County amendment would help small businesses

Milwaukee County plays a significant role in economic development locally and regionally, and Milwaukee County government needs to do its part.

When the Board received the Milwaukee County Executive’s Recommended 2013 Budget, I was surprised and disappointed that – given the current national and local economic recession – there was little to no vision or priority placed on job creation or stimulation to our economy.
Thankfully, the budget approved 8-1 last week by the Board’s Committee on Finance, Personnel and Audit addresses economic development via a Small Business Opportunity Initiative that includes a $100,000 loan fund for small businesses; the training of small business at the Milwaukee County Research Park; a micro-loan program of loans ranging between $1,000 and $5,000 and other business-building components.

And, when it comes to small business development in Milwaukee County, the Board’s Office of Community Business Development Partners (CBDP) and our Research Park are already working on increasing capacity.

Next year, the Office of CBDP will begin administering the Federal Small Business Enterprise program, which will have a significant impact on small businesses. According to Forbes Magazine, “There are between 25 million and 27 million small businesses in the United States that account for 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. jobs. So, how do we ensure small businesses are getting the resources they need to grow? What can we do to not only help them succeed, but thrive in an ever changing economy? Providing the right climate for entrepreneurial firms to succeed, including access to capital and business advisors can be extremely valuable. ” (Small businesses =Big Impact, Forbes, 5/5/12)

Access to capital, space and technical assistance are nagging issues for small business owners in the current economy.

Our proposed Small Business Opportunity Initiative helps make Milwaukee County an attractive environment in which small businesses can succeed. In short, it gives authority for CBDP to apply for matching grants, such as WEDC funds, to leverage our current revolving loan fund; creates new and improved partnerships for small businesses with CBDP and our Milwaukee County Research Park; builds capacity for professional service DBEs, where we have had challenges reaching our goals; and establishes and seeds a Microloan Fund for small businesses that stands to serve from 20 to 100 businesses and requires that microloan recipients hire underserved and transitional workers.

Here are excerpts from the tax levy neutral plan.

  1. Leverage the Milwaukee County Research Park business incubator facility for small business owners with specializations in professional and management service areas. Place emphasis on expanding the pool of businesses used for county procurement, where small and disadvantaged firms are underutilized.
  2. Provide relevant training to such small businesses at the Milwaukee County Research Park through seminars provided by CBDP to include how to do business with the county and how to leverage Small Business Certifications to grow small businesses.
  3. Assist businesses with Small Business Enterprise and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Certification to ensure their ability to participate in public sector procurement.
  4. Use the CBDP Revolving Loan Fund, which has a current balance of approximately $302,000, to provide loans of up to $35,000 for labor and materials for Small Business Enterprises working on Milwaukee County projects. CBDP is authorized to pursue grant matching funds from federal, state and local sources to increase the Revolving Loan Fund.
  5. Establish a new Microloan Fund, featuring loans of $1,000 to $5,000 for equipment, technical assistance and software. Target self-employed and low-income entrepreneurs who create a minimum of one permanent, full-time job for underserved young adults, unemployed individuals or transitional workers.

I encourage you to reach out to the Milwaukee County Executive and to your Supervisor to show your support for the innovative Small Business Opportunity Initiative and to ask them to keep the proposal in tact in the 2013 Milwaukee County Budget. When the budget is adopted on November 5, 2012, I further encourage you to contact the CBDP to become certified and to take advantage of the Small Business Opportunity Initiative. Let’s grow Milwaukee County.

Marina Dimitrijevic is Chairwoman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

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