WEDC must also support businesses that are thriving amid pandemic, says CEO

Published Wednesday, January 13, 2021
by Milwaukee Business Journal

In 2020, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. distributed nearly $240 million in grants to almost 55,000 businesses in need due to the negative impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ administration used some of the state’s allocation from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to create the We’re All In grant program. The funding was disbursed in three phases over the past several months.

While that funding is vital to some business, the state is also looking into how it can support companies that are thriving during the pandemic. Those resources will hopefully keep those companies in Wisconsin, said Missy Hughes, WEDC CEO and secretary, during a recent panel discussion hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club.

"As my conversations continued throughout the year with manufacturers and other business, some of them were killing it," Hughes said. "That is a testament to the fact that in Wisconsin, especially our manufacturers and our paper industry, they are providing really practical products and actual products to the rest of the country, and sometimes internationally. We saw the ability of those businesses to really be successful."

"Those businesses are often the anchor and core backbone of Wisconsin's economy," Hughes continued. "What I want to do, is rather than being fearful they're going to leave, I want to make sure we're providing them and having good conversations with them about what they need in order to continue to thrive."

Those resources include a robust workforce and supplying communities with things that will help attract workers from other states. That includes quality housing, access to child care, and great schools, Hughes said.

"We've been working hard with other (state) agencies so we have these cross conversations," she said.

For Wisconsin's entrepreneurs and early-stage companies with high-growth potential, those resources consist of more access to capital from Wisconsin investors, Hughes said.

"If they're getting capital from the coasts, (investors on) the coasts can say 'You need to come here and do your business here,'" Hughes said. "That's why it's critical we think about investing in ourselves and investing in our companies so they will stay here. One of the conversations we're having at WEDC is looking for resources to make sure our entrepreneurs are getting the capital they need to stay here."

Currently, the Badger Fund of Funds supplies a certain percentage of capital into Wisconsin venture funds, while the rest of the money is raised from private investors.

In 2013, the state of Wisconsin awarded $25 million to establish the Badger Fund of Funds, which raised an additional $5 million from the private sector and agreed to create six to eight venture capital firms across the state. Running the program is Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Sun Mountain Capital, which specializes in regional investment programs, and Wisconsin-based Kegonsa Capital Partners.

Some of the Badger recipient funds include Madison-based Winnow Fund, Milwaukee's Gateway Capital Fund, the Idea Fund of La Crosse, the Winnebago Seed Fund in Neenah, and Rock River Capital Fund in Madison.


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