St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, was also Small Business Development Center Day in the city of Superior. Mayor Jim Paine made the proclamation during a virtual presentation highlighting the center’s work during 2020.
Housed on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus, the Small Business Development Center serves eight counties: Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Price, Sawyer and Washburn. Paine said the center, part of a statewide network supporting business owners and entrepreneurs, is one of the most important drivers for economic development in northwest Wisconsin.
“Economic development is really human development,” Paine said. “It’s about taking people’s dreams and goals and ambitions and turning them into reality.”
Center Director Andy Donahue said the pandemic impacted both what they did and how they did it over the past year. March 17, 2020, was the last day he worked in the office before transitioning to working remotely.
“It’s been a long year, but it’s been a year of resiliency,” Donahue said. “We were put into unknown territory where we really had to switch our work.”
In addition to focusing on growing new businesses and expanding current ones, the center broadened its reach over the last year to troubleshooting and triage as it helped businesses navigate the changing COVID-19 restrictions and relief options.
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“Businesses were scared,” Donahue said. “Businesses were facing that unknown. A lot of the times they didn’t know what the next day or the next couple months were going to hold for them.”
During 2020, center staff helped 16 new businesses start, served 728 clients and supported 905 jobs. In COVID-19-related work, they served 613 clients across a variety of areas. They helped businesses secure $4.1 million in federal aid from relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Plan and Economic Industry Disaster Loans as well as $168,000 in state aid, including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s “We’re All In” and 20/20 grants.
“There’s a variety of different things that were out there, and we had to navigate that on a daily, if not weekly basis,” Donahue said.
He noted that any business planning to apply for a Paycheck Protection Plan loan must do so by the end of the month, as it ends March 31.
The organization provides no-cost, confidential consulting and business education and connects entrepreneurs and business owners to resources. That support helps people who are passionate about what they do become business owners, Paine said.
The 2020 statistics Donahue quoted are more than numbers.
“These are people. Those are citizens from our community whose lives are better and are now making our lives better as well,” Paine said.