Sometimes all it takes is a little help. A new center opening in Marinette this October will provide just that to startups in the region.
Called the Wisconsin Maritime Center for Excellence, Fincantieri Marinette Marine serves as the anchor tenant for the 24,000-square-foot facility. It’s designed to serve as a hub for training, education, research and fostering entrepreneurship, all toward the goal of strengthening the shipbuilding industry. It also will serve as an incubator for new businesses.
Funding for the center got a boost from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which awarded the Marinette County Association for Business and Industry a $500,000 Brownfields Grant to help pay for the environmental cleanup of the site. Located adjacent to Marinette Marine, the facility includes space for naval personnel assigned to the company’s Littoral Combat Ship building program.
“This is something that … we have wanted and tried to make happen for well over a decade, and it’s finally coming to fruition,” says Ann Hartnell, executive director of the Marinette County Association for Business and Industry Inc.
Hartnell says with the center, she hopes to raise the profile of business and industry for Marinette and surrounding areas and offer greater access to resources and assistance. To run the incubator, the organization turned to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
NWTC will have a staff member onsite working to recruit businesses to locate and incubate in the center. The incubator will provide business coaching and classes such as business plan writing. It also will connect people with services needed for developing and growing a business.
“Any region, but especially small cities and other rural areas, a lot of times small business owners don’t know where to turn for help,” says Dean Stewart, dean of corporate training and economic development for NWTC.
The incubator aims to fill that gap. Even if businesses don’t choose to incubate, Stewart says they’ll still have access to services they need to be successful.
For businesses that do choose to incubate, Stewart says they’re not looking for long-term tenants but rather businesses that will stay for around two years. After that, ideally, they’d move to a permanent location but continue to receive help from the center.
With more money coming from the strong anchor of Marinette Marine, Hartnell says she hopes the center can put some of that back into other businesses and use it toward different programs and funding options.
Tackling workforce, housing needs
The Northwoods has enjoyed unprecedented growth along the 141 corridor, Hartnell says, the fruits of efforts to promote the communities and give a sense of what they have to offer business and industry.
“It’s like an untapped resource,” Hartnell says of the corridor. “In the next year to two years, there are several new businesses coming in,” she says.
Crivitz and Wausaukee both are planning for new growth, Hartnell says, and Coleman has created a TIF and boasts the Gold Shovel Ready designation.
With growth comes challenges, and in Marinette County those come in the form of workforce and housing needs. The county is working to address both. It’s wrapping up a countywide housing study, broken down by municipality.
“Our housing in the county is old, and it needs a lot of updating, replacing some of it and building new,” Hartnell says.
Municipalities and businesses alike agree on the need to address housing, which includes a desire for more multifamily options. With many military personnel staying in the area as part of Marinette Marine’s Littoral Combat Ship program, it’s important to have leasing options available, Hartnell says.
To address workforce needs, CESA 8 this past summer launched its Career Academy Teacher Externship program. It’s designed to create a greater connection between skills-based and knowledge-based education.
Middle and high school teachers representing some of the 27 districts in the CESA 8 region worked side-by-side with industry peers in a three- to five-day paid summer externship at companies such as Marinette Marine and Nercon. Teachers then create lesson plans and videos based on their learning and share those with students and colleagues.
“We had a highly effective first year of teacher externships,” says Lynn Aprill, director of education for economic development for CESA 8.
A long-awaited recreation facility is set to open in the spring of 2018 in Marinette. Located on Pierce Avenue across from Marinette High School, the 114,000-square-foot Community REC Center will include space for ice and turf sports, a walking track and a multipurpose space for basketball, volleyball and tennis.
The M&M Area Community Foundation partnered with local leaders to help coordinate the $16.1 million project. Paula Gruszysnki, executive director of the foundation, says she hopes the center will give families and businesses another reason to consider settling in the region.
“It’s a real force of excitement and pride for the community,” she says.
One of the region’s greatest assets is its natural beauty, and that got a boost with the recently completed Menekaunee harbor restoration project. The cleaned-up harbor now includes a boat and kayak launch. The $10 million project included dredging and habitat restoration, and it got rave reviews from fishermen who attended Cabela’s National Walleye Tour tournament.
Hartnell predicts continued success. “When communities start investing in themselves, that makes other people want to invest too.”