Wisconsin tourism gets financial help, $140M from stimulus funds

Wisconsin's tourism and entertainment businesses, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, are getting some financial help to recover.

"Our work is going well, but it is far from being done," said Gov. Tony Evers.

Gov. Evers said Thursday more than $140 million in federal grant money will be available for the lodging industry, movie theaters, live event venues, minor league sports and other entertainment and tourism businesses.

"We are going to use more than $140 million of our American Rescue Act fund to bolster and support the entertainment, lodging, tourism and travel agencies in the state of Wisconsin," said Evers.

The grants from the federal economic stimulus bill passed by Congress earlier this year will be administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and Department of Revenue.

Lake Geneva

"Last year, local venues kept their doors closed to help protect their communities. Now that nearly half of all Wisconsinites have received at least one dose of the vaccine, life is returning to normal. Minor league ball games are welcoming back families, theaters are reopening and concert venues are booking new shows. These investments will ensure our communities bounce back stronger than before," said DOA Secretary Joel Brennan.

The lodging industry will receive $75 million in funding, with $12 million reserved for small businesses that host live events and about $11 million for movie theaters.

The investments 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 the Wisconsin Historical Society to assist in reopening historical sites; and
  • $7.5 million to increase marketing support for Wisconsin's tourism industry.

It's something industry workers say is critical as more Americans plan to travel.

"It’s a huge relief. It’s the support," said Shad Branen, Burlington Plaza Theater owner. "It’s another lifeline for us to get through a pandemic that has been unprecedented."

Lake Geneva

"Will be another opportunity for us to keep our staff especially come this fall with the surge of guests is done," said Tammie Carstensen, Harbor Shores Lake Geneva.

Staffing shortages are cause for concern for many local businesses.

"We need more people in the state. We really do, and the number of jobs completely outstrip the number of people we have available to fill those jobs," said Gov. Evers.

Business owners say their biggest concern when it comes to staffing is the fall, when younger employees head back to school. 

Lake Geneva

FREE DOWNLOAD: Get breaking news alerts in the FOX6 News app for iOS or Android


Bill Elliott, president & CEO of the Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association

"We are grateful for the Governor’s focus on the tourism and hospitality industry with these grant funds, as they will play a big role in helping us navigate through our recovery from the terrible situation that COVID-19 put us in. In 2020 alone, Wisconsin’s lodging industry lost more than $1 Billion in revenue. While we’re starting to see leisure travel make a strong comeback in many markets, the business and corporate travel that so many lodging facilities depend on for survival will take some time to rebound."

Individuals and businesses interested in receiving more information about the grants, including applications, should sign up to receive alerts

Associated Press contributed to this report.