A new statewide effort to drive economic opportunity into underserved communities is ramping up to deliver millions of dollars in new capital to fuel small businesses, create jobs and answer the statewide need for more affordable housing.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is teaming up with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) on this innovative urban-rural strategy to spur growth in Milwaukee communities as well as support important projects in the state’s 46 rural counties.

As part of the effort, LISC is investing $5 million in a newly created statewide Wisconsin Business Opportunity Fund, which will leverage WHEDA’s federal New Markets Tax Credits to unleash private capital for high-impact economic development projects. The fund will finance construction, equipment purchases, and other types of hard assets for small businesses.

LISC will also step up its leadership related to the Transform Milwaukee Initiative, building on the nonprofit’s deep relationships with community-based, government and private partners.

“We need to find innovative ways to fuel equitable economic growth in both our urban and rural communities,” said Donsia Strong Hill, executive director of LISC’s Milwaukee community development program. “That means deepening our partnerships with linchpin organizations like WHEDA and leveraging our collective experience to drive progress on our toughest challenges.”

The collaboration will also direct capital to rural Wisconsin communities, tapping WHEDA’s understanding of small-business development and marrying it to Rural LISC’s business investment and training tools. WHEDA will assess local economic development needs and act as a liaison between project developers and Rural LISC’s underwriting team. Rural LISC will provide low-interest financing to businesses and nonprofits for economic development in various sectors including entrepreneurs, retail, industrial, health care, education, commercial as well as special needs and supportive housing.

“As WHEDA celebrates its 45th anniversary, we are excited to announce new small business financing tools to complement our long-standing housing commitment,” said WHEDA Executive Director Wyman Winston. “These new economic development resources leverage public-private partnerships to help fuel business growth and job creation throughout the state.”

Created as an independent state authority, WHEDA has provided low-cost financing for housing and small business development in Wisconsin since 1972.

“By leveraging LISC’s urban and rural resources in a statewide initiative with WHEDA, we can do so much more to stimulate growth and opportunity across Wisconsin, especially in places struggling with job loss and disinvestment,” said Suzanne Anarde, vice president at LISC and director of Rural LISC, which works with community-based organizations in small towns and farming communities to addressing pressing local needs.

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Lee Matz