MADISON — The Main Street Program under the state’s Department of Commerce on Wednesday took one step into an uncertain future.
The Wisconsin legislature approved Gov. Scott Walker’s privatization legislation that would replace the department with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
If approved, the WEDC would be composed of the governor and 12 board members — putting current Commerce programs at risk, including the Main Street Program.
The program provides 36 communities in Wisconsin with resources to help restore and revitalize downtowns and help to grow and expand businesses. Since 1987, the program has created 17,865 new jobs in the state and helped to open 4,030 new businesses statewide, according to Kathleen Braatz, the executive director of the program for Beloit.
“This is a small department in the DOC with a small budget, but a huge economic impact for our downtowns and in turn, our communities,” Braatz said.
Braatz noted that a total public and private investment of $1.1 billion has been made in these communities during that time, and the return on investment (ROI) for every state dollar invested through the Wisconsin Main Street Program is $49.34 — much higher than the national average of $25. She said extra steps will need to be taken in order to protect the program.
“If the privatization legislation is passed, we will need further legislation to be written to protect Main Street from being eliminated,” Braatz said.