The Port of Prosperity

Brown County and the Port of Green Bay
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Wisconsin has twenty-nine commercial ports operating on Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and the Mississippi River, and these ports move an average of thirty million tons of freight valued at more than $2.4 billion annually. Marine shipping channels not only keep the economy moving, but it also provides jobs to nearly 10,000 workers in the state.
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A study conducted by Martin Associates measured the economic impact of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System. It showed that maritime commerce supported more than of 225,000 jobs and produced $14.1 billion in incomes and $33.5 billion in business revenues, $6.4 billion of which represents local purchases and $4.6 billion in tax revenues.

The Port of Green Bay, Wisconsin is a vital part of the economy. In 2016, the Port of Green Bay supported 800 jobs directly while creating $24 million in income and having a regional impact of $83 million. The port is operated by the Brown County Port & Resource Recovery Department.

As the western-most port on Lake Michigan, the Port of Green Bay offers a convenient, affordable and sustainable way to move products. The port offers the most direct route between the Midwest and the rest of the world, and it is extremely efficient as one ship can move the equivalent volume of products as 301 rail cars or 963 trucks.

When compared to highway and rail transportation, maritime shipping channels require less fuel and so produce fewer emissions. Maritime shipping also offers greater safety, resulting in fewer accidents, less congested roadways, and less noise pollution. There are also the benefits of shortened times and lower costs associated with shipping large volumes.

The Port of Green Bay has access to extensive highway and rail infrastructure. It is located near the Austin Straubel International Airport and is part of Foreign Trade Zone 167 (FTZ167). Its location and infrastructure makes it a critical multi-modal distribution center in the region’s transportation network.

In 2016, a total of 1.8 million metric tons of cargo was shipped through the port. “If we’re nearing that two-million-ton mark, all is good. That’s the sign of a good strong year, and we’ve been hovering just below that, and our expectation for 2017 is that we’ll be kind of in line with where we were last year: 1.8-million-ton range,” explained Port Manager Dean Haen.

In 2017, the port will see an increase in the shipping of limestone and imported petroleum products. As is the trend economy-wide, the movement of coal, and cement products is expected to decrease. The goal is to diversify and expand the port’s capacity.

“The only thing that is certain is that things change, so we are trying to diversify the things that the port is involved in so that we’re always able to move goods. We’re not dependent on one industry or one commodity. Our relevance is so that we’re diversifying, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Haen.

While it has always served as part of a critical marine transportation route for the region, the commodities that pass through the port have varied as the economy has changed throughout its history. In its infancy, the port served as a supply post for U.S., British, and French outposts in the region. It later supported the industries such as forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing that arose from the area’s natural resources.

“Our port has been different throughout our history, and I think that isn’t going to stop. We’re going to do something different in the future, and this movement of containerized cargo is where our future lies, and we’re going to need to put emphasis on that,” Haen noted.

A new economic impact study is set to be completed to gain a better sense of the port’s contribution to the economic strength of the state and the region. “Our last one was in 2010, so it will be really interesting to see the importance of the port to northeastern Wisconsin in terms of jobs, taxes, and value,” explained Haen.

There are fourteen terminal operators along the Fox River that serve the port, including U.S. Venture and RGL Holdings. U.S. Venture has made significant investments in its volume of exported petroleum products to the Eastern Seaboard. “The pipeline that serves Northeast Wisconsin, bringing petroleum products to our area, was shut down, and ultimately, it was decided not to be rebuilt,” Haen said. “Rather than that facility being an export facility, it’s proven to be critical for the supply and transportation of petroleum products trying to get to our area, and it’s going to be cost-effective, as we haven’t really seen higher gasoline or diesel rates than other areas.”

Likewise, RGL Holdings will be more active than it has been in the past, as it received a grant to rebuild an old port facility. Construction is expected to begin next year which will reactivate the port, bringing it back online and allowing for greater break-bulk cargo capability.

Partnerships are a component of the Port of Green Bay’s success, Haen noted. “The port is also working with the state Department of Transportation and serves on the Freight Advisory Committee. We’re coming up with a freight plan for the ports of Wisconsin to look at how the ports, including the Port of Green Bay, fit into the state’s vision for moving freight in the future.”

The Wisconsin Commercial Ports Development Initiative works to increase freight movement and make the most of the ports in the state to increase marine shipping. The initiative develops strategies by which these goals can be actualized.

“Additionally, we are involved with the University of Wisconsin Madison and other state agencies, the Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Administration on a professional development initiative, inventorying our state-wide port capacity – where we’re at today and if we are going to meet the freight needs of the future.

“We’re also engaged in the Conference of Great Lakes Governors & Premiers – who has put out a maritime strategy for the Great Lakes – and so we’re involved in that and trying to make sure the whole region – the third-largest economy located around the Great Lakes – that maritime shipping is fully utilized,” Haen continued.

Other vital partnerships for the Port of Green Bay pertain to the Fox River Cleanup Project and the Cat Island Restoration Project. The Fox River Cleanup Project is an environmental plan to clean the river, while the Cat Island Restoration Project is an initiative that is restoring the three islands in the lower bay by using fine sand that has been dredged.

Fox River cleanup will continue into 2018, Haen reported. “I’m happy to say that we’ve all worked very well together, and we’re getting to a better spot with an environmentally clean river which the port will benefit from because we’ll have clean dredge material instead of contaminated material.”

The Cat Island Restoration Project has been a success from an environmental standpoint as many creatures have visited the revitalized island. Piping plovers, a rare and endangered species that has not nested in Wisconsin for over seventy years, were found on the island in 2016, and this past spring, four pairs were nesting on the island.

“It’s a win-win maintaining the port’s viability, and the outcome is environmental benefits. It’s been a great project, and it’s far surpassing everyone’s expectations with how quickly it’s providing the environmental benefits from the placement of clean sand, recreating these historic islands,” explained Haen.

The Port of Green Bay is working on multiple fronts simultaneously to advance the economic interests of the state and the region, including preparation for the highly anticipated Foxconn investment planned in Southeast Wisconsin.

“Foxconn has identified Wisconsin as a place to create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs making the glass for flat-screen TVs and cell phones, so they are very much on our radar as that supply chain is likely going to stretch up into Northeastern Wisconsin and there are probably opportunities for us to be involved.”

Haen says that the port is planning for its future and “trying to work on creating oversized, overweight corridors to get in and out of the port to reach our rail yards and highways.” To ensure it can grow, the Port of Green Bay has developed a property acquisition plan. When identified properties become available for sale, the port will be ready to acquire the land.

The port is also looking forward to the arrival of several cruise ships in 2018, which is something that the port and its partners have been working to promote. “We’re hoping that continues to grow, and we are working on aspects of making that happen.”

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