The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is promising $30 million for an ‘equitable economic recovery’ from coronavirus

Talis Shelbourne. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation will earmark $30 million over the next five years to promote an "equitable economic recovery" for those most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation said.

The foundation is committing $15 million of existing funds and plans to raise at least another $15 million from donors and partners. The money will become part of the foundation's Impact Investing Program, which was piloted in 2018. 

So far, the foundation has contributed $1 million to help support the growth of 47 new small businesses, create 85 jobs, renovate and redevelop community eyesores into business opportunities and attract $4.9 million in public investment to local neighborhoods.

The main areas of focus are equitable economic opportunities, affordable housing and early childhood education.

"Oftentimes, banks just aren't familiar enough with some of the neighborhoods we're talking about, so they shy away from those areas," said Kathryn Dunn, the senior vice president for community impact. Banks don't have similar buildings to base appraisals on, she said, "so typically, capital from a bank is not available."

That's where impact investing comes in, she said. Renovating one building can make it easier for banks to lend in an area once there is a proven investment.

The foundation's investment in the  5 Points Art Gallery & Studios, a rehabbed former funeral home on North Port Washington Avenue, helped raise real estate values and made a cultural and social investment in the community.

The foundation's ongoing partnerships have supported about 200 small businesses; it has spent roughly $620,000 towards that goal. Among the recipients of that funding:

  • $180,000 to African American Chamber of Commerce
  • $150,000 to Latino Entrepreneurial Network, which includes business coaching and training 
  • $150,000 in grants to the King Drive Business Improvement District for "small businesses impacted by marches and protests."
  • $100,000 in grants and microloans to LISC Milwaukee to assist with rent and payroll in multiple business improvement districts
  • $42,000 in grants and rent assistance for the businesses in the Sherman Phoenix development

Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

Updates on how the coronavirus is affecting your community and the nationDelivery: VariesYour Email

Another project, detailed by Ken Robertson, the foundation's vice president and chief financial officer, is a partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin and developer Royal Capital Group LLC. That project would redevelop the Schuster’s department store on 2153 N. King Drive.

"A lot of entrepreneurs of color ran businesses there from the ’30s up until the ’70s," Robertson said. "When they finally lost that anchor business there, the neighborhood has not been the same."

Robertson said the foundation hopes to move its headquarters to the building.

Other efforts include sending $100,000 to the MKE United Anti-Displacement Fund, $350,000 in grants in a partnership with the Home Grown Child Care Emergency Fund to help 140 licensed family and center-based providers, and $1 million to a coronavirus relief fund.

Ultimately, Dunn said that she's hoping the investments inspire others to act.

"We're hoping that it's going to leverage way more investment than $30 million," she said. "We need to be able to leverage additional investments from other partners, national partners and critical needs."