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Economy & Business
WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

WEDC Acknowledges More Wisconsin Business Woes, Prepares To Distribute More Grants

Ann-Elise Henzl
River Run Restaurant in Racine, Wis. temporarily closed in March but has now re-opened for carry-out and limited indoor dining. Many restaurants say despite the bump in sales this summer, they need financial assistance.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) says financial woes related to lost business because of the COVID-19 pandemic are deepening for some business sectors. The organization says tens of thousands of firms are seeking assistance.

WEDC secretary and CEO Missy Hughes told the agency’s board Tuesday that after a bad economic hit during the spring, restaurants saw some improvements during the summer.

"We're seeing that activity really die off now and I'm just not sure without additional federal assistance that these restaurants can really survive,” Hughes said. She added that many hotels are not doing well, either.

Hughes said the state is trying to monitor the financial health of many firms.

"If you look at a data point in January and say you had 100 businesses that are existing right now and the way we tracking that is simply whether they had one credit card transaction in a day. Now, we're seeing that number has reduced to 86.9, and it's on a trend line of going down," she said. "Businesses are maybe just closing their shops. They're not running any more credit card transactions and are kind of disappearin literally into the ether. We’re trying to figure out where is that happening? Is it on Main Street? Is it in strip malls?"

Tens of thousands of still-active small companies are turning to the state for help as WEDC distributes federal money in the form of $5,000 grants for the "We're All In" program.

During the summer, the first phase provided $65 million in grants for more than 26,000 businesses statewide, 30,000 businesses applied. Last month, the state made another $50 million available and officials say they've received 48,000 applications. Grantees will be announced in early December.

WEDC said despite the bleak news, some business owners are innovating. Chief Operating Officer Sam Rikkers told the board he spoke with a cheesemaker who needed more space to provide socially-distanced work breaks.

"That individual rented some trailers so they could figure out a way to continue operating yet have a break for their employees,” he said.

Rikkers said 1,200 companies have entered the state's We're All Innovating Contest that will award a total of $3 million in federal money to 225 firms by the middle of next month.

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