Lawyer Aurora and WWBIC Deploy Loans to Support Growth of Two Milwaukee Firms
End of 2019, Aurora Health Advocate announced a A commitment of $ 50 million over five years to address the disparities that affect health outcomes in communities in Wisconsin and Illinois.
As the Downers Grove, Ill., And Milwaukee-based healthcare system strives to meet the physical and mental health needs of patients, part of its investment strategy in recent years has focused on supporting small businesses, recognizing the correlation between income and health. results in a community.
Lawyer Aurora found a partner in Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., whose mission is to support entrepreneurs from under-represented groups and under-funded communities.
As part of its $ 50 million initiative, the health system entered into a $ 1 million loan agreement with the community development financial institution, which in turn distributed funds to support growth plans. from two Milwaukee businesses: The Pink Bakery, the maker of mixed allergen-free baked goods, and Milwaukee Times, a weekly black-owned community newspaper.
Vincent Lyles, vice president of community relations for Advocate Aurora, said WWBIC president Wendy Baumann was the healthcare system’s first call when it started planning its fund distribution.
“Their approach is a very holistic approach,” Lyles said. “It’s not just about giving someone money; it’s also about making the business strong, which in turn can facilitate growth.
Lyles noted that WWBIC was also able to deploy funds quickly.
“The need is real,” he said. “The pandemic (COVID-19) has shown us all how the world can be turned upside down. The fact that we’re able to pick up on some of those companies that struggled throughout the pandemic and now have a stronger footing is also about health outcomes. All the research talks about (how) a richer community is a healthier community.
Lawyer Aurora’s investment also represented a new opportunity for WWBIC, Baumann said. Traditionally, the organization has borrowed from federal and local government entities, financial institutions, foundations, and accredited individual investors.
“Why I got interested in Aurora… that’s the company’s article that comes in and says, ‘We too believe we can invest in our communities.’ In Aurora’s case, this is a very strong mission related to the health and well-being of a community, defined as economic health and well-being. It’s state of the art and strategic, ”she said, noting that lawyer Aurora and Spectrum, both million dollar investors, are the first business partners to make capital investments. loan via WWBIC.
The goal is for lawyer Aurora to deploy and recoup his investment by 2025, when he will redeploy those dollars, Lyles said.
“We see it as a cycle of opportunities,” he said.
Pink Bakery opens an allergen-free factory
The Pink Bakery The mission of providing desserts to people with severe food allergies aligns with Lawyer Aurora’s focus of addressing food insecurity, Lyles said.
The WWBIC loan enabled owner Nubian Simmons to purchase and convert a former Miller Valley office space into a dedicated manufacturing facility to produce her line of baking mixes, which use certified organic, non-GMO, non-GMO ingredients. gluten and fair trade.
Simmons, who grew up in Milwaukee and suffers from severe food allergies, began experimenting with recipes a decade ago in hopes of making allergy-free brownies, cakes and cookies that would taste the same as the produce. ordinary bakery. The Pink Bakery officially incorporated in 2014.
“It took me about five years to get my blends where I felt like I was letting someone else taste it,” she said.
Simmons moved to Memphis in 2016 to work at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and continued to expand his baking business. While she was a week away from closing a land purchase to build a manufacturing plant, the results of an environmental test revealed the land to be toxic. Simmons took it as a sign and decided to return to Milwaukee.
In the fall of 2020, she found the building in Miller Valley that she now occupies. In early 2021, Simmons, who had started the business, completed the loan documents with WWBIC, his first business loan.
“The WWBIC loan came just when I needed it,” she said.
The space renovations were completed in October; the installation operates without the 14 main allergens.
Simmons said she intentionally prioritized minority companies on the project, allocating about two-thirds of her budget to minority contractors.
“There were so many black businesses that closed because of COVID. I saw this as an opportunity: if I have these dollars let me see how much I can try to help keep it going, ”she said.
She now plans to hire for around four positions, including production staff. Simmons said the company is finalizing an undisclosed deal that will allow it to grow.
The bakery does most of its sales online, but its blends are also available for purchase at the Plantonic Cafe in Hartford and the Wellness For Life Clinic in West Bend. In the future, Simmons plans to find a contact to sell his baked goods from an airline or at a stadium.
“If someone were to put something like that in one of these places, I feel like more of us are coming out because we would feel like these organizations care enough about us to try. to include us, ”she said.
New owner at Milwaukee Times
As one of the city’s three black newspapers, The Milwaukee Times is able to reach the public, especially those who live on the north side, with important information and resources that other media cannot, said Lyles of Advocate Aurora.
“We’ve spent almost two years now talking to people about COVID, and we need vehicles like the Milwaukee Times to be able to share this message,” he said. “… The fact that this document was able to communicate these messages in different ways and reach people where they are, we thought, was really important. “
The owner, Reverend Harold Turner, used the WWBIC loan to purchase the 40-year-old newspaper from former owner Lynda Jackson Conyers, with the intention of expanding his printing press.
In addition to publishing a weekly community newspaper, The Times also provides printing services to small businesses in the neighborhood, with products such as obituaries, church bulletins, business cards and invoices. In its early days, the Milwaukee Times primarily published church-related news, and it continued to expand its coverage.
Turner, who worked for 50 years as a pastor and worked in the insurance industry, brings to the company many existing relationships with funeral homes in the area. He said he plans to invest in equipment to expand the printing business and possibly hire an additional employee or two. The company currently has four employees.
“We’ll go above and beyond and continually make it # 1,” Turner said of the newspaper. “… We are going to bring it to life.” “