Grants, loans and other opportunities in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – more commonly known as the economic stimulus bill – are beginning to trickle down to businesses in Northeast Wisconsin.
Business leaders say local benefits from the stimulus bill will range from small business loans to renewable energy assistance to job retraining. The impact of those benefits is likely to vary by business segment as well as individual needs.
Christina Trombley, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, advises businesses to monitor ongoing announcements to find local opportunities in the stimulus bill.
Stimulus programs now available that directly impact small employers include Small Business Administration programs designed to unlock credit markets. The SBA is using stimulus funds to expand its standard loan guarantee from its typical range of 70 to 80 percent up to 90 percent to lower the risk for lenders.
In addition, the SBA will guarantee America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) micro-loans for up to $35,000 at 100 percent for established, for-profit small businesses that need short-term help to make principal and interest payments on existing loans. The interest-free loans will be disbursed over six months. Businesses then have another 12 months before they must begin repaying the principle on a five-year amortization schedule.
Trombley advises small businesses interested in pursuing SBA loans or other economic stimulus grants to start by working with the SBDC to brush up their business plans.
“Things have changed so quickly and dramatically that plans that might have been written 12 months ago need to be revised,” Trombley says.
Experts predict a trickle-down effect for construction-related businesses and suppliers from the stimulus bill’s provisions to help homeowners, businesses and municipal governments become more energy efficient and use sustainable energy.
David Jenkins, director of commercialization for the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, says Wisconsin’s share of energy-related funding from the stimulus bill and other federal programs includes:
» $141 million to weatherize the homes of more than 10,000 low-income residents, with the work carried out by local Community Action Agencies.
» $37.1 million to retrofit buildings owned by local governments, including cities with population over 35,000 and counties with population over 100,000.
» $55 million that will be awarded to manufacturing businesses in a competitive grant program for pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency.
In addition, companies can earn a 30 percent tax credit by turning to renewable energy, while homeowners who replace windows or doors or add insulation to their homes can earn a tax credit of up to $1,500. That’s likely to boost business for Wisconsin window manufacturers, who supply 8 percent of the nation’s windows.
“Green” jobs in industries that help generate sustainable energy are another focus of the stimulus bill through Department of Labor grants for worker training. Lakeshore Technical College’s Wind Energy Technology program, which already trains “green” workers, is growing from 24 to 49 students in 2009 with the help of a $250,000 Department of Energy grant that is separate from the stimulus bill.
Lakeshore President Michael Lanser says the Cleveland-based college is now eying stimulus grants available at both the federal and state level to fund additional training programs.
“Right now we’re keeping our ear open to what’s going on and working to try to find out where these so-called green jobs are going to be,” Lanser says.
The stimulus bill funnels funding for job training through local workforce development programs. The Fox Valley Workforce Development Board, based in Appleton, is receiving $1.81 million in stimulus funding for adult, youth and dislocated worker training. The Bay Area Workforce Development Board, based in Green Bay, will receive $2.09 million for such training. Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, says the stimulus funding is going to three types of programs:
» A “Work Certified” youth employment program to train youth ages 18 to 24 in workplace demands and basic skills.
» Short-term programs for unemployed, dislocated workers
that increase their value to manufacturing employers with technical college courses such as computer network control, programmable logic controls, “lean” process and computer-assisted drawing.
» Long-term training to help some dislocated workers switch careers to move from manufacturing to areas where there are worker shortages, such as health care. For example, the Bay Area program used stimulus funds to expand the capacity of Lakeshore’s nursing program.
ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS
The stimulus bill also aims to boost the adoption of electronic medical records (EMR) by hospitals and physicians. EMR systems go far beyond basic computer systems to help hospitals and physicians integrate information electronically at all levels of operations.
The four-year-old EMR system of Agnesian HealthCare, Fond du Lac, puts the hospital at stage three of the seven-stage Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society adoption model used nationwide. That means Agnesian is ahead of the curve, since only 2 percent of health care organizations in the country have adopted EMR at this level, according to Norma Tirado, senior vice president of employee and information services.
“The stimulus package may offer a unique opportunity for some healthcare organizations to catch up to where Agnesian HealthCare is currently with technology,” Tirado says.
Agnesian’s EMR system allows the hospital to use EMR in ancillary areas such as laboratory, pharmacy and radiology while also providing a clinical data repository; a clinical decision support system; clinical documentation; the ability to create electronic clinical care documents; and a picture archiving and communication system.
The stimulus bill demands that EMR grant recipients prove they can make “meaningful use” of EMR.