According to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy, Wisconsin allocated a greater share of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to economic development than any other state.
The study found that nearly 56% of Wisconsin’s ARPA funds were spent promoting the economy, which equates to about $1.1 billion. The next closest state allocated 38% to economic development.
The Center on Budget and Policy examined how states spent ARPA dollars through August 31, 2022. According to the report, common uses of ARPA dollars by states nationwide included replacing lost revenue and spending social services and unemployment insurance.
Of Wisconsin’s $1.1 billion allocated to the economy, $363.3 million was spent on general economic development, $130 million on workforce development, and $641.7 million for business assistance, according to the study.
Wisconsin also spent $100 million on broadband expansion, $112.9 million on health, $56 million on social services, $45 million on public safety, and $550 million on state operations, according to the study.
Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Missy Hughes said the spending was deliberate by Gov. Tony Evers throughout the pandemic.
At the start of the COVID-19 emergency, Hughes said Evers focused on using federal funds to help small businesses survive. But as the pandemic continued, she said the governor had begun to think about the state’s long-term economic vitality.
“As the governor was rolling out the federal dollars,” Hughes said, “he recognized there was an immediate need, and then there was, ‘What can we do to lay the foundation for the future? “”
Two of the major programs the administration invested in were the Main Street Bounceback and Workforce Innovation grants.
The Main Street program focuses on downtown revitalization, while the Workforce Innovation grants seek local solutions to labor shortages.
Both programs aimed to help local leaders find solutions to issues facing their communities, Hughes said.
“It’s our job at the state level to empower these local organizations,” she said. “Empowerment comes from trusting them, having them demonstrate that they are collaborating with each other, and then giving them resources and letting them run with them.”
According to Hughes, each county in Wisconsin received state grants for economic development.
In a statement last month, Evers said the investments made have helped the state recover from the pandemic by transforming communities “in every corner” of Wisconsin.
“I have been especially grateful to each of the small business owners who have welcomed me into their businesses to see firsthand the positive impact these investments are having on them and the community as a whole,” the Governor said, “and I look forward to continuing our work to support local businesses and main streets across our state.”
Main Street Bounce
The Main Street Bounceback program gave businesses or nonprofits $10,000 to move into vacant property in downtown Wisconsin. The funds could be used to pay for leases, mortgages, operational expenses and other business-related costs.
So far, Hughes said more than 6,600 businesses have received Main Street Bounceback grants. She added that the objective of the program was twofold.
“The first was that we wanted to help businesses that had survived the pandemic by filling those vacant spaces,” Hughes said. “And then we wanted to reward people who were brave enough to start a business in this really volatile and uncertain time.”
One community that has benefited from the program is Crawford County, which has received 51 grants including 27 in the town of Praire du Chien, according to Carol Roth, executive director of Driftless Development, an economic development organization in the county.
“The economic impact of what has been funded is almost $840,000,” she said, noting the county’s goal is to receive 60 grants by the December deadline. “It’s huge for our small, rural county.”
Prior to the program, Prairie du Chien had several vacant storefronts downtown, Roth said.
Now, she says, downtown Prairie du Chien is booming. The city organized a pre-Halloween downtown tour, which more than 1,000 children participated in.
“Without this program, downtown would be very different,” Roth said. “It was the shot in the arm that really gave small businesses the opportunity to take the next step, to move into a space to actually establish their business.”
The Workforce Innovation Grants Program provides grants of up to $10 million to local organizations to design and implement plans to address workforce issues facing their communities. regions.
One of the entities that has received funding from the program is the Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation. According to the WEDC, he received $3.2 million to help remove transportation barriers that prevent residents from finding jobs.
Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation executive director Jeff Mikorski said between 7 and 13 percent of households in the county have more workers than vehicles in their household.
“That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you look at other counties in the same area, you see numbers as low as 1.3%,” he said.
Mikorski said his organization is working with a nonprofit to create a service model that connects workers to transportation.
“Without additional help, there was no way to create a transportation system,” Mikorski said. “In Waupaca County, there aren’t many alternatives that other more urban communities would have. There’s virtually no Uber or Lyft, and there are no buses in the count.”
He said Waupaca County hopes to launch transportation in mid-December “with limited capacity” as it irons out program issues.
“By March, we hope to be able to start extending this beyond the trial period and moving forward,” Mikorski said.
With many worried about a possible recession next year, Hughes said the state’s investment will help make local communities resilient enough to weather the potential storm.
“If we’re heading into a recession, they’ll have a little more gas in the tank to be able to survive it,” she said. “…Although there may be a global recession, I think Wisconsin will be one of those pockets that you’ll see continue to really outperform and be very strong.”
“That’s really what I hear from our businesses. They’re going like gangbusters, and don’t expect that to stop anytime soon,” she continued.
Roth had similar feelings about the future of Prairie du Chien and Crawford County.
“Without these grants, we wouldn’t grow at all,” she said. “With these grants, it gives us a cushion that we wouldn’t have had before to make sure we can survive.”
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