George B. Smith credits economic development assistance from the state for keeping his company in business.
That's why the CEO of S&S Cycle was happy Monday to host Gov. Scott Walker for a bill signing at the company's La Crosse operation. Walker signed two bills that streamline qualifications for business loans through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
Smith said his company, which manufactures aftermarket parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and makes motorcycle engines, had rapid growth in the 1990s and early in the 2000s. It expanded from Viola to La Crosse in 2004.
But a combination of a market decline and the economic slowdown put the company in peril, Smith said. The company's employment dropped from 421 in 2005 to 160 by 2009.
"We were in a cash crunch and we needed help," Smith said. "We got it."
The help came in the form of a new market tax credit loan through the WHEDA in 2009 and a community grant loan in 2010 through the state Department of Commerce. The commerce money was used to invest in new equipment and tooling.
Smith said S&S is refinancing loans from the 2004 expansion, only possible because WHEDA is guaranteeing a portion.
Today S&S is back on the growth track, with revenues up 30 percent from 2009 and its workforce at 230, Smith said.
"Had it not been for the economic development assistance we received from various programs, we might not have been around to welcome Gov. Walker today," Smith said.
The two bills Walker signed both came from the recent special Legislative session on jobs.
One bill changes the definition of a small business, from 50 or fewer full-time employees to 250.
The second bill makes changes to agriculture loans. State Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby, an author of that bill, witnessed the signing.
Walker said S&S represents the multi-generational small businesses that will lead job growth in the state.
"We're trying to create a better business climate in this state," Walker said. "We need to make it easier for job creators to do what they do best."
Two bills Walker said he would like to see movement on before the end of the year would be changing legislation on mining and venture capital.