Marinette County — and the rest of the region — received an enormous economic boost when the U.S. Navy awarded Fincantieri Marinette Marine the nearly $800 million contract for its first-in-class guided missile frigate FFG(X) earlier this year. If all options on the contract are exercised, the deal could be worth $5.5 billion.
To fulfill the order, Fincantieri plans to hire up to 1,000 employees within the next five years at its three area shipyards — the one in Marinette, Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay and ACE Marine in Green Bay. All three will contribute to the frigate’s construction.
The first FFG(X) is planned to be delivered in 2026 and if the shipyard builds all 10, the project will keep workers busy for the next two decades, says Bethany Skorik, public affairs manager for FMM.
While FMM works on the FFG(X), it is also finishing up its Navy contract to build littoral combat ships and recently received a $7 million contract to assist with designing and engineering the Navy’s future large unmanned surface vessel. The contract is for conceptual design work and should be done within the next year.
“We are definitely in need of more workers. Right now, we’re hiring additional engineers and designers for the FFG(X),” Skorik says. “Once we begin construction — the design phase will take between 12 and 18 months — hiring will really ramp up as we add shipfitters and welders.”
To accommodate the new contract, FMM is expanding its shipyard, adding a new building where the frigates will be built and constructing a syncrolift that will lower the ship like an elevator gradually into the water at launch.
As FMM grows, it will create a ripple effect as other local businesses grow or start up to meet the needs of additional workers, says Roberta Davis, marketing and community development director for inVenture North. In addition, companies working with FMM may consider opening a Marinette location to be closer to their client, she adds.
“This is a nice opportunity to provide hundreds of our residents with employment. They have a great training program that if you’re interested, you can get the training and skills you need, and when you’re done, you have a job waiting for you at FMM,” Davis says. “The frigate contract is good news for the whole area since it will provide stable, well-paying jobs, which will lead to more growth overall.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on much of the state’s tourism industry, that’s not the case in Florence and Oconto counties, which are seeing more visitors than ever before.
“It’s been one of our busiest summers,” says Paul Ehrfurth, executive director of the Oconto County Development Corp. “From 2018 to 2019, we had the largest increase in tourism spending in the entire state. There’s an awful lot of people spending more time here from Minnesota and Illinois who lived in urban areas and saw how quickly the virus spread and are now looking for another option.”
Wendy Gehlhoff, director of Florence County Economic Development, says more visitors are coming to the county — and they are staying longer, adding some seasonal residents came earlier and have yet to leave.
“A lot of people from Illinois and Minnesota were here. With people working from home, it didn’t matter if they were there or here,” she says, adding getting seasonal residents to live in Florence year-round is one way to grow the county’s economy.
Reliable broadband coverage is a must when getting seasonal residents to stay longer or convincing them to make a permanent move, Gehlhoff says. While most of Florence County residents have access to broadband, that’s not the case in Oconto County.
Ehrfurth says the Oconto County Economic Development Corp. is working with Bertram Wireless of Random Lake on a grant to provide wireless broadband coverage to approximately 9,000 residents.
“Getting broadband throughout the entire county is a daunting task. Providing broadband is the most critical economic development issue facing rural counties,” he says.