesses across the state that move into vacant downtown space for the second year.

“Imagine, on a main street, there are two small businesses that have survived the pandemic, but they have four vacant lots on either side,” Hughes said. There’s a vibrant feel to Main Street. The Main Street Bounceback program is committed to filling those spaces.”

So far, about 7,300 Wisconsin businesses have opened or relocated under the program, covering all 72 counties, she said.According to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions According to WisBusiness report In June, new business formation rose 42% from 2019 to 2021.

The strength of Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector and its agricultural base make it possible for the state to put as much money as possible into small businesses, Hughes said. “We were able to do this because we didn’t need to insert other things in the process,” she said.

focus on diversity

In addition to the WEDC program, the Department of Administration (DOA) administers more than a dozen different grant programs funded by the CARES Act and 20 projects funded by ARPA.The department has also established a website listing All Pandemic Relief Funded Programs in the Stateincluding public health, community and nonprofit, and business grants.

DOA-administered programs include programs for tourism businesses as well as destination marketing programs for live event venues and summer camps. Other programs provide financial and business development funding for minority, women-owned and rural small businesses.

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“As we look around the state to see who’s been hit the hardest by this pandemic, we really want to make sure that this money is used to create a Wisconsin and an economy that works for all.” Designate.

Sean Fitprice headshot
Sean Fitplus

Shawn Phetteplace, Midwest manager of the Main Street Alliance, a small business advocacy group, said that since the state organization moved into Wisconsin, coalition leaders have gained the attention of the Evers administration. He said the live event venue grant program was brought up by members of his organization, which he credits with helping save more than 200 venues in Wisconsin.

Phetteplace said the administration is also responding to his organization’s emphasis on the need to help diverse small business owners who are Black, Indigenous or people of color. These small businesses “receive the least support from federal and state programs and must be made a priority by the government,” Phetteplace said. “They received over $80 million in grants.”

The state’s focus on business support also includes plans that go beyond individual businesses.

$130 million in grants for workforce plan Ongoing and designed to address the imminent gap between employers’ hiring needs and the challenges facing future workers, whether they require new job skills, face gaps in transportation, childcare or housing, or because of other personal circumstances such as disabilities .

Hughes said the workforce subsidy “puts a stamp on the future”. “We have a limited number of people, but in that limited number we have some who are not doing their best, or are doing so through no fault of their own.”

Even programs that are not strictly on the business support list can have a wider impact on the business. Brenda Moore Fritz, a Mount Horeb child care provider, said grants through the Department of Children and Families helped her center retain staff and carry out during the most uncertain times of the pandemic. manage. This in turn helps parents keep working where they might otherwise not be able to.

“I feel like the state has really highlighted and looked at who and what child care matters in our economy,” Moore Fritz said.

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