Agency helps neighborhoods create positive centers of economic activity

BranchingOut _ LISC Milwaukee

The homemade papaya salad and sweet sticky rice sold at the Asian International Market on National Avenue are legendary. Those two dishes bring in people from as nearby as around the corner to as far away as Madison and beyond.

They not only have elevated customers’ palates, but also the Asian grocery store’s reputation and the prominence of the Silver City business district as a whole over the past six years since owners Bouavanh Schuelke and Bouachanh Phonthavisouk took over ownership.

Healthy commercial corridors like Silver City serve as economic engines within Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods and provide important first impressions for visitors. They either encourage people to learn more about what an area has to offer or they detract people from making a return trip. Knowing that Milwaukee is only as strong as its individual neighborhoods, LISC Milwaukee works to make sure commercial districts in vulnerable neighborhoods, businesses like the Asian International Market and neighborhood groups have all the tools, resources and technical and financial support needed to build and grow.

The agency wears many hats in its work: advocate, convener, investor and overall champion for local commercial districts. It doesn’t provide direct services but has connections to a multitude of public and private partners who do. With Asian International Market, for example, LISC is helping Schuelke and Phonthavisouk search for a new site to expand their growing business. The agency also is helping Layton Boulevard West Neighbors address a number of vacant and foreclosed buildings located in the district. On the opposite end of the city, in the Harambee neighborhood, LISC was part of the team that created a neighborhood strategic plan and brought in resources to implement the plan.

LISC also has covered the costs for business development managers to attend conferences, helped the state recruit participants for its minority business development program and promoted local businesses through advertising and marketing campaigns. The agency primarily focuses on commercial districts in Layton Boulevard and Clarke Square on the south side and Washington Park, Lindsay Heights and Harambee on the north side. But it also supports any commercial district throughout the city that needs assistance.

The agency’s foray into commercial corridor revitalization work began in 2004 with the Main Street Milwaukee Program. LISC partnered with Milwaukee’s Department of City Development on the economic development program that worked to rejuvenate the city’s older commercial districts. That formalized program ended in 2011 due to city budget restraints but LISC continues its focus on business districts, committing new financial resources and technical support. In fact, it is one of four main cornerstones of the agency’s new strategic plan, along with real estate development, community safety and building the capacity of neighborhood groups.

Each neighborhood faces its own challenges and LISC’s commercial revitalization specialist, along with other staff, strikes a balance between ambitious plans and available resources. In doing so, the agency works to capitalize on existing assets and create stronger business districts and more sustainable communities. 

To make a grant recommendation to support this agency's work, log in to Philanthropy Online or contact a member of the donor services team.

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Funding needs include:

$500 to offer workshops for commercial corridor managers

$1,000 to cover technical assistance for business

$2,500 to offer façade grants for store-front improvements