Nearly half the Wisconsin small businesses that applied for a federally-funded grant triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic were initially rejected. But state officials hope more firms will still get into the program known as We're All In.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) says it's reviewed more than 30,000 applications for a total of $75 million provided by the federal coronavirus relief bill. So far, roughly 16,000 firms have been granted $2,500 apiece to use for costs related to the pandemic — including health and safety improvements, wages and salaries, rent, mortgages, and inventory.
But more than 14,000 applications were initially rejected. WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes says her agency is trying to help many of those firms.
"Where you see a rejection is something like the W-9 wasn't signed or the business name on the letter of support didn't match the business name on the letter of application. So, we're going back to make sure the business isn't rejected for a red tape reason,” Hughes told the WEDC Board on Tuesday.
The state's economic development agency says it expects about 7,200 small businesses will successfully reapply. WEDC says it will reach out to another 6,000 companies that have yet to resubmit their paperwork.
Hughes says the We're All In program is about to move into a second phase, that will partly encourage Wisconsin residents to buy from locally-owned retailers.
"We have seen retail continue in our economy, but it has shifted to the Amazons and the Costcos and the Walmarts, and shifted away from our small retailers, our small businesses throughout all of our towns,” Hughes said.
Getting customers to switch back to local firms during a pandemic is not the only challenge for the state's economy. WEDC Board member Randy Hopper is a Republican appointee and a business owner in Fond du Lac. He told the meeting that the uncertainty of when schools will physically reopen in some districts due to COVID-19 makes it tough for some firms.
"There are a lot of small businesses that don't have child care lined up, that count on kids actually going to school during the day so they can open their shops and they're not going to be able to do that. What are we doing on that end?” Hopper asked Hughes.
Hughes replied that the question of child care is probably bigger than her agency. But she says she's emphasized the importance of that care in having a functioning economy.
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