Banking On The Dock Of The Bay

Posted on Jun 1, 2010 :: Development
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Banking on the dock of the bayIt’s usually pretty bad news when your county’s largest employer lays off more than a third of its workforce in less than six months, driving your unemployment rate to more than 12 percent – and it is, no matter how you cut it. But Door County leaders feel like they’re doing surprisingly well under the circumstances and they have reasonable cause for optimism.

Bay Shipbuilding’s announcement in April that it would lay off another 89 workers – bringing the 2010 total to more than 200 employees in its 700-plus workforce – might actually be seen as not-so-bad news for the Sturgeon Bay company, which had announced last fall that it might lay off as many as 405 workers. More layoffs could lie ahead, but Bay Ship officials are holding out reasonable hope that its parent company – Fincantieri Marine Group – will win a U.S. Navy bid to build several more Littoral Combat Ships. The work would be done at Bay Ship, as well as at Marinette Marine in Marinette and ACE Marine in Green Bay. Marinette Marine has already helped build two LCS vessels and recently won a $63 million contract to build ships for the U.S. Coast Guard. The Navy currently has $1.5 billion budgeted for LCS construction for 2011-2014.

Not waiting for that really big shoe to drop, the Sturgeon Bay City Council agreed to provide $6 million in state harbor assistance funds to help build a new floating dry dock for Bay Ship. Fincantieri has also committed to more than $100 million in improvements at the Marinette, Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay facilities, including a 3,500-square-foot training center and a 17,000-square-foot pipe shop at Bay Ship. Nearly $3 million in federal stimulus funds were also committed to the project.

15 years in the making
It didn’t take an entire generation, but a good chunk of one to get WireTech Fabricators relocated to the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park.

“Sometimes it seemed like it would never happen,” says WireTech co-owner Tom Lardinois. Along with co-owner Mike Baudhuin, Lardinois credits Sturgeon Bay City Administrator Steve McNeil and the Door County Economic Development Corp. with finally getting the job done.

The $3 million, 66,500-square-foot facility, built by Keller Inc., provides WireTech with the capacity it needs to grow – it’s added nearly 20 employees in the past year to keep up with demand from companies like Green Bay-based KI. But it also provides the city with a rare opportunity to upgrade its constrained housing inventory. The city acquired the existing WireTech site on North Sixth Avenue for $1 million.

The site, which was already located in a residential district, will now be redeveloped into a 17-lot subdivision by V&A of Sturgeon Bay, a partnership between Van Rite Construction and Heritage Custom Homes of Green Bay.

“That’s been one of our biggest goals for some time now – to expand the housing base by developing the WireTech site,” says Sam Perlman, economic development director for the Door County Economic Development Corp.

Wired, unwired and inspired
They missed out on the first round of federal broadband stimulus grants, but Door County officials and Green Bay-based Nsight (see this month’s cover story – “Bandwidth Brothers,” page 24) are optimistic that a $15 million application in the second round will do better.

Nsight’s new bid will help fund a fiber-optic loop to provide broadband services to county buildings, schools and businesses.

More important, says Perlman, is that Nsight’s proposal would expand the wireless options in the Door peninsula.

“DSL and other wired broadband is not coming to northern Door County anytime soon,” says Perlman. “The population is too widely dispersed, so fiber is just not practical, Wireless will be the best option for many parts of our county. We already have that in many areas, but we need to increase our bandwidth capabilities.”

Waypoint Private Capital and DCEDC have also established the Door County Opportunity Fund to provide seed and growth capital to early-stage companies.

As for the future, the Door Kewaunee Business & Education Partnership (DKBEP) received a $22,500 Community-Based Economic Development grant from the state Department of Commerce to develop a program to expose youth to regional businesses and career opportunities in the area and prepare them with the skills required for those jobs.

The partnership has already established a construction program that has produced homes that generated seed money for future building projects, as well as a nursing assistant program in conjunction with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.