Janesville55.8°

$5.9 million grant offers help to small businesses

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JAMES P. LEUTE
June 22, 2010
— Small businesses and entrepreneurs in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois soon will have access to a network of regional economic development services and incubator facilities.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration on Monday awarded a $5.9 million grant to UW-Whitewater to provide entrepreneurial support to businesses in six stateline counties that suffered as a result of flooding in 2008 and subsequent downturns in the automotive industry.


Businesses in Rock County will have access to a variety of programs, said Denise Ehlen, UW-W’s director of research and sponsored programs.


“One of the most exciting things about this grant is that it supports a wide variety of services,” Ehlen said. “This is wonderful news for the area.”


While the official development administration grant is for $5.9 million, Ehlen said commitments from several partners will stretch it to $10 million for a three-year period.


“Collaborating across state lines to maximize regional resources in new and innovative ways will help create jobs in this economically distressed region,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a news release. “This grant … will accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly in emerging green technologies and global commerce, and by providing training in high-skill, high-wage industries.”


Ehlen said the grant will materialize in Rock County in several ways.


For example, the UW-W Global Business Resource Center is a new program designed to help small companies or entrepreneurs enter the global market. The program—subsidized by the development administration grant—will offer training that culminates in a global business certificate.


Another example, Ehlen aid, is a subsidy to help businesses assess new markets and products through the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center.


“A company making widgets for the food processing industry could work with WISC at reduced or no cost to find a way to make widgets for the healthcare industry,” she said.


In addition, the university’s geography and geology departments will collaborate on an online map of business resources, regional facilities and supply chains. Blackhawk Technical College will offer training in sustainable green manufacturing.


The grant also buys prototyping time at EigerLab in Rockford, Ill.


“EigerLab is wonderful business incubator resource that offers cutting edge tools for prototyping,” Ehlen said. “They can take an idea sketched out on a napkin and produce a prototype very quickly that can be taken to angel investors or manufacturing facilities.”


James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development manager, said the grant will open EigerLab’s doors to Rock County businesses.


“We will have access to a certain number of free monthly hours of prototyping,” he said. “That’s very attractive to new or expanding companies, and it comes at a fraction of the cost of what these companies would pay on the private market.”


Other components include technical assistance, marketing and technology valuation, business retention programs, facilitation of foreign investments and capital needs assessment.


Ed Montgomery, executive director of the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers, said the grant will provide a shot in the arm for areas he and the council visited earlier this month, particularly Janesville and Kenosha.


“This grant represents a significant investment in these two communities as well as others in the area dealing with job losses at the regions’ GM and Chrysler plants or at auto suppliers,” Montgomery said.


The grant is part of a larger regional collaboration that will provide comprehensive entrepreneurial support at every stage of business development through the sharing of resources, facilities, curriculum, training and collective expertise.


Other components include technical assistance, global resource development, market diversification, marketing and technology valuation, business retention programs, facilitation of foreign investments, capital needs assessment, interactive GIS mapping of business resources, rapid prototyping and clean energy curriculum.



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