Once upon a time, not too long ago, all across the land, people were gathering …

2020 started as usual; New Year’s resolutions, vacations, weddings, graduations, and many other events were planned. Then something happened that changed the lives of people all around the world. Covid-19 struck, causing a worldwide pandemic. Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt.

Although the pandemic impacted everyone, it did not affect everyone equally. As we know, schools and all non-essential businesses were forced to close. This left many without a steady income or any income at all.

How long would this last? Is this for real? What does the future hold? How will I pay my bills, feed my children? These were, and still are reasonable questions and worries.

Then came the news that help was on the way! Increased unemployment limits, rental assistance, PPP loans, and grants would be available! Yes! The cavalry has arrived!

It was about this time when Colin Murray, executive director for Dane Buy Local, received a call from Josh, who is with the office of Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. Josh asked Colin what could they do on the county level? Colin straightforwardly told Josh, “Money, small businesses need money; small business owners are worried.” They are unsure when they will be able to reopen and what business will be like when they are allowed to open their doors. Without funding, they cannot pay their rent or keep their shelves stocked to reopen. Josh stated he would see what he could do and get back to Colin.

When Colin heard back from Josh, he had exciting news! The county has a “rainy day” fund and $250,000 was allocated to small businesses. Amazing! Dane Buy Local got busy and put the word out that grant funds were available, and the applications started pouring in.

Two weeks later, Colin received another call from Josh. This time Josh told Colin they could allocate an additional $550k to small businesses! Wow! Once again, Dane Buy Local spread the word, and applications started rolling in.

Another two weeks went by, and the Cares Act was passed. The Cares Act was set up to help with housing needs and food resources. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Congressman Mark Pocan and Senator Tammy Baldwin, there was one line in the Cares Act that allowed some of the funds to be allocated to support small businesses. Bravo!

Dane County received an estimated $50 million of funding from the Cares Act and $10 million allocated to small businesses. Fantastic! A combined total of $10,800,000 for Dane County small businesses! Those funds helped over 2,700 small businesses! Outstanding!

All of that was just round one! Ding ding ding

Round 2! Another $4,000,000 of funds were available and needed to be disbursed before what felt like the longest year, 2020, ended. That deadline changed when, near the end of December 2020, President Trump signed a bill extending that time limit to the end of 2021.

Unfortunately, not all Buy Local organizations around the country received funds. The majority did not receive funds at all. Out of the 8-10 country comprehensive buy local groups that received funds, only $500,000 – 1,000,000 were received.
Dane Buy Local has been supporting small businesses for approximately 16 years. During that time, the administration has worked hard to be involved with the community and build relationships with county and local government.

About 10 – 11 years ago, Lark, one of Dane Buy Locals’ staff members, reached out to Joe Parisi, inviting him to become a member of Dane Buy Local. Joe Parisi did become a member of Buy Dane Local, and there began the relationship. Since then, other municipalities have joined as well. In addition, Congressman Mark Pocan has also been a member of Dane Buy Local since the onset.

Round 3 is hopefully coming!

President Biden signed a new relief package recently, and more funds will be available for state and local governments. This means additional funds may be available for small businesses. If you would like to assist small businesses in your community receive funds reach out to your local government. Build relationships with your county executives, your congressman, and your state senators. If the relationships at the county and local government level had not been established in Dane County, the grants and funding for small businesses would not have been received. Many small businesses would have had to close their doors.

Dane Buy Local has two full-time employees and is looking to add one more employee this year. They had eight part-time or contract employees help with the behind-the-scenes grant processes. It is uncertain how much funding Dane County would have received without the communication and collaboration between Dane Buy Local’s Colin Murray and our county and local government.

I feel very fortunate that Madison, WI, where I live, values community, diversity, and small businesses. I am most grateful that our Dane Buy Local administration has built strong relationships with our local government. Because of those strong relationships, many small businesses, including mine, can keep their doors open. They can continue to pursue and grow their dream and bring value to their community. Perhaps the saying location, location, location does not hold as much weight/value as relationships, relationships, relationships!

— Marie Rickard

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