In early 2020, COVID-19 disrupted the world as we know it.
As we reacted to the disruption and the uncertainty created by the virus, we took proactive steps to protect the health and well-being of our staff and our members and worked with community partners to create access to resources for businesses, community members, and talent within Milwaukee. As the confirmed cases grew in our community and our state, we knew the situation would have a long-term impact for everyone, and we acknowledged the serious impact on our economy, our healthcare providers, our members and non-profit partners and those who are most economically vulnerable in our community by releasing the following statement.
The GMC committed to providing our members with relevant and timely programming by increasing the number of membership meetings offered. The GMC typically hosts eight membership meetings per year, but we were able to nearly double that and hosted 15 in 2020 with the help of Zoom. There was a great need to host the additional meetings this year, and we welcomed content and input from state and local government and elected officials, peer members, and healthcare professionals who provided insight to members in creating a comprehensive COVID-19 plan for their organization. The ability to host meetings on Zoom has allowed for increased member engagement with GMC programming.
As you will read in each focus area throughout the annual report, our initiatives followed suit with a virtual pivot for each program. In addition to utilizing a virtual platform, each initiative helped create solutions to the inequity and lost opportunity that COVID-19 brought to light.
How We Supported Our Community
Many community challenges were illuminated with the onset of COVID-19: housing, health disparities, and a digital divide to name a few. While addressing these challenges with our own initiatives, there were other important solutions we were proud to support.
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation, in partnership with local philanthropists and funders, created the MKE Responds Fund to provide resources to organizations working in the Greater Milwaukee area with communities disproportionately impacted by coronavirus and the economic consequences of this pandemic. LISC Milwaukee provided small business grants through Brew City Match to support the sustainability of businesses and commercial corridor revitalization. And MKE United, through the GMC and partners, opened a second application period for the Anti-Displacement fund to prevent gentrification due to rapidly increasing property values and taxes.
Thank you to Dr. John R. Raymond, Sr. for participating in each of our Zoom member meetings to provide vital updates on COVID-19, from the early days to vaccine news.
Each GMC initiative responded to COVID-19 by safely moving our public programs to online platforms and addressing the inequities that were illuminated by the pandemic. Here is how we responded:
Innovation and Talent
In addition to moving our flagship skills accelerator cohort and all programming online, we responded to the shortage of corporate intern opportunities with the virtual internship program, which served 120 students over the summer. 50% of these students were people of color, and 30% were first-generation college students. This program has created an equitable space for the interns to connect with Milwaukee-area companies and build a career network, leveling the playing field for interns of color who would not typically have access to this network.
We focus on helping small businesses grow, especially businesses owned by people of color. When the COVID pandemic began, there was uncertainty about what would happen within our existing small business community. The Scale Up team assisted companies through this challenging time by creating access to resources. We helped small business owners navigate the PPP loan process and tackle the digital divide issue that confronted many small business owners as we transitioned to a virtual world. While the pandemic's timing forced us to postpone the Growth Accelerator, we were able to host a virtual SPARC cohort, working with women- and minority-owned businesses with revenue under $1 million, in what could arguably be the most connected cohort to date. Entrepreneurs of color own 67% of SPARC companies, and Scale Up's ability to bring equitable resources and opportunity to these entrepreneurs is vital to their success. Scale Up staff directly consulted with these businesses to help them find the best way to succeed during the pandemic.
Probably one of the most difficult of our initiatives to pivot to virtual is MKE United, as the initiative’s goal is to serve the community at large. MKE United is a collaboration of the City of Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, LISC-Milwaukee, The Urban League and the GMC. In 2019, MKE United created the Anti-Displacement Fund, one of two such funds in the country. The fund helped more than 110 homeowners stay in their homes, preventing gentrification due to rapidly rising property values and taxes in historically disinvested neighborhoods. With $500,000 of private funding, we were able to launch the second round of the Anti-Displacement Fund recruitment in late 2020. By the end of 2020, we had approved over 100 homeowners in round 2 with more applications pending.
Vibrancy of Place
One of the safest places for people to be during the COVID-19 pandemic was outside, socially distanced. For the GMC and our partners, this place is the Beerline Trail. 2020 was a year of preparing for the Beerline Trail Linear Park Expansion and pending feasibility study. Initially scheduled for 2020 and postponed due to COVID, the feasibility is the first step in a comprehensive campaign for the creation of a mile-long linear park along the trail in Harambee.