INSIGHT ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Underwater makeover – Dredging project to allow 'major turnaround' for Port of Sheboygan

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 :: Economic Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

An underwater makeover is poised to give new life to Sheboygan’s waterfront.

An $80 million dredging project, which starts next month and will wrap up this fall, will remove pollutants from the Sheboygan River and deepen the channel from eight to 10 feet, returning Sheboygan into a navigational port.

“This is going to be a major turnaround for the Port of Sheboygan and for the entire waterfront,” says Chad Pelishek, development manager for the City of Sheboygan. “We see this project as a real economic driver.”

The deeper port means larger ships – such as the cruise ship Yorktown which is coming this summer – will be able to visit the city, bringing with them tourists, leading to increased economic development.

“We’ve already had other ships inquire about coming here once the Port is deeper,” Pelishek says. “We anticipate a growth in business on the portside of things near the South Pier and the Blue Harbor Resort & Spa.”

Removing PCBs and PAHs from the river will cost anywhere from $20 million to $30 million and is being paid for through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Officials believe the cancer-causing chemicals got there from manufacturers further up the river. The City of Sheboygan, Sheboygan County and Wisconsin Public Service are also contributing $100,000 each to the effort. The EPA will also pay between $10 million and $15 million to remove sediment from the Eighth Street Bridge to the South Pier.

Along the Sheboygan River, which flows through the heart of the city’s downtown, Pelishek also expects further development. “We have a lot of areas along the water that haven’t been utilized and I think this will open it up,” he says, adding that the City of Milwaukee saw substantial economic growth along the Kinnickinnic River after a dredging project there. “We have some businesses on the South Pier already and the additional tourist population would likely bring more businesses in.”

Sheboygan’s waterfront may also be in for another change. Last month, city officials confirmed that Claremont New Frontier Resort LLC, which owns Blue Harbor, and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Mole Lake are exploring building a casino near the city’s waterfront. The tribe already operates the Mole Lake Casino. Getting approval for the casino will be a lengthy process.

Blue Harbor is investing millions in updating its exterior and interior spaces to capitalize on the view of the lake. Besides giving community spaces such as the lobby and restaurants a new look, all of the rooms are being upgraded. Also being updated are the resort’s services for conventions and meetings.

Taking off

The Sheboygan County Memorial Airport may soon become a hub for the aerospace industry as Morgan Aircraft LLC makes strides to develop, manufacture and market a powered-lift category aircraft – a hybrid of a traditional airplane and a helicopter. The Sheboygan Falls company predicts that if successful, the endeavor will create an estimated 2,000 jobs.

Last summer, Morgan Aircraft secured a $1 million Community Development Block Grant for Economic Development program loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. To receive the grant, the company promised to invest $105 million in aircraft development and create 340 new full-time jobs before the end of 2015.

Brian Morgan, president and chief executive officer for Morgan Aircraft, hopes the investment from WEDC will inspire other investors to take a look at his company. He added the company has already secured initial equity investments totaling $8 million.

“This financial support from the WEDC will be most helpful in keeping our momentum going, not only in terms of the project, but to continue to show our new and growing investor interests that Wisconsin and Sheboygan County are very serious about supporting new and existing businesses,” he says.

Since Morgan founded the company in 2005, Morgan Airlift has made progress towards completing its technical validation process and engineering advances in both the airframe and power train configurations necessary to make the new aircraft a success.

At the airport, Morgan Aircraft is seeking to build a new headquarters, a manufacturing facility and a research and development center. The company entered into a 50-year lease and development agreement with the county in 2009.

Sheboygan County is spending $1.3 million on infrastructure improvements at the airport, including building an access road, creating water retention areas and installing security fencing and utilities.

This summer, the county plans to pave a new taxiway, apron and access road while adding street lighting, a gate security system and a high-capacity well and water reservoir for fire suppression.

Another company seeing growth is American Orthodontics Corporation, which purchased the former Thomas Industries property on Washington Street in Sheboygan. The deal, which was announced in mid-February, means that 400 jobs will stay in the community and an empty facility will find new life, says Patrick Drinan, executive director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. The SCEDC worked with the City of Sheboygan to convince the orthodontic supplies manufacturer to stay and grow in Sheboygan.

“Three years after a significant community loss, the former Thomas Industries property has a new owner and is poised to house a growing global orthodontic products manufacturer,” Drinan says. “This is another local success story highlighting the strength of the local workforce and the commitment of locally-grown companies to Sheboygan.”