The New Whitewater Start Up Grants (in Proper Perspective)

Whitewater’s Community Development Authority has been working on a seed capital fund (working on this fund for some time), and today the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has announced a $150,000 matching contribution to the CDA, and two grants – each in the amount of $10,000 – for entrepreneurs from that fund.

The matching grant from WEDC “is providing a $150,000 “Capital Catalyst” matching grant to the CDA which will be used for grants to new-start companies and to take a debt or equity position in the emerging businesses selected. The CDA is providing a dollar for dollar match of the award.”

Here’s more about the program:

WEDC’s Capital Catalyst program provides grants to regional organizations or communities to leverage matching funds to provide seed funding for start-up and emerging companies. This is the second investment made by WEDC in a regional fund. The first was made in October 2012 to the Innovation Fund of Western Wisconsin in Eau Claire.

The CDA will create an investment committee which will establish criteria for awarding grants and an application process, and oversee the administration of the seed funds. Funds are to be invested into Wisconsin innovation-based businesses. Some of the industry sectors of focus include advanced manufacturing, agriculture/food processing, information systems/software, medical device, renewable/green energy.

The award made by WEDC requires at least one-third of funds allocated by WEDC ($50,000) as direct grants not to exceed $10,000 per business. The CDA must award the remaining two-thirds of the funds awarded by WEDC and the match (total of at least $250,000) to Wisconsin start-up businesses.

The two start ups are Date Check Pro and Got Apps, Inc. There’s a relationship between the two: Date Check Pro is a customer of Got Apps, Inc. The City of Whitewater is now providing rent assistance to the companies, and the two share office space in the city.

A few remarks:

1. Best wishes. I hope the two start up businesses take off and do well.

2. Public funding. Better to have no public funding, but in the scheme of all possible projects, this is a fairly modest investment. Consider that the federal and city governments spent almost eleven-million on the Innovation Center, a quarter-of-a-million on a Janesville bus, and hundreds of thousands for the North Street Bridge in Whitewater.

This matching grant is far less than those efforts, each of which – by the way – brought almost no jobs to the city.

3. Jobs. Each of these two start up companies has a few employees, and success may bring more. One hopes so.

And yet, and yet, it’s worth noting again that the Tech Park’s Innovation Center alone was supposed to lead to a thousand jobs and sixty-million dollars in private investment. See, Whitewater’s Innovation Center: Grants and Bonds.

When Gov. Walker looks around today, he’ll see an ‘Innovation’ Center building that took millions in public money and millions more in public debt (bonds). He won’t see anything like the promised benefits of that vast expense – just the shuffling of some existing public workers from Milton to Whitewater.

4. The Press. If you’re writing this up as a regurgitated press release and gubernatorial campaign ad, why bother? The WEDC and Gov. Walker already have a release, ready to go as is.

No reason to manufacture a knock-off, when they’re offering the original, free to anyone.

5. Exaggeration. Whitewater’s leading officials have the bad habit of trumpeting sparrows as eagles, not to make others gain confidence, but to promote themselves and their supposed triumphs.

It’s a bad habit – a mental tic – of a few people in this town. Everything has to be monumental, amazing, unparalleled, or stupendous (often all of these, at the same time).

That kind of exaggeration is bad for our politics, distorting actual accomplishments for insiders’ supposed benefits, and makes the town look small, not big.

Whitewater’s a good and beautiful place, but genuine, enduring prosperity calls for a more level-headed perspective on the town’s economy and accomplishments.

This city should be more than a stage prop for an incumbent governor’s public spending and political messaging.

In time, it will be.

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