Opinion: Why Wisconsin’s Main Streets Are Booming

John R. Hopkins and Susan Lince are the co-owners of Artists Squared Gallery and Artists on the Byway Gallery in Washburn. (Photo submitted)

By John R. Hopkins
January 26, 2022

Government investment has helped small businesses and Wisconsin’s economy thrive despite the pandemic, two business owners write.

We are co-owners of two galleries—Artists Squared and Artists on the Byway—in Washburn that have benefited greatly from the support from Gov. Tony Evers’ policies and programs during the difficult economic times for everyone as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As small-business owners during this time, one of the most trying periods in our country’s history, we feel lucky to be in Wisconsin. We have been able to not only stay open, but to expand our gallery presence in Washburn so that we can show and sell the art of a greater number of local artists. The economic value of this for the artists and for the local community, though not yet large, is part of the positive image that a community presents to show that it is self-aware and vibrant. 

Our Washburn Chamber of Commerce has been a significant leader in this, and because of the good work of its director, several other local businesses also were encouraged to pursue these generous opportunities, and have also been able to grow and expand as a result of state grant support. 

State financial support, the innovative spirit of Wisconsin artists and entrepreneurs, and a strong sense of community that can exist in small towns like ours, inspired us with optimism to take the business risk of expanding from one gallery to two a year into the pandemic. We have since learned that what felt right in our community reflected what has been true about Wisconsin: The unemployment rate has been consistently lower than the national average, it has one of the highest labor-participation rates in the nation, and small businesses like ours in many parts of the state have received massive support from the state government. 

There’s no question that Wisconsin’s economy is performing better than the rest of the nation because of the state’s efforts this year to invest in main streets. Since taking office, Evers has worked to grow Wisconsin’s economy and help small businesses succeed—from investing in broadband and infrastructure to providing tax relief to businesses and families across our state. 

The Main Street small business grant program has done a lot of good. The governor has directed almost $1 billion in grants and economic relief to tens of thousands of small businesses and over 15,000 family farms. So far, more than 2,000 small businesses have received $10,000 grants that they can use however they want—whether it’s buying inventory, building out a new brick and mortar location, hiring new workers, paying rent, or investing in new services. 

Add to that, more than 300,000 homes and businesses will soon have access to new or improved high-speed internet service. For small businesses like ours, that means we’re able to reach more customers and do business more efficiently. Evers has also fulfilled his promise to fix the roads—between 2019 and 2020 alone, there were repairs made to over 1,000 miles of highway and more than 800 bridges. Today, Wisconsin’s roads are now ranked eighth in the nation by drivers education site Zutobi—making our state a better place to live and work. 

That is the kind of focus we need from our state leadership: a governor who will do what’s right for our state and our economy.

The state has made sure small businesses like ours don’t pay more than their fair share in taxes. Earlier this year, the governor signed a $450 million small-business tax cut and additional tax relief for low-income families. The latest budget provided more than $2 billion in individual income tax relief for the middle class. Now we, as small business owners, get to keep more of what we work so hard to make and families across the state have more money in their pockets that will help support local businesses. 

Our economy is only strong when our main streets are thriving. That’s why Wisconsin is in a better position than we were in 2018, thanks to Evers’ investments in small businesses. In 2022, we encourage our government to do the right thing, and continue investing in our main streets. Wisconsin’s economy depends on it.

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