OPINION In conversations with business owners during the past year, after stories of hardships upon hardships, many although certainly not all have ended with, “But we’re going to be okay.”
That proof of the creativity, determination and grit of Wisconsin’s small-business owners is the charge for our state as we begin to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to apply the lessons of 2020 to ensure that not only does Wisconsin recover, but that we create a Wisconsin stronger than ever.
Like the businesses we partner with, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation needed to adapt quickly to the changes the pandemic wrought. Just days into the health emergency, the corporation announced March 18 its first program to provide $5 million in reallocated emergency funds to targeted small businesses. As we closed 2020, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers had distributed a total of more than $220 million to more than 50,000 Wisconsin businesses, partnering with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to assure the dollars went to those most impacted.
Our team also created new ways to communicate directly with small businesses, starting first with health and safety best practices. We’re now offering practical information about navigating employee issues and even the difficult mental-health challenges we all face.
Throughout the year the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has continued its traditional focus on finding ways for new businesses to start and existing ones to expand, and for communities to grow. We helped Molson Coors bring 377 new jobs to Milwaukee, celebrated the groundbreaking of the HARIBO plant in Pleasant Prairie, and invested in community projects like a new after-school center in Holcomb and renovated retail space in downtown Sturgeon Bay. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation provided Evers with a road map for rural renewal in our report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. And amid this summer’s unrest, the corporation provided $4 million in no-interest loans to help rebuild Kenosha.
Together all those efforts reinforce a lesson of the past year – our citizens’ economic future depends on balancing many interrelated issues at once. We have learned, for example, that access to broadband internet affects jobs through remote working, retailers through online sales, health care through telehealth services and education through virtual classrooms. Similarly we have learned parents can’t go to work unless they have access to quality child care, and small towns can’t attract new workers without access to affordable housing. The most important lesson of 2020 is that without addressing deeply entrenched inequity and racism, we will not succeed.
Evers calls this “connecting the dots,” and this year has shown us how vital it is that we keep making those connections – learning lessons and acting decisively on those lessons.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s motto for 2020 has been “We’re All In.” We’re all in this together; we’re all in Wisconsin. We will continue to promote a comprehensive all-in approach to ensure our state’s economy emerges stronger than ever. Creativity, determination and grit are hallmarks of our citizens, our businesses and communities. Let’s leverage those strengths, appreciate our neighbors and collectively agree that Wisconsin deserves it.
Missy Hughes is the secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s economic-development organization. Visit wedc.org for more information.