I f Dean Haen is right, the economy is on the rebound. The manager of the Port of Green Bay says 2011 was busier than the two previous years and that the port often serves as a bellwether of what’s to come with the economy.
“The Port serves as a leading indicator for the economy. We have manufacturers ordering coal, limestone and other products, so that tells me they are busier and expecting more growth. That’s what we’re definitely seeing right now,” Haen says.
During the 2011 shipping season, the Port, which is run by Brown County, surpassed 2 million tons of cargo – something that hasn’t been done since 2008. Haen says anything above 2 million is considered a strong year. More ships are also passing through the Port. In 2011, traffic was up 25 percent over 2010 with more than 2 million metric tons passing through the port. In addition, more ships passed through the port with 188 coming through in 2011, up from 142 during the previous year.
A look back at the month of November shows the difference between 2010 and 2011. In November 2010, 254,949 tons of cargo passed through the Port. In November 2011, more than 300,000 tons of cargo made their way through. “Things are definitely on the up,” Haen says.
Haen says the Port not only plays an integral role in Brown County’s economy, but also the entire New North as well.
“A lot of the growth we saw came from the addition of U.S. Venture’s new petroleum terminal,” he says. “It has helped us diversify what comes in and out of the Port, which is always a goal for us. The more diverse we are in what comes through, the better we will be able to handle the economic ups and downs.”
Adding a new terminal operator was a couple of years in the making, Haen says. In 2012, the county is conducting a New Port Opportunity Study to look at available properties and how they could be used. “The last time we did a study like this was in 2004. It will really help us look to the future and see what’s possible,” he says.
While the Port is charting future growth opportunities, the City of De Pere is also using the water – specifically the Fox River – for economic development.
Late last year, the City of De Pere broke ground on a new riverwalk project after three years of planning. The scenic walkway along the Fox River will connect Voyageur Park to a government-owned island on the river’s east side.
The footings of the old Claude Allouez Bridge will be used for a new 300-foot wildlife viewing pier while the island’s north end will include access to a fishing deck.
When completed, the riverwalk is estimated to bring in an additional $1.9 million annually in revenue for De Pere and will benefit downtown businesses, says Cheryl Detrick, president and CEO of the De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce.
Another Brown County community – the Village of Hobart – continues to find success with its Centennial Centre project, a mixed use commercial land use development launched in 2009.
Last month, developers broke ground on a new 52-unit assisted living facility – a first for the growing community. “A facility like this is definitely in need. We’re very excited about it and the options it provides for residents,” says Elaine Willman, Hobart’s community development director.
A waiting list is already formed for people interested in moving in when it’s ready for occupancy in July.
Hobart’s business park continues to see growth as two companies – EMT International and Centerline Machining & Grinding – which opened new facilities in the community in recent years look to expand again, Willman says.
While industrial and residential projects are proving successful for Hobart, Willman says the area really needs retail and restaurant tenants. “That is definitely a need for us. We have 200 new families living in the new developments and a large workforce who would all benefit from having restaurants, a bank and more. We keep trying to recruit businesses, but financing remains tough for those types of projects,” Willman says.
Hobart is also waiting to hear back to see if a project to upgrade several crossroads into freeway-type exits along State 29 will be the recipient of a $23 million federal grant. If the project is approved, accessibility to the Centennial Centre development will greatly improve.
“We are optimistic the grant will come through since the money for the upgrades isn’t in the state budget for a couple of years. It will make a big difference to have these improved exits in place,” Willman says.
The Austin Straubel International Airport in Ashwaubenon contributed $111.9 million to the local and state economy in 2010, according to a study released by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The airport supported 738 jobs and contributed $32.4 million in wages locally and in the state, the study says. The bureau used airport activity and business survey data, data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on industry employment, wages and sales, and regional economic multipliers that estimate purchases and sales in various business sectors.
The airport is aiming to make an even bigger impact in the years to come thanks to a $500,000 federal grant it received last fall to expand service.
Self-funded with an $11.1 million operating budget, Austin Straubel does not use county tax dollars, which means the airport is constantly looking at ways to expand service and its business opportunities, says Airport Director Tom Miller. Three parking areas were recently repaved and a new $7 million building, which will be used to house snow removal equipment, was completed last fall. That project was funded with federal grant dollars, too.
The State of Wisconsin also released $500,000 in state funds to help build a new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting facility at Austin Straubel. About $7.9 million of the funding for the $9.25 million project will come from the Federal Aviation Administration and $835,455 from Brown County. The new facility will be more centrally located on the airfield and will enable faster response times to emergency incidents, according to transportation officials.
Brown County’s central artery – US. 41 – is in the middle of a seven-year makeover. Since 2010, crews have
been working on 14 miles of the highway from Orange Lane to Lineville Road. When completed in 2017, the project will add 24 roundabouts and rebuild nine interchanges, including State 29. The Schuering Road interchange was completed in 2011, which made getting to and from De Pere a lot easier.
Starting this month, work begins on the Mason Street interchange. That project is expected to last until August while work will occur on the County VK interchange from March through September.
Totaling $1.5 billion, the project is one of the state’s largest construction projects and is seen as a major economic development investment in the area.