Wisconsin is the best place to live, play, and work: Gov. Evers announces $140M in grants for tourism industry

MADISON, Wis. — After a year of uncertainty for Wisconsin’s tourism industry, the state is stepping in to lend a helping hand.

Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday more than $140 million in grants for the state’s tourism and entertainment industries. Included in the grants is funding for lodging, movie theaters, live event venues, summer camps, minor league sports teams and more.

“Wisconsin is bouncing back stronger than ever,” Evers said. “Whether it’s an urban or a rural destination, these investments will help make sure that local venues and businesses come out of this pandemic ready to welcome folks from communities around Wisconsin and across the country. Wisconsin is the best place to live, play, and work, and investing in businesses that promote culture and entertainment in our communities will pay dividends for Wisconsinites and communities across our state.”

Funds for the grant program come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act that was passed earlier this year. The grants will be administered by the Department of Administration and the Department of Revenue.

The funding will be split as follows:

  • $75 million for lodging grants
  • $11.25 million for movie theaters
  • $12 million for live event small businesses
  • $2.8 million for minor league sports teams
  • $10 million for live venues
  • $15 million for destination marketing organizations
  • $8 million for summer camps
  • $1 million for the Wisconsin Historical Society to assist in reopening historical sites
  • $7.5 million to increase marketing support for Wisconsin’s tourism industry

A majority of the funds are going toward the tourism industry. While many working in the industry are thankful for the monetary help, there’s still a big problem they’re facing that may take years to fix.

“Our biggest struggle is having enough workforce,” said General Manager of The Grand Stay Hotel in Mt. Horeb Rachel LaCasse-Ford.

Destination Madison’s President and CEO Ellie Chin echoed this as being one of the top issues those in the tourism industry face coming out of the pandemic.

“Our economic impact in Dane County fell 43%. In Downtown Madison it fell over 63%,” Chin said. “We have seen people leave our industry unfortunately because during the pandemic, we had to do quite a few layoffs and they had to go to other industries to find other jobs.”

LaCasse-Ford said they’re going the extra mile to incentivize workers to return to the tourism field.

“We’ve offered sign on bonus and higher wages and weekend premiums and I know that in the community a lot of businesses are having the same problem,” LaCasse-Ford said.

Evers acknowledged the ongoing problem at his Thursday press conference.

“We need more people in the state,” he said. “We really do. The number of jobs completely outstrip the number of people available to fill those jobs.”

In the short-term, the money will get them through, but they all say they think it could take years to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

“It is especially important now more than ever that we support these vital industries so we don’t just recovery but we do better than we were before,” Ever said.

Businesses interested in getting more information about the grants and application process can sign up for alerts online.