Challenging times for small businesses

Retail has changed a lot since the days of the Franklin Store.

I grew up and now live on a farm in southwestern Jackson County near the unincorporated hamlet of Franklin, which was home to the general store operated by brothers Ted and Melvin Fosse, along with Ted’s wife, Borghild.

From fan belts to luncheon meat, from bib overalls to cereal and every nut, bolt and screw you could think of, it seemed like the Franklin Store had it all. Nearly every day someone from our farm stopped at the store for some critical piece of hardware or for a refreshing 20-cent, 10-ounce bottle of soda pop from the old Coca-Cola chest cooler that sat out on the open front porch.

If you happened to be 20 cents short, no problem. The store offered charge accounts, and judging by the dozens of charge slips hanging around the front counter, everyone’s credit was good.

Major shopping excursions usually took us to downtown Black River Falls, where the 5-and-10 store with its array of toys was my favorite, or even to downtown La Crosse, where the department stores of Sears, J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, Doerflingers and Herbergers were anchored.

Those seemed like simpler days, when big boxes were reserved for large appliances, not a term for gigantic discount stores.

Those days are long gone. The Franklin Store closed years ago, and the downtown La Crosse anchors either closed or fled to Valley View Mall in La Crosse. Now many of those big box stores or major retailers are closing, having been hit hard by the migration to online shopping.

This past year the impact of the pandemic has caused a wave of small business closings. A report by Yelp released last fall found 163,735 businesses listed on Yelp that were open in April 2020 had closed by September. That averages out to more than 800 closures per day. Another report  from the University of California Santa Cruz showed nearly 317,000 businesses closed between February and September. That’s closer to 1,500 closures a day. 

We’ve got a ways to go before we’re out of the pandemic, so the real number of businesses closed by the pandemic won’t be known for a while. And of course there will be new businesses that open -- there is always opportunity even in the darkest times.

And there is some encouraging news. Terry Bauer, director of La Crosse Downtown Mainstreet, said some businesses reported some of their busiest holiday shopping seasons. Regional economic development groups and chambers created shop local campaigns. So even in tough times, people have responded by spending their dollars locally.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the 7 Rivers Alliance has been assisting businesses of all sizes navigate these troubled economic waters. Recently we hosted a webinar featuring SBA employees who presented on the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program. We’ve assisted businesses secure state grants. And we’ll continue helping as long as the help is needed.
Working together, we can get through the stormy waters and find smoother sailing on the other side.

Chris Hardie, CEO


State Bar launches service for businesses

A new initiative to provide business law services to small businesses and business owners has been started by by the Business Law Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin.   This service will be offered in partnership with the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic and the services will be available beginning Friday, February 5.

 Individuals and organizations needing free non-litigation business law services they could not otherwise afford, especially on urgent legal needs arising in the wake COVID-19, can set up an appointment with a volunteer attorney through this program. The Section is particularly interested in assisting those who are low income or serving low income communities.   

Services: Eligible participants can receive brief assistance on a wide variety of business law matters including:

  • Finance and lending

  • Insurance claims/coverage

  • Commercial leases and contracts

  • Tax

  • Labor and employment

  • Real estate

  • Commercial debtor/creditor

  • Regulatory compliance, including privacy and COVID-19 related requirements

 In order to receive the services, clients must request an appointment for a phone or Zoom consultation at which will be scheduled through  the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic (MVLC).  The MVLC will coordinate the scheduling and the consultations will be scheduled on Fridays at 8:30, 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. beginning on February 5  with the consultation lasting up to one hour. 

 For more information, please refer to the attached flyer or see  

Community input sought on policing survey

The La Crosse Area Criminal Justice Management Council is seeking community input regarding the formation of a Community Oversight Body.

The following link is to a brief, but INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT survey developed by a subcommittee of the La Crosse County Criminal Justice Management Council. The subcommittee is seeking input from the community regarding the formation of a Community Oversight Body. They want to know what the community needs, wants, and hopes for equitable accountability and oversight of policing locally.

The data collected is anonymous and will be utilized in aggregate form to inform the subcommittee's decisions. The survey will be available until February 5th. Thank you in advance for your important input!

Take the survey

WWBIC offers February events

We’ll be turning the calendar page to February soon, and as we do, WWBIC has many educational opportunities for any business stage!

  • Basic Business classes include: What Would WWBIC Do?, So You Want to Start a Business?, ABC’s of Busines Planning, Cashflow Cashflow Cashflow
  • Networking Events include: Strong Women, Strong Coffee and Cup of Joe
  • Financial Capabilities classes include: Make your Money Talk, You, Inc., The Power of Credit
  • Specialty Classes on: Retail, Food Licensing, Marketing, Employment Mistakes, and classes for Spanish Language speakers.
Register for any of these opportunities and search for more upcoming events at:

Partner update: LADCO 2021 goals

The La Crosse Area Development Corporation (LADCO) is a not-for-profit entity which has been operating for 49 years as an economic development agency for the greater La Crosse area. The purpose of LADCO is to actively facilitate and promote economic development and business retention in the region by focusing on the “triad of development”: the attraction of industry, the retention of business and industry, and the management of the start-up business facility known as the Coulee Region Business Center (CRBC). LADCO is also one of three partners of the La Crosse Industrial Park Corporation (LIPCO) which facilitates real estate projects with mezzanine financing.

Stepping into 2021, LADCO has many active projects aimed at increasing investment and jobs in the La Crosse area. The projects include, but are not limited to, management of the Coulee Region Business Center, resulting in 1-on-1 technical support with 18 start-up tenants housed in the facility, development planning for a key vacant parcel within the City of La Crosse, and support of the La Crosse Regional Airport’s efforts with Delta Airlines to maintain a service to Detroit.

As some may have seen in recent news, LADCO has also played a major role in the development plans the Ho-Chunk Nation has for the River Point District, located just north of downtown La Crosse. LADCO’s work with the Nation began in the summer of 2019 when key leaders connected with LADCO in hopes of discussing investment opportunities in the Coulee Region. After exploring over 10 potential development locations throughout La Crosse County, the Ho-Chunk Nation decided to move forward in the planning of a development which includes a mixed-use plan for a 7-story building. Designs to date feature commercial space(s) on the first floor, Ho-Chunk Nation administrative offices and services on the second floor, apartments on floors three through six, and condominiums for sale on floor seven.

The River Point District itself is a 26-acre site owned by the development Authority of La Crosse.  It has a tremendous history involving Native American influence, French trade and logging initiatives, and, for the last century, serving as a site for multiple industrial uses. Its location, being adjacent to downtown La Crosse, serves as a tremendous opportunity to add to the downtown district in a way that provides options to live, work and play. To view more information about the River Point District, please visit

As 2021 progresses, LADCO looks forward to continuing efforts to improve the economic climate of La Crosse County. For further information on LADCO, please visit our website at, or contact Economic Development Coordinator, Sam Bachmeier at

Farm to School program in Juneau County

Danna Burgeson, the Farm to School Specialist for Juneau County, seeks community involvement to help develop the program..

Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools. Farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.

Burgeson seeks people to help with filing and producing videos and with other efforts. The program consists of school gardens, procurement and education.

Anyone interested can contact Burgeson at (608) 847-9373, ext. 277.  

La Crosse City Vision Foundation brick sale

The La Crosse City Vision Foundation has been successfully selling engraved bricks for the past several years for installment at its two project areas.

The Clock Project is located at the end of Main Street near the Radisson hotel and water feature, and the Simpler Times Project is located in Riverside Park near the circle drive of the Eagle statue.

The City Vision Foundation Board has elected to present the public with a half price sale on the remaining bricks.

All bricks are 4 X 8 inches in size and able to accommodate up to 3 lines of personalized engraving consisting of a total of 13 characters and spaces per line.

This sale will be available on a first come, first serve basis until all bricks are sold. There are approximately 25 available bricks at the Clock site and 85 available bricks at the Simpler Times site. Bricks will be installed in the fall and spring once at least 12 orders have been received. All brick colors and placements will be random.

For each brick ordered, please send a check for the sale price of $50, made out to La Crosse City Vision Foundation along with your desired personalization for each brick and which location you would like the brick installed at. This information can be mailed either to LCVF PO Box 0175 La Crosse, WI 54601, or to Lynn Sturm Brick Coordinator 232 Shore Acres Rd  , MN 55947. Please include your phone number or email address so you can be contacted if questions arise.

Fillmore County Journal business award

The Fillmore County Journal has named its first 2020 Business Person of the year.

The recipient is Todd Jones, owner of ACE Hardware in Spring Valley, Minn.

The Fillmore County Journal received nominations for 25 business leaders spanning Mower, Fillmore and Houston counties in Southeast Minnesota.

Full story


Two Waukon natives part of Iowa STEM grant

Waukon Standard

Wartburg College Ioponics was one of 12 programs recently selected to participate in the Iowa STEM Scale-Up Program Grant for the 2021-2022 academic year. This grant provides Iowa classrooms with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) educational opportunities including classroom lessons, complete system equipment, professional development, and living plants/animals.

Waukon natives Dr. Michael Bechtel and Michaela Dehli are excited to be a part of this journey for classrooms across the state. Dr. Bechtel is a 1989 graduate of Waukon High School and is an Associate Professor of Science Education in the Biology Department at Wartburg College in Waverly. Dehli is a 2019 graduate of Waukon High School and is currently in her sophomore year at Wartburg College as an Elementary Education major with Math, Science and Reading endorsements.

Full story

 WEDA Unveils 2021-22 Legislative Agenda 

As the “Voice of Economic Development” in Wisconsin, WEDA is committed to working with state lawmakers to promote programs and policies that advance economic activity in all corners of the state. And our recently unveiled 2021-22 Legislative Agenda provides a comprehensive list of key initiatives to boost economic growth, including proposals to increase workforce housing, expand broadband access, improve state business attraction and retention efforts, and ensure local communities are properly equipped with policy tools to promote economic development.

As you know, economic development has a broad scope, but it can best be described as investment in growing the economy to create opportunity and prosperity for Wisconsin communities, employers, and residents. Economic development efforts have played a vital role in Wisconsin’s success and will be increasingly important as policymakers focus on innovative approaches to put the state back on a path to higher growth and increased business productivity.

Developing, enhancing, and ultimately strengthening important economic development tools and policies requires broad-based collaboration and support, and WEDA looks forward to working with the Legislature and the Evers Administration during the 2021-22 legislative session to pursue the priorities laid out in our Legislative Agenda.

CLICK HERE to review 2021-22 WEDA Legislative Agenda.

Fed holds event on racism and the economy

When Geoffrey Canada thinks about equity in America, there is no more important issue than education.

“My challenge to America today is to confront the fact that we do not value all children equally in this country,” said Canada, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone. “It’s time for us to really rethink our ways to approaching education.”

Canada was among education leaders from across the country and across sectors to discuss structural racism in our education system and its impact on economic outcomes for all Americans. The series, sponsored by all 12 Federal Reserve Banks, examines structural racism, its impacts, and ways to dismantle it.

The Jan. 12 conference focused on investment not only in the education system, but in children, in families, and in teachers. Speakers noted the need to frame education gaps as opportunities for reform and investment, rather than simply continuing to respond to their consequences.

Western Dairyland offers child care grants

The Western Wisconsin Women’s Business Center is partnering with Child Care Partnership to offer a $2,500 grant for new child care businesses in Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson Counties

Right now, there are three children for every available child care opening in our communities. With uncertain school schedules and closures this academic year, families of essential workers are struggling to secure safe care for their children. You can help by opening your home to children in need and becoming a part-time or full-time child care provider today! If you have any questions, please contact the Western Wisconsin Women's Business Center at 715-836-7511 or for more information. 

There are income requirements that apply. For more information, click here

Governors create roadmap to recovery

Despite the rapid evolution of today’s crisis and the negative consequences resulting from COVID-19, recovery from its impacts also presents an extraordinary opportunity to close widening disparities and advance positive transformations taking place across the economy and the workforce. From the revolution of virtual services and growth in digital skill development to the redefinition of high-quality work and workplace norms in a post-COVID era, these innovations offer extraordinary promise for building a stronger workforce. 

While states are eager to restart and recover, doing so within today’s uniquely challenging context raises important questions for a state’s workforce development system. How are states defining success for a new type of recovery that promotes upward mobility for families struggling with unemployment and poverty? What responsibilities does the workforce development system and its employer partners have during each phase? How can states and businesses align the call for immediate action with longer-term transformations in work and learning? And finally, how can states and industry help one another capitalize on rapid innovations developed during response to the pandemic to transform their services and operating models for good?   

To help Governors and states address these questions, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) partnered with state leaders to compile a State Roadmap for Workforce Recovery. 


Covid-19 business resources

The business impact of Covid-19 is having an enormous impact on the business community in the 7 Rivers Region. We are committed to being a resource and a guide to get you through these challenging times.

Here are links for Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota and nationally that has important information for your business. We will update this page as more information becomes available.

Covid-19 business resources


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601 N. 7th St., La Crosse, WI 54601

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