Brown County is the world’s entrance into the New North with its busy port and the state’s only international airport besides Milwaukee.
In 2013, the Port of Green Bay saw its highest numbers since 2007 – an indication things are moving in the right direction, says Dean Haen, director of the Brown County Port and Resource Recovery Department.
“The port seems to be a leading indicator of the economy and how everyone is doing,” he says. “When we have a strong year, it means businesses are buying more raw materials and they are busier.”
In 2013, more than 2.2 million metric tons of cargo came in – an increase of 16 percent over the previous year. Coal and limestone – two products used by manufacturers – were up 21 percent. Salt – which is used by municipalities everywhere – was up 35 percent as reserves were depleted following last winter.
“I think our final numbers for 2013 could have been even a bit higher, but we had to close in about two weeks earlier than normal because of ice,” Haen says.
This summer, the port will reap the benefits of Cat Island Chain Restoration Project, which is designed to slowly rebuild three islands to protect the 1,400 acres of water around Duck Creek, which empties into the Bay of Green Bay. During the annual dredging of the river, silt will be taken there rather than trucked elsewhere, Haen says.
He also hopes that 2014 brings the addition of another terminal operator to the port. Currently there are 14 operators with docks used to unload a variety of commodities from coal and limestone to petroleum products and machinery. The port anticipates the addition of Noble Petro (a commercial supplier and distributor of refined petroleum products), which would take an old facility and return it to service.
The recently completed Port Opportunity Study will also help as Haen looks to attract future terminal operators. The study took a close look at land along the river and possible access points. “This will be a big help for us and help us when we work with potential clients. We will be able to see the real estate options right away and not have to start from point zero,” Haen says.
Meanwhile, Austin Straubel International Airport in Ashwaubenon is looking to grow its own international presence. The airport petitioned the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Department more than a year ago to open a full-service Federal Inspection Station (FIS).
The airport has a small staff already in place to process more than 330 foreign aircraft arrivals annually, as well as the processing of more than 48,000 international commercial passengers coming through the airport and Green Bay’s two Fixed-Base Operators (FBO). Some airlines stop in Green Bay on their way to other U.S locations so passengers can clear customs more quickly.
While the measure has strong support locally – more than 3,000 letters of support were sent – it has stalled because of budgetary pressures. Austin Straubel is one of two Wisconsin airports with international status – Milwaukee is the other one.
“Customs doesn’t have the ability right now to staff it,” says Airport Director Tom Miller. “It was the perfect storm – our petition came just as sequestration and the never-ending budget battles were going on in Washington. We hope now that a budget is in place – and it includes more dollars for customs and border patrol – that full staffing will be approved.”
The airport, however, is moving ahead with a plan to build a standalone Customs facility. “We can only build what we’ve been approved so far for our facility and that is charter international flights, such as if the Packers were playing a game overseas,” Miller says.
The airport will take the former aircraft rescue and fire station – a new $9.5 million facility opened last spring – and convert it into a standalone international terminal building by the end of the year at a cost of $3.5 million. Once Customs approves a complete FIS, the building can then be expanded, he adds.
“It will start off as a standalone international arrivals facility and then we’ll be able to expand it into a commercial international terminal,” Miller says. “We’re hoping it’s our lucky year.”
More than football
Ashwaubenon, which is home to the Packers financial juggernaut and the Resch Center, has seen tremendous growth in recent years, says Village President Mike Aubinger.
“We’re uniquely located where three main highways come together – U.S. 41, Interstate 43 and State 171 – so our location is great, but we also know we need to work with businesses and do what’s needed to help them succeed,” he says.
One of the village’s newest tenants is Cabela’s, which opened a 100,000-square-foot store last August. It’s situated in what’s known as the Titletown sports and entertainment district. The Packers organization, which owns 16 parcels of land worth $24 million around the stadium, hopes to create an entertainment and retail district surrounding historic Lambeau Field.
Aubinger says since 2010, Ashwaubenon has had more than $71 million of development projects worth at least $1 million. “Even during the down economy, we had a lot of quiet development going on,” he says. “We’re definitely seeing interest and development picking up and I expect Cabela’s will drive even more interest.”
While retail projects gather a lot of attention, Aubinger pointed out there’s growth in the village’s industrial park. Green Bay Packaging began an estimated $95 million expansion project last summer to add 300,000 square feet to its coated label products division plant on South Ridge Road. That project should be wrapped up some time early 2015.
“We are excited about everything going on and anticipate a lot more in the year to come,” he says.
Lambeau Field isn’t the only Brown County attraction getting a multi-million-dollar facelift. The Oneida Tribe is pouring $28 million into its complex in Ashwaubenon to create a world-class entertainment and hospitality complex.
Last summer, the Oneida announced a plan to expand and renovate the casino, which attracts 2 million people annually. The project, which is being built by Miron Construction, will modernize the property.
Vince Lombardi’s Legendary Sports Bar & Grill will be an anchor restaurant in the main casino and a new food court, with three additional eating options that are new to Wisconsin, is also being added.