WWBIC Model Shows the Way Forward for Job Creation

By State Senator Julie Lassa

The recently-completed legislative session saw no fewer than 21 separate bills introduced dealing with various aspects of job creation and economic development.  This doesn’t count the provisions in the state budget bill that ended most of the state’s economic development lending and dramatically cut the budget of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).  Other than the budget bill, none of these proposals, no matter whether they were introduced by Democrats or Republicans, managed to become law. 

As Wisconsin’s economy continues to lag behind the national average in job creation and our state jobs agency struggles to right itself, legislators are looking for better ideas about how to do economic development in Wisconsin.   However, there are success stories out there, and I believe they point the way toward how we can promote more jobs and a stronger economy for our state.

One of those successes is the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), a non-profit corporation that provides help for individuals who face barriers in accessing traditional business financing.  WWBIC provides women, minorities and low-income individuals who are interested in starting or growing a business with financial and business education, small business loans and microloans, and ongoing technical assistance.

In 2015, WWBIC approved 140 loans totaling nearly $8 million.  But WWBIC is about more than business lending.  The corporation also provided over 490 business workshops and nearly 20,000 hours of one-on-one counseling, giving new business owners the skills and support they need to help their businesses thrive.  As a result, WWBIC client businesses created and retained 2,940 jobs statewide last year alone.

Despite the organization’s name, WWBIC helps more than just women.   Nearly a third of its client businesses are not women-owned.  More than two thirds of WWBIC business owners are of low to moderate income – the type of individuals who would struggle to find conventional funding to pursue their dream of starting their own business.

WWBIC loans are quite small by business standards – some are as little as $1,000. But WWBIC’s eligibility requirements and the support it provides for business owners increase the likelihood that these businesses will thrive and grow to become the types of companies that are responsible for the greatest share of new job growth.   As WWBIC helps create and strengthen businesses, it promotes job creation, increased incomes, higher credit scores, and more robust communities.

WWBIC’s success illustrates what I believe to be the most important role economic development programs can play.  We know that small businesses create the most jobs in our communities.   Companies that start and grow in a community seldom move far from that location.  And the kinds of help small businesses need – a small loan, training, and counseling – are far less expensive to provide than the multi-million dollar incentive packages that lure corporations from out-of-state.  All of the state’s signature corporations – from Harley-Davidson to Renaissance Learning and Skyward-- started off as small Wisconsin businesses.  And yet several recent studies suggest that Wisconsin is far below average in small business start-ups, a factor that contributes to our sluggish economic growth.

I have introduced a number of proposals designed to help small business people get the financing and support they need to get their businesses launched.  As we move forward, I believe we should focus more of our state’s job creation resources on the kinds of help average people need to make their dreams of small business ownership a reality.