Say “Door County” and ask a person to say the first thing that comes to mind and the answer you hear may be a surprise.
“It depends on where you are. If you’re in northern Door, it will be tourism. If in southern Door County, it will be agriculture and if you’re in Sturgeon Bay, it will be manufacturing,” says Bill Chaudoir, executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corp. “We have a great mix in the county of tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. It’s a very diversified economy.”
That diversification serves the county well as each segment continues to grow, allowing the county’s overall economy to grow right along with it.
Manufacturers continue to have a strong base in Sturgeon Bay with several companies expanding and attracting new business. For example, Bay Shipbuilding has
several contracts in place to keep the ship yard humming for the next couple of years in addition to the work they do every winter on ships. The Hatco Corp., which designs, manufactures, and sells commercial foodservice equipment throughout the world, is in the process of adding 65,000 square feet to its manufacturing facility in the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park.
The county’s agriculture segment is divided between fruit, such as the cherries grown on the Door Peninsula and the dairy segment, which is centered in southern Door County, Chaudoir says.
As for tourism, room tax revenues rose 15 percent in the four years leading up to 2012, and local business owners say 2013 was a good year, says Sam Perlman, economic development manager for the Door County Economic Development Corp.
Looking to the future
It’s been more than a year since Dominion Resources Inc. announced plans to close the Kewaunee Power Station, a nuclear-generated electricity plant on the shores of Lake Michigan, which employed more than 650.
For Kewaunee County and neighboring Manitowoc and Brown counties, it was a huge blow. The total economic effect of the closure is estimated at more than $630 million.
“We lost our largest employer, one that provided the best-paying jobs. It was a tough blow and one that will be felt for years to come,” says Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation. “This isn’t like a typical plant closure. It’s a nuclear plant and they will be taking more than 60 years to decommission the site, so it’s not like we can redevelop the site and try to find a new employer to come in and use the site.”
To deal with the loss, the Kewaunee and Manitowoc County Economic Development Corporations, in collaboration with Advance of Brown County, conducted an economic impact study to look at the area’s future and look at ways to fill the hole left by the plant’s closure. “Aligning the Region for Economic Success” includes seven areas the region can focus on as it looks to add jobs including:
» Regional leadership and capacity building
» Innovation and entrepreneurial development
» Business expeditor team
» World-class tourism potential
» Agricultural industry
» Water resources
“We’ll need to look at multiple solutions. No one area will fill the void,” Brown says. “We also want to take advantage and not duplicate other work being done in the region. For example, the New North is doing some work on energy clusters and looking more into biofuels. We want to piggyback on that if we can.”
Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties are also part of the Lakeshore Industry Cluster, which is looking at how to leverage the biogas industry and trying to tap more into the success of the tourism industry in neighboring Door County.
“Right now, we’re working on getting funding sources so we can begin some of the ideas discussed in the impact study,” Brown says. “It’s been a tough year, but we are looking to the future and how we can grow our economy.”
Businesses in Door and Kewaunee counties are no different than companies elsewhere when it comes to being worried about future workforce needs. As baby boomers retire, many companies – especially manufacturers – are concerned about attracting and retaining employees. With that in mind, the Door/Kewaunee Business and Education Partnership (DKBEP) was created to build relationships between students and area companies.
“We really want to make sure students know what kinds of jobs are available in our communities and that they are good jobs,” says Tara LeClair, the program’s business and education manager. “When they graduate from school and go to college or enter the workforce, we want them to know what kind of offerings we have right here in our region for jobs.”
LeClair works closely with businesses and listens to their needs. Career-orientated programs begin as early as elementary school and there is a large eighth-grade career fair bringing together students from both counties. In high school, there are more options, including job shadowing, field trips to local businesses, and programs directly linking students and businesses.
For example, the DKBEP has a homebuilding program in place where juniors and seniors in high school build a house themselves, learning what they need from local craftsmen and staff from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. When they are done, not only did they build a house, but they also earned 16 credits through NWTC.
“We have found that tours of local businesses are the most eye-opening,” LeClair says. “Students have no idea what these companies are like and they see that they can study engineering or accounting and then come to work for a company like Bay Shipbuilding. There are a lot more careers available in the area than people think and we work to help them realize that.”
ON THE WEB
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Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp: