ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Teaming up – Manitowoc County launches cluster initiative to grow economy

This month, the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County will launch a new program designed to boost business growth by shining a spotlight on industry clusters.

The new Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative, which is being done in collaboration with Door, Calumet, Kewaunee and Sheboygan counties, brings businesses together to find additional growth and development, says EDCMC Executive Director Connie Loden.

“Clusters are a proven, successful tool in economic development,” says Loden, who worked to form industry clusters in central Wisconsin before joining the EDCMC in 2011. “Goods and services don’t stop flowing at county borders so that’s why we decided to broaden our scope and get neighboring counties involved.”

For the past year, the counties, led by Manitowoc, have met with representatives from New North Inc. and Lakeshore Technical College to discuss which industries are strong along the Lakeshore and how to bring them together.

“We are at the beginning of the next cycle upturn. The regions that work together to develop a cohesive growth plan are going to be the winners during the next cycle,” says Tim Reis of the Manitowoc Company and an EDCMC board member.

For the past year, Loden and her team at the EDCMC looked at area industries and identified four key sectors to focus on: manufacturing, energy, tourism and agriculture/food processing. The next steps are taking those sectors and understanding their supply chains, cultivating new customers, looking for new suppliers and learning about new opportunities.

“Mapping out supply chains may point out different choices to businesses,” she says. “For example, a business may use a supplier in the other part of the state, but not know there’s an option that’s close by. That not only cuts down on the business’ cost, but also provides more opportunities for another local business.”

Industry leaders will guide the cluster teams to identify and map local resources and suppliers in the various sectors that will then be used in a supply chain analysis.

“This is all about initiating a forward-looking approach to economic development that increases economic activity and innovation in the Lakeshore region,” Loden says.

As part of the process, the EDCMC had to choose which areas to focus on. Manufacturing, she says, was a natural choice with more than a quarter of the county’s population employed in the manufacturing sector. Tourism was also a natural with the region’s abundant lakeshore and a strong tourism sector already in place.

“Agriculture was another good fit since we have so many farmers in the area, but we also have a lot of cheese processors, dairies and more. We wanted to get across that it’s not just farmers, but also the processors who work with the farmers,” Loden says.

As for the energy sector, she says the county is home to one nuclear power plant while a second one is just over the Kewaunee-Manitowoc border. “We also are home to several manufacturers who work in the energy sector, such as Orion and companies that make wind turbine components,” Loden says. “LTC also has a strong energy program where they train workers on how to work with the turbines. I don’t think energy is a sector that people usually identify with our area so having a cluster in it will draw some attention.”

The initiative has worked with the New North since it also has region-wide clusters in place. Loden says that some local manufacturers like the idea of having something specific to their county rather than the whole area. “They like that this is more local and not focused on Green Bay or the Valley as much,” she says. “But at the end of the day, we’re all working together to grow business throughout the region. As we grow here, the whole New North grows.”

A CLOSER LOOK

EPA rule could sideline S.S. Badger

A new federal rule could put an iconic part of Manitowoc’s lakefront in danger.

Starting next year, a federal rule would prohibit the coal-powered S.S. Badger from dumping coal ash in Lake Michigan, which it does now as it travels between Manitowoc and Ludington, Mich.

For the Badger to continue to operate in 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the ship must stop dumping coal ash in Lake Michigan by the end of 2012, a move that could prove costly and put the ship out of commission, company officials say.

One solution is to replace the Badger’s coal-fired engine with an engine powered by diesel fuel, a move that would cost as much as $15 million, says Lynda Matson, vice president of customer service and marketing for Lake Michigan Carferry, the company that owns the Badger.

Another option, Matson says, is to keep the coal ash onboard, deposit it onshore, and truck it to a dumping area. Estimates on the cost and feasibility of that project are not yet available.

The EPA also gave the Badger the opportunity to apply for an individual discharge permit, which requires effluent and water samples. The Badger has sent in samples and is waiting for feedback.

Business and civic leaders are seeking a reprieve, saying the Badger, which employs 250 people, is a powerhouse for Ludington’s tourism industry, contributing millions of dollars to economies on both sides of the lake.

In an attempt to raise awareness about its plight, they’ve kicked off a campaign called the S.O.S Badger. Through fundraising and contacting elected officials, they’re attempting to drum up support for the ship. T-shirts and pins bearing the S.O.S Badger logo are being sold.

The 410-foot Badger was built in the early 1950s by the Christy Corp. of Sturgeon Bay as a rail car ferry. In 1992, it began its current route between Manitowoc and Ludington after being retrofitted to handle passengers and cars.

For more on the S.O.S Badger campaign, visit http://sosbadger.com.

A CLOSER LOOK

Measuring Success

The Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative has several goals it hopes to achieve:

» Identify new market and vendor connections: Create 10 new partnership arrangements and/or vendor supplier relationships.

» Identify and capitalize on new development opportunities: Each cluster develops an action plan with measureable outcome goals.

» Increase revenue streams: Increase participating businesses revenues by an average of 5 to10 percent.

» Facilitate pro-active retention and industry growth strategy: Create or retain 500 jobs.

For more information about the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County or the Lakeshore Cluster Initiative, please visit www.edcmc.org.

 

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