Small Wisconsin businesses offered $420 million in grants
May 12, 2021
In late April Governor Tony Evers announced light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel for small business owners in Wisconsin. Wisconsin will award $420 million through the new Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grant program.
The program, a collaboration between the Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, is funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARPA). The press release announcing the new program stated that it could help 84,000 small Wisconsin businesses.
While grant details won’t get nailed down until federal stimulus plan rules are put in place, the press release revealed that eligible businesses could receive grants of $5,000. The range of annual gross revenue for eligible businesses is $10,000 to $7 million.
“We want businesses to know that help is on the way,” said Evers. “And once we receive federal funds, we aren’t going to wait to get these funds out quickly to help small businesses restock shelves, catch up on bills, rehire and retain workers, and continue to help keep their customers, employees, and our communities safe as we work to bounce back together. We can’t sit around and wait to get these funds out the door, and we can’t afford to let politics get in the way of getting resources and support to those who need our help.”
In March, Evers revealed a plan of how to use the $3.2 billion the state will get under the American Rescue Plan. He wants to invest $2.5 billion toward Wisconsin economic recovery and wellbeing. That includes $600 million designated to support small businesses. The $420 million in grants is part of that $600 million directed to small businesses and will include small businesses started in 2020.
A series of Republican bills were introduced mid-April that would have directed how the ARPA funds would be spent. Evers vetoed the bills when they landed on his desk. Republicans wanted to spend only a third of what Evers proposed, $200 million, on Wisconsin small businesses.
“The Legislature’s proposal to spend just a small portion of our American Rescue Plan funds on small businesses simply won’t cut it for me,” Evers said. “Our Main Streets have been hit hard during this pandemic and we need to do everything we can to make sure they can bounce back.”
The Center for Customized Research at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has tracked changes in Wisconsin businesses during the pandemic. Its most recent survey, as reported by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), revealed that 70 percent of responding businesses said they would be able to stay open for at least 7 months under current conditions and 20 percent said stated they’d survive for less than 6 months. Eighteen percent found it impossible to say. Eleven months earlier, over 41 percent had said they’d last less than six more months and only 38 percent said they’d survive for 7 months or more.
Wisconsin small businesses got creative during the pandemic. Wausau River District director Blake Opal-Wahoske told WPR that most of Wisconsin’s small businesses made short-term changes to their business models to survive. For example, restaurants opened drive-through or curbside service. To avoid laying off employees, businesses instead reduced hours or put furloughs in place. Most, he said, have not made those changes to their business models permanent.
“They’re assuming that we will go back into restaurants (post-COVID),” Opal-Wahoske said. “And as for a retail store, they weren’t going to try to figure out how to staff an e-commerce fulfillment side of their business, let alone deal with the inventory hassles.”
For updates to the small business grant program, visit https://www.revenue.wi.gov/Pages/TaxPro/2021/WisconsinTomorrowSmallBusinessRecoveryGrant.aspx