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Bouncing back to business in all 72 counties

May 24, 2022
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Governor Tony Evers talks with business owners

Governor Tony Evers talks with business owners and others at Aurora Up North, a Mercer flooring, home décor and accessories store. The business was the first in Iron County to receive a Main Street Bounceback Grant.

$25 million in new funding will allow 2,500 more Main Street Bounceback Grants to be made.

More than 4,200 new and expanded businesses and nonprofits have qualified for more than $42 million in Main Street Bounceback Grants by filling in vacant commercial spaces in all 72 Wisconsin counties. A new $25 million investment will allow the program to aid 2,500 more businesses and nonprofits, Governor Tony Evers and WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes announced earlier this month.  

The latest investment brings the total amount available for Main Street Bounceback Grants to $75 million.  

“The impact we’ve had through our Main Street Bounceback Grant Program over the last year has been tremendous, truly helping small businesses and Main Streets in every corner of our state,” said Governor Evers. “We’ve heard from folks from across the state about how these funds have helped them take their businesses to the next level. We’ve also seen firsthand how these investments have helped support local economies in downtowns and communities that are now filled with unique businesses that otherwise might not be there today. I’m proud of our work making strategic investments in small businesses, and I’m excited that today’s announcement means we’ll be able to continue our work supporting Main Streets and communities across Wisconsin.” 

“The businesses and organizations that have received these grants are all different—everything from restaurants and barber shops to mental health providers and chambers of commerce,” Hughes said. “The one thing they all have in common is that they are investing in making their communities better places.” 

In March, Evers, Hughes and area business owners celebrated a Main Street Bounceback Grant milestone with a visit to Aurora Up North, a Mercer flooring, décor and accessories store owned by a disabled U.S. Marine Corps veteran.  

The store was one of two Iron County businesses that received a $10,000 Main Street Bounceback Grant from WEDC in March. With the Iron County grants made, businesses in every Wisconsin county have now received grants through the program.  

Aurora Up North owner Kimberly Norkunas’ career with the Marines had her stationed all over the country. But when the native Californian decided to start her own business, she chose Wisconsin. 

“We like the traditions and we love the people here,” Norkunas said. “It’s a very open arms group of people. It’s like being in front of a roaring fire because everyone’s so warm.” 

Norkunas and her husband, Chip, have been transforming an old Mercer building that, according to locals, was once a bar frequented by Al Capone and other gangsters, then a pizza place, and most recently an antique store before becoming Aurora Up North. The couple is using the left side of the building to sell flooring, which Chip installs, while the right side (including a former bar area) is being transformed into Gunny SunShine’s PX, where Kimberly plans to sell accessories and home furnishings. Having earned the rank of Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) during her 21-year career in the Marines, Kimberly acquired the nickname Gunny SunShine because of her tendency to always be smiling. 

Norkunas said she has been amazed at how the community has embraced her business. “Other local businesses here have been giving us tips,” she said. “I want to accentuate and add on to what they’re doing, not take stuff away.” 

Eva and Bill Bruce, the new owners of the North Pole Bar in Hurley and the second Iron County business to receive a grant, said they decided to buy the bar in order to show others the beauty of Wisconsin’s Northwoods. The bar is located on a snowmobile and ATV trail, and the Bruces hope to build a campground resort on the surrounding property . They hope to make it a place where people can simply enjoy nature and time with friends and family, Bill Bruce said. 

“Fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, ATVing—it’s really what we want to tell people Wisconsin is all about,” he said. 

At least one more Iron County business has applied for a Main Street Bounceback Grant, and Kelly Klein, coordinator for the Iron County Development Zone, said he is working with other businesses that are planning to apply. 

“Helping entrepreneurs get started with new businesses has been a focus of our economic development efforts in Iron County,” Klein said. “The Main Street Bounceback Grants have been very helpful for Aurora Up North and the North Pole to get going with startup costs.” 

In April 2021, Governor Evers announced the state would dedicate $50 million toward helping small business owners open physical locations and helping communities fill vacant storefronts. The funds for the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program come from the state’s share of federal American Recovery Plan Act aid. 

The grants have made a difference to business districts around the state, from Washburn to Prairie du Chien. 

“We had so many open opportunities, vacant locations,” said Melissa Martinez, director of the Washburn Area Chamber of Commerce. “It helped us fill in a lot of gaps that have been sitting there empty for years, and it’s really allowed some existing businesses to expand, opening up some smaller spaces for more Main Street Bounceback Grants.” 

Washburn, a city of about 2,000 people on Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, has received 12 Main Street Bounceback Grants so far. 

Crawford County, situated along the Mississippi River in southern Wisconsin, has received 30 Main Street Bounceback Grants so far, with 23 of those for businesses in Prairie du Chien.  

“The economic impact of those dollars is gigantic for our small, rural county,” said Carol Roth, the executive director of Driftless Development Inc., the economic development organization for Crawford County. “To large companies, $10,000 may not be as significant; however, to these small businesses, it’s so important. It also lets these business owners know that someone is supporting them.” 

WEDC is working with nine regional economic development organizations to quickly disburse grant funding to eligible businesses and nonprofits. The program is scheduled to run through December 31 or until funding runs out.  

Businesses and nonprofits interested in learning more about the grants should visit the program website. 

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