The University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension is using a new grant to help local small businesses grow and retain their employees. Extension was recently awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program to survey and support small business operators in the City of Whitewater.
The program’s goal is to increase social and relational capital to help sustain small business retention and expansion efforts long-term by identifying and addressing local issues and challenges.
“The City of Whitewater is hopeful those eligible will take advantage and apply for the program to help build or grow their business within the Whitewater community,” said Whitewater City Manager, Cameron Clapper. “Our community has many key elements including location, environment, access to many resources and eager and willing applicants to join their team that we hope business owners will find essential to helping their business prosper.”
Wisconsin’s job growth is slower than the national average and assessing small business needs is a critical piece for identifying potential areas for business growth. The program will begin with in-person interviews of individual businesses where the survey results will be used to develop educational workshops and technical assistance, and to inform policy recommendations and community planning.
Extension, in cooperation with local economic development partners will create Business Retention & Expansion teams to conduct face-to-face survey assessment visits with small businesses and develop educational resources to help address shared issues identified. Whitewater businesses with fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenue will be invited to participate in the program.
This approach to Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) program development builds on Extension’s work in Jefferson and Vilas counties in 2018 where 44 businesses were engaged in three communities. Common themes identified as key issues included workforce development, access to small business resources, broadband issues, and marketing. This BR&E program also identified the challenge for small businesses to access resources beyond their own business contact network. Based on findings, Extension educators developed multiple workshops to address the identified needs and connect available resources.
Business owners looking to take advantage of the opportunity can contact Steve Chmielewski, Community Development Educator with University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension for Waukesha & Jefferson Counties at (262) 548-7781.