INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – Steaming ahead

Posted on Jul 1, 2013 :: Economic Development , Insight On
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

A wind tower is transported via the SS Badger, which will be able to continue operation through an agreement between the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and Lake Michigan Carferry. LMC has until 2014 to develop a system to dispose of the coal ash produced by the Badger. The ferry generates $45 million in revenue for Wisconsin and Michigan each season. Photo courtesy of SS Badger, Rob Always, Always Photography.

SS Badger reaches agreement on coal ash, finds new business opportunities

The old lady of Lake Michigan still has plenty of life left in her.

The SS Badger, the last remaining steam ferry in operation in the U.S. and one of the oldest ships working the great lakes, will keep sailing between Manitowoc and Ludington, Mich. Owner Lake Michigan Carferry has until 2014 to install a system for properly disposing of the coal ash produced by the Badger’s boilers, according to a consent decree LMC signed with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The consent decree will allow the Badger to keep operating while improvements are made, letting the ship lend a hand to one of Wisconsin’s newest industries by hauling wind turbines and towers across the lake.

“We’ve got loads going out almost daily,” says Terri Brown, director of media relations for LMC. “The fuel and the miles saved are pretty tremendous.”

In 2012, the Badger’s latest business venture resulted in more than 300 oversized wind tower loads, representing:

» 25,000 tons of wind energy transported in 2012

» 150,000 driving miles saved

» 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel saved

Without the Badger, the towers would most likely be shipped by truck, which would mean loads of more than 150 feet long and weighing more than 150,000 pounds on already congested highways through Wisconsin and Illinois.

The Badger has added this new cargo to daily trips across the lake ferrying cars, trucks and passengers between Manitowoc and Ludington. That service nearly came to a halt a few years ago when federal lawmakers pressed regulators on the issue of the Badger dumping coal ash into the lake during its crossings. The coal ash contains toxins and heavy metals that pollute the lake, federal officials said.

The pending consent decree, which is still open for review and comment, gives LMC until the 2014 sailing season to install an ash retention system that will eliminate the need to dump the ash.

Keeping the Badger sailing is more than just nostalgic – it is estimated the ferry service generates $45 million in economic activity for Wisconsin and Michigan during the season. About $14 million of that is in the Manitowoc area, according to estimates from LMC.

“They have played a significant role in helping deliver for the wind industry,” says Connie Loden, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County. “Things are starting to cycle back up in that industry.”


Doubling down in Two Rivers

The Two Rivers area received a boost this spring when Architectural Forest Products announced it was shifting production to its facility there from a similar plant in Canada. The merger is expected to double production at the Two Rivers AFP plant.

The move should also double sales and add 18 new jobs in Two Rivers.

AFP manufactures veneered products for buildings, stores, homes and yachts. Products include veneer for furniture, wall panels, doors, ceiling panels, elevator panels, equipment, lockers, movable partitions, millwork and cabinetry.

The move is the result of a merger between AFP and Architectural Wood Products in Vaudreuil, Canada, which is owned by Krueger International.

“This merger is allowing us to become more efficient by eliminating redundant costs and reducing freight expense,” says Jason Krings, president of AFP.

The expansion of the Two Rivers facility will be financed in part by a $565,000 loan guarantee from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.


Flipping for birds

They are flipping for birds in Manitowoc and it could mean as much as $7.5 million more a year in tourism spending for the area.

Birding, along with biking and the region’s back roads, could play a key role in an effort by Lakeshore tourism officials to convince visitors to stay an extra day. Those extra days could bring an additional $7.5 million a year by 2018, according to the Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative’s latest updates.

The Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative was launched in 2012 to find ways to help related industries located in the region work together to build relationships that could lead to new opportunities and potential partnerships. For the lakeshore region, the industry clusters include energy, tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.

“It’s been less than a year, but we are progressing really well,” says Loden, executive director of the EDC of Manitowoc. “We have a lot of opportunities we are looking at.”

In addition to the tourism opportunities, the Lakeshore Cluster Initiative is also:

» Supporting a buy-local campaign for fruits and vegetables grown in the region, which included successful lobbying to restore funds to the state budget

» Working to create a capabilities directory for area manufacturing firms that can be used to help identify local partners, suppliers and potential customers

» Ramping up efforts to expand the use of digesters in area agricultural operations that can create biogas fuels and other agricultural products from animal waste, improving sustainability efforts as well as creating additional products

The combined impact of all the projects the various cluster groups are pursuing could have an economic impact estimated at more than $1 billion for the regional economy during the next five years.