The damage the pandemic has wrought in Wisconsin, and on the economy overall, is undeniable. According to Yelp, 60% of the 160,000 business closures registered in the platform in 2020 were permanent (Yelp Economic Impact Report, September 2020).
The types of businesses that were hit hardest were those that anchor many main streets and commercial corridors: retail, bars and restaurants, salons, spas and fitness centers.
As business leaders, we already know how vacant commercial properties negatively impact our communities. There are the concrete impacts, like lost wages and a reduced tax bases and less tangible impacts like the loss of community cohesiveness and character. Fewer stores and services mean less foot traffic for the businesses that remain, increasing their risk of closure as well. The longer properties remain vacant, the worse the impact can be, and the pandemic only exacerbated these impacts.
Wisconsin is in a better position than many states to bounce back from the pandemic and buck this trend. Yelp’s economic data for Wisconsin shows that 1,594 new businesses opened in the second quarter of 2021, nearly as many that opened in the state in the second quarter of 2019, pre-pandemic. In contrast, many states have seen 12 to 15% decreases in new business openings (Yelp Economic average report, Q2 2021).
With the Main Street Bounceback Grants Program, our goal is to get more of those new businesses into empty storefronts. To prompt home-based entrepreneurs to open offices. To provide an incentive for existing businesses to open a second or third location. The program runs through July 30, 2022, but if you know of businesses that have moved into qualifying commercial spaces as of January 1 of this year, they are also eligible to apply.
Like the impact of vacant storefronts, the impact of these grants will reverberate far beyond the businesses receiving them. Filling vacant commercial spaces will obviously provide more stability and income for property owners, managers and real estate professionals. But growing businesses also mean growing demand for professional and financial services.
We want news of the Main Street Bounceback Grants program to reach every corner of the state, because our economy won’t work well if it doesn’t work for all of us. You can help by spreading the word to your clients, customers and business networks. We’ve made it easy by providing social media graphics, an info sheet and other marketing assets for you to use at wedc.org/msbb-toolkit/.