Investments

Wisconsin leads U.S. in economic development and business assistance investments







Hill Valley Dairy, 510 Broad St., Lake Geneva

The Hill Valley Dairy retail cheese shop at 510 Broad St. in Lake Geneva, opened in February, received $10,000 in grant funding from the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program, which has helped more than 4,500 small businesses and nonprofits across all 72 Wisconsin counties.



Eric Johnson



Wisconsin is leading the way among U.S. states in economic development and business assistance investments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Tony Evers on Nov. 16 highlighted a recent analysis of state allocations of federal aid under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan research and policy institute founded in 1981 with focus areas in a variety of areas including federal fiscal policy, state fiscal policy, and response to economic crises, including the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CBPP analysis showed that, as a share of federal aid received by states and directed by Evers, Wisconsin is the top state in the country for aid directed to overall economic development and the top state in the country in aid directed to assist businesses.

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Among investments directed by Evers to support Wisconsin businesses and economic development includes those made through the state’s Main Street Bounceback Grant Program (https://wedc.org/programs-and-resources/mainstreet-bounceback-grants/), created by the Evers Administration to support Wisconsin’s economic recovery and help fill empty storefronts in all 72 Wisconsin counties.

Evers announced Nov. 16 that nearly 7,200 small businesses and nonprofits have been approved for $10,000 grants to fill empty storefronts through the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program.

“We’ve worked to make smart investments to get more support into the hands of Wisconsin families, farmers, industries and small businesses who’ve been the lifeblood of our economic recovery by hiring locally, buying locally, and giving back to our communities,” Evers said. “With new businesses opening on Main Streets in every county of Wisconsin, unemployment at historic lows, and our state in the best fiscal position in state history, it’s clear our investments have paid off. I’m darn proud that we’re a national leader in our focus on supporting small businesses and long-term investments to build an economy that works for everyone.”

Among the local grant funding recipients is the Hill Valley Dairy retail store at 510 Broad St. in Lake Geneva, which received $10,000 in grant funding from the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program. Evers visited the store back on June 2 to promote June Dairy Month and the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program.

“We were were eligible for the Main Street Bounceback Grant because we opened up the cheese shop during the window of time that included the [COVID-19] pandemic,” said Hill Valley Dairy artisan cheesemaker Ron Henningfeld, who co-owns the business with his wife, Josie. “We were able to apply for a grant and received funds which helped us tremendously as a small business. It helped us pay rent and also hire staff and pay wages as we started up this store on one of the main streets here in Lake Geneva.”

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Since 2020, Evers has invested more than $1 billion of Wisconsin’s federal coronavirus relief funds in economic resilience and supporting small businesses, including through the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program, which provides $10,000 grants to help small businesses and nonprofits move into previously vacant commercial spaces throughout the state.

First announced in April 2021, Evers on May 10, 2022 announced an additional $25 million investment to support the program due to greater-than-expected demand, and in September, the governor again announced an additional $25 million investment in the program, bringing his total investment to $100 million to help a total of 10,000 small businesses and nonprofits.

The program is administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), and grants are available on a first-come, first-served basis through Dec. 31, 2022.

“Communities around the state are continuing to show a sense of excitement and optimism as new businesses open their doors,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “In every corner of the state, there’s a feeling that Wisconsin is offering small business owners a chance to make their dreams a reality. These investments are good for the whole community because when one new business opens, it’s a chance for other local businesses to benefit from increased foot traffic and supply chain relationships. It’s really a win for everyone.”

The demand for Main Street Bounceback grants is just one indication of the strength of Wisconsin’s economy. The state’s unemployment rate continues to stay below the national average, while Wisconsin’s labor participation rate — the share of working-age adults currently employed — is one of the highest in the nation for all ages of workers.

The state has also seen rapid growth in business start-ups. Based on records provided by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions to WisBusiness.com, the number of new business formations in Wisconsin rose 42% between 2019 and 2021, from more than 50,000 to over 71,000. By comparison, the year-over-year increases going back to 2011-2012 ranged from 3.2% to 8.4%.

Funds for the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program are provided by ARPA, and WEDC is working with nine regional economic development organizations to quickly disburse grant funding to eligible businesses and nonprofit organizations.

More information about the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program and how to apply is available on the WEDC website at https://wedc.org/programs-and-resources/mainstreet-bounceback-grants/.

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