Superior city officials have typically provided large grants for major projects, but they are now working to add small grants to small businesses preparing to launch, locate or relocate in the city.
Superior’s Plan Commission on Wednesday, July 17, hammered out the details for a program that would do just that.
Mayor Jim Paine said anytime the city has tried to help small businesses, it has been a piecemeal process.
“So we thought we should have a defined program so that we can advertise to business owners and potential business owners that we’re here to help invest in your business,” Paine said. He said the goal is to invest in businesses that are likely to succeed and grow, that would be an asset to the community.
The city would provide grants for up to 15% of total start-up cost or project costs, capped at $50,000.
“Say, if you wanted to buy a $10,000 piece of equipment, we could fund up to $1,500 of that,” said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director.
The grants could cover building acquisition, façade improvements, building and energy efficiency improvements, equipment and furnishings, signage and other uses considered on a case-by-case basis. A small business grant program design committee would be created to make recommendations for approvals to the Council.
“We don’t want to make it too complicated so people won’t use it,” Serck said. “And we want to make sure we are being diligent, but also be easy to work with.”
Councilor Brent Fennessey said he wasn’t comfortable with the city providing working capital because of its potential to prop up a failing business.
Commissioners struck working capital from the program.
Plan Commissioners made several suggestions to improve a draft program based on similar programs in other communities.
Paine suggested capping the annual allocation for the program to 50% of the annual city allocation to the economic development fund.
While commissioners discussed not allowing nonprofits to utilize the fund, Commission Brian Finstad suggested that if a nonprofit, such as the former Habitat for Humanity ReStore, provides an amenity for the community such as food service, retail or arts and entertainment, should be allowed to access the fund. Churches and nonprofits that provide social services would not be eligible for funding.
Commissioner Ann Porter of LHB recommended identifying the business as eligible for funding as a business or applicant could be funding more than one project separately and could exceed the intended cap. She also suggested adding verbiage in the program that would allow existing businesses to relocate within the city.
“Relocations can be very valuable to the community … especially as the community changes,” Paine said in agreement.
“I think it sounds like a great program,” Porter said.
Applicants to the program would be required to have a Wisconsin licensed contractor perform construction, plumbing, electrical work or heating, air conditioning and ventilation work is necessary.
Superior’s Planning Department will revise the program before it’s presented to the Council for final approval.