ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Economic drivers take to the north

Posted on Nov 1, 2012 :: Economic Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Marinette Marine launched the first of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in 2006. In addition to the 10 ships currently under contract, Marinette Marine also received an $89.6 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard earlier this year for 40 boats.

Manufacturers – including Marinette Marine, Tyco Fire Protection and ChemDesign – keep Marinette economy humming

There’s no doubt Marinette Marine remains the heart of the economy in Marinette County and the surrounding area.

The shipbuilder employs 1,400 – nearly double the total just a few years ago – and works with 700 suppliers in 43 states, including 120 in Wisconsin. The company, which is owned by Fincantieri, is immersed in U.S. Navy shipbuilding projects that will keep workers busy for years. In addition to the 10 littoral combat ships under contract – each one takes about 40 months to build – Marinette Marine also received an $89.6 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard earlier this year for 40 boats.

Marinette Marine has also invested heavily in its shipyard with several facility upgrades and additions.

The company this year partnered with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to open a training center just outside of the shipyard’s front gates. The center provides instruction in welding, ship fitting, pipe fitting and electrical work, along with on-the-job training. Students can earn credits toward one of NWTC’s shipbuilding programs.

“Across Marinette County, we are seeing a lot of improvement with the economy and a lot of growth with jobs,” says Ann Hartnell, interim executive director of the Marinette County Association for Business and Industry Inc. “As Marinette Marine does well, it goes down the chain to its suppliers. But there are a lot of other manufacturers who are also doing well that aren’t connected with Marinette Marine.”

For example, Karl Schmidt Unisia Inc., Tyco Fire Protection Products and ChemDesign Products are all in a growth mode. Outside of the City of Marinette, Wausaukee Composites, a manufacturer of highly-engineered composite components for original equipment manufacturers, has a new owner and is doing well. Precision Ice Blast Corporation relocated this past year to Peshtigo from Wallace, Mich., bringing more than 60 jobs, Hartnell says.

ChemDesign Products, a contract chemical manufacturer, has grown from about 80 employees six years ago to 106 today, with plans to add more as the company continues to expand its reach. Dave Mielke, president and chief executive officer of ChemDesign, says the company takes a look at what large chemical manufacturers, such as Dow, are working on and then parallel themselves to that. The company has a two-prong plan for growth – expanding business with existing clients and attracting new ones using online marketing channels, he says.

“We like to take what we’re doing with existing customers and see how we can help them even more. We change as the industry changes,” Mielke says. “We used to be heavily based in the paper industry, but as times change, so have we. We are now really seeing a spark in the agriculture sector.”

As the global population continues to grow, farmers are under pressure to produce higher quality yields and turn to science to do that, he says. ChemDesign has seen agricultural products grow from 20 percent of its business in 2007 to 62 percent today.

“We are looking to go after higher-growth industries involved with ramping up productions of newer formulations,” Mielke says.

The company operates 24/7 and employs a mix of technical and production employees. While finding good quality production employees is a smooth process, Mielke says luring chemical engineers and professionals in other highly technical fields to Marinette can be a challenge. “This is a great community to raise a family, but the key is to get them to come here and look at the place,” he says. “We are also working in the community to expand entertainment and cultural offerings that will benefit all companies as they seek to attract and retain employees.”

Tyco Fire Protection Products in Marinette is another manufacturer growing. The company announced in October it is adding 50,000 square feet to its Ansul Tank & Systems Manufacturing facility. The project is part of an overall $25 million investment by the company in its Marinette facilities. Last year, the company opened a Center of Excellence that houses research and development and product management divisions.

Tyco makes a variety of fire suppression products ranging from fire extinguishers to large specialized systems. The manufacturer employs about 750 people.

The Marinette location also houses a fire training and education facility that has trained more than 50,000 personnel since it opened in 1940.

“Marinette has a thriving economy and is a great place to do business,” Mielke says.


Website puts Florence County in the spotlight

Florence County has a new website designed to attract not only more visitors to the region, but also – hopefully – more businesses.

The county worked with students from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and DMinteractive of Green Bay to get the project done, says Wendy Gehlhoff, director of the Florence County Economic Development Department. “The goal is to show off what the county has to offer when it comes to recreation,” she says. “If we can then turn those visitors into people who want to spend more time here either by opening a business or working remotely, then all the better.”

The site highlights recreation, lodging and restaurant options in the county, where tourism along with forest products are the top two industries. In addition, there are economic development resources available on the site.

For the past couple of years, students in a couple of NWTC classes looked at different pieces of the marketing puzzle, such as a tagline and what would be needed in a website. That information was then compiled and brought to DMi.

Gehlhoff says the website does a great job of showing everything the county has to offer. “We are following what a lot of other counties are doing – incorporating their tourism websites and economic development websites together,” she says.

Tourism is up in the county so far in 2012 – including an 8 percent increase in traffic this summer to the visitor center, which Gehlhoff credits to not only an improving economy, but a greater awareness of what the county has to offer. “We are doing a lot more trade shows and really target marketing the county’s wild rivers – we have three of them. People who are into canoeing or kayaking are really attracted to that concept,” she says.

– MaryBeth Matzek