Incubating innovation

Brown County positions itself as a hub for entrepreneurship

Posted on Jan 30, 2019 :: Economic Development
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Northeast Wisconsin already is known for its strength in the manufacturing and food processing sectors, but momentum is building behind another area: innovation and entrepreneurship.

TitletownTech, a partnership between the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft, is slated to open in the next few months and will serve as a creative center that develops digital solutions to market challenges. It also will include an innovation lab and venture studio and fund.

Craig Dickman, founder and chairman of Breakthrough and StageThree and co-founder of the N.E.W. Venture Foundry, is serving as the organization’s managing director. Jill Enos of StageThree and the N.E.W. Venture Fund will be director of the venture studio, and Peter Romenesko of StageThree and Breakthrough is director of the innovation lab.

Microsoft will play a key role in the leadership team, with a team member serving as technologist in residence at TitletownTech, a position that will bring expertise from the global technology leader. In addition, Microsoft will base its TechSpark manager, Michelle Schuler, as well as its TEALS program employees at the facility.

“Managing director of TitletownTech Craig Dickman and his team have been ramping up for the official launch and opening of the TitletownTech building. They’ve had some great contacts with interested parties, and we’re excited to see it get started,” Aaron Popkey, director of public affairs for the Green Bay Packers, said in a statement. “The building itself is in final stages of completion. Opening date is yet to be determined, but it’s expected to be open and fully operational in the next few months.”

In addition, Foxconn Technology Group announced in June its plans to open an innovation center that will employ 200 in downtown Green Bay’s Watermark building, and construction is underway on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s STEM Innovation Center. It’s expected to be complete in August.

Kelly Armstrong, vice president of economic development for the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, says excitement is building around all the new announcements, but there’s still work to do. Her organization wants to establish itself as a central convener around entrepreneurship.

Many players, including T2 Accelerator, Rise and Grind, StageThree Innovation, N.E.W. Venture Foundry and Digital Fertilizer, are already active, but Armstrong sees a need for an entity to pull all the pieces together. Building a robust ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship is one of 11 initiatives that make up the chamber’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, created in May 2017.

“We really see it as our goal as directed through the strategic plan and the stakeholders as convening that space. We really want to map out the ecosystem, understand who the resource providers are, understand who the entrepreneurs are, understand who are the corporations that are playing in this space and how do we get them to play locally in that space,” Armstrong says.

With the major players coming onto the scene comes the need for high-tech talent. In pursuit of that, Armstrong says it’s important to consider and reach out to the entrepreneurs already in the area and for the region to continue to educate students about technology opportunities available. Brown County is home to global companies, some of them homegrown, but there’s often a disconnect in communicating that to students, she says.

When it comes to recruiting people from outside the area, organizations need to go beyond focusing on quality of life, as that isn’t enough of a differentiator. What gets people to move, Armstrong says, is the opportunities that are available.

With partners such as Microsoft and the Green Bay Packers, it becomes an easier sell. The chamber plans to continue to leverage its partnership with the formidable organizations. The Packers are the third-most watched NFL team, so during telecasts, Armstrong would like to see a more nuanced picture of Green Bay life portrayed.

During those cutaway shots of the city, the chamber has reached out and asked to put on display facets such as manufacturing, technology and the Packers’ partnership with Microsoft. If Northeast Wisconsin can change people’s impressions, maybe more people will consider calling the region home.

“We have this opportunity … to change their touch-point experience,” she says. “It’s not just beer, it’s not just cheese, it’s not just football. They’re part of who we are, but they’re not all of who we are.”

Flying high

Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport is enjoying its own success. In 2018, it saw a 12.2 percent jump in passengers over 2017, the highest year-over-year traffic increase in 30 years.

GRB recently announced that beginning May 23, it will offer non-stop service to Denver International Airport through low-fare carrier Frontier. In addition, all three airlines currently serving the airport saw an increase in passenger numbers in 2018, and it added flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as well as increasing capacity for some flights with larger planes.

Marty Piette, airport director, says GRB plays a vital role in Brown County’s economic development picture. He’s approaching the role, which he stepped into last summer, from a marketing and communications standpoint and working to convey the airport’s value to the region — both community members and business leaders.

“When (businesses are) looking to either stay in a community or expand their existing services or even relocate into a community, some of the things they’re looking at are infrastructure and access via road, rail and air,” he says. “Having that air transportation access, I think, is very important for existing and future business when making that decision to grow in our area.”

With access to the world through four hubs on three airlines, Piette says GRB offers convenience, short wait times and ease of travel that allows passengers to arrive an hour and 15 minutes in advance, get through screening and still have time to grab a bite to eat.

Piette says with larger-capacity aircraft, people will have greater access to lower fares. Airline tickets are divided into buckets, he says, with the lowest-price tickets in the first bucket. Once those are sold, tickets get progressively more expensive. Larger planes mean more tickets available in that lower-priced bucket.

“As long as we’re filling the seats, then the airlines will respond and add larger aircraft and add more flights, which we’re seeing the community do. They’re filling those seats this year,” he says. “Our success really does rely on community success.”