SHEBOYGAN — On Thursday afternoon, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers held a press conference at Visit Sheboygan to help announce more than $140 million in grants to businesses and organizations that play integral roles in tourism and entertainment industries.
The new grants will be invested in the industries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic including live event venues, movie theaters, the lodging industry and more.
Evers, a Plymouth native, commented not only on the great tourism value throughout the state but specifically in Sheboygan County.
"Sheboygan is a great, great place to recreate, they have one of the best shorelines on all of Lake Michigan," he said. "I have visited many, many times from my days in Plymouth—great restaurants, great opportunities for finding a good place to stay overnight and all the other things the mayor mentioned. It's a great city and it's doing a great job, and tourism is at its heart. Obviously there's manufacturing, obviously there's public services and all those other things happening in the city, but this is a good place for tourism."
The investments will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) and will be administered by the Department of Administration and the Department of Revenue. They will include:
- $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 Wisconsin Historical Society
- $7.5 million to increase marketing support for Wisconsin's tourism industry
A breakdown of exactly how much will funnel into local communities including Sheboygan County is not yet available.
Evers was joined by Department of Tourism Interim Secretary Anne Sayers, who spoke to the impact the grants can and will have.
"Economists predict that tourism spending will not fully recover until about 2024—it'll be more like a dial than a switch—but we're pleased that here in Wisconsin, in this early part of the recovery, we're already outpacing the national average," Sayers said. "We're already seeing that overnight trips are already outpacing not just 2020, the pandemic year, but 2019, which was a record-setting year for tourism here in Wisconsin."
"While leisure tourism is bouncing back, business tourism is a little slower to return so there's work to be done to help all facets of the tourism economy bounce back, and that's exactly what this important fusion of funds will help us do," she added.
Sheboygan Mayor Ryan Sorenson also addressed the room full of regional media and countywide leaders.
"Truly, in our community, [tourism] is a huge pillar to success in cities like Sheboygan and all across Wisconsin," Sorenson said. "Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism economy in Sheboygan was worth more than $10 million in visitor spending each year and $240 million across the county."