INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – Looking to the future

St. Norbert’s partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin will allow aspiring doctors to begin their medical training in De Pere in the summer of 2015. A new $42 million science building (above) will house the program.

St. Norbert partners with Medical College of Wisconsin for regional campus

Aspiring doctors will descend on the St. Norbert College campus in De Pere starting in the summer of 2015 to begin their medical training. This unique partnership between St. Norbert and the Medical College of Wisconsin will leave an imprint throughout Brown County.

“This is a great project and partnership for the entire community,” says Tom Kunkel, president of St. Norbert College. “The hope is these medical students may decide to stay here after graduation, which will be a help since primary care doctors are in such high demand. There are so many advantages to it and we were honored to be selected.”

A couple of years ago, the Milwaukee-based Medical College of Wisconsin announced plans to open two regional campuses to help increase the number of primary care doctors in training. After zeroing in on the Green Bay area, officials approached St. Norbert to serve as the academic host. (The Medical College is also opening a campus in Wausau.)

Medical students will study in St. Norbert’s new $42 million science building, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015. The college is raising funds now for the project and hopes to break ground this spring.

“Our current science building is quite old and we were planning to replace it. Being selected as a partner with the Medical College got the project moving into its final stages,” Kunkel says.

Three quarters of the $42 million will be spent on construction with a quarter on technology for the new building. “The community has been very supportive of this project and helping us raise funds for it. We’re tracking well with meeting our goals,” Kunkel says.

The new science building won’t just be used by the medical students – all St. Norbert students and staff will have access to the new facility. “Another exciting part to this project will be the interaction of our faculty with that of the Medical College,” Kunkel says. “We do a lot of research here and we hope to expand that further. All of our students will benefit from the medical students being here.”

The Medical College is also seeking to condense its usual three years of study into a two-year program at the St. Norbert campus so students can graduate with less debt and get into the workforce more quickly. Besides St. Norbert, the college is seeking to partner with Bellin Health to provide clinical space as well as attract physicians from Aurora BayCare Medical Center, Bellin, St. Vincent and St. Mary’s hospitals to help teach students.

Opening borders

Just as St. Norbert is expanding its reach, the same can be said for Austin Straubel International Airport. After General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Austin Straubel in Ashwaubenon is the state’s only other international airport. Last fall, the airport, along with U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, announced a campaign to open a full-service U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Station with full-time staffing for commercial operations at the airport.

Airport Director Tom Miller says the federal inspection station, also known as an FIS, will open more doors for the airport and create more opportunities. “We would be able to do commercial charter flights from Green Bay to Cancun, for example,” he says. “There is a lot of interest in seeing this happen.”

If Austin Straubel would offer such flights, area hotels and restaurants would also benefit, since travelers from northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan would travel to Green Bay rather than Milwaukee or the Twin Cities. “People will come the night before a flight to Mexico, for example, and stay in a hotel and eat out, or they may stay in a hotel once they get back before heading home,” Miller says.

The FIS proposal includes building a $7.5 million, 20,000-square-foot facility with full-time staffing to clear international flights. Right now, the airport’s customs staff can only handle processing international passengers for the airport’s two fixed-based operators as well as about 100 marine vessels that come to ports in Green Bay, Marinette, Manitowoc and Sturgeon Bay.

The airport’s addition of an autoclave, which sanitizes and disposes international trash, has attracted charters, which are looking for a place of entry into the United States.

“The autoclave has opened up a whole new avenue to us regarding international travel,” says Miller, adding that the airport currently processes more than 330 foreign aircraft and 48,000 international passengers annually.

To make the FIS a go, the airport has gained backing from local businesses, as well as Ribble, and has had MetJet, a public tour operator, pledging to make direct flights between Green Bay and foreign destinations. Miller says once another commercial airline comes on board and makes public its intent to fly from Green Bay to international destinations, U.S. Customs will go along with the proposal.

Miller says the FIS building project would receive funding from the FAA and that Brown County and Austin Straubel have already invested $300,000 in infrastructure improvements.

“We feel good about this happening,” he says, adding that a study has shown a full-service FIS will add 46 local jobs in the airline and tourism industry and have an annual economic impact of $2.5 million to the community.

Much like Austin Straubel, the Port of Green Bay is another community entry point. The Port doesn’t have its final numbers in for 2012, but Brown County Port and Solid Waste Department Director Dean Haen predicts the numbers will be close to those of 2011, which saw a 25 percent increase over 2010.

“As the economy rebounds, so does the business at the port,” he says. “We don’t expect as much salt coming in this year since we didn’t have a harsh winter last year, but we did see an increase in cement because of the Lambeau Field construction project and U.S. 41 construction.”

The 14 port businesses moved more than 2 million metric tons of commodities, including coal, limestone, cement, salt, pig iron, fuel oil and forest products, in 2011. Those commodities were valued at more than $300 million. Haen says he continues to work to draw more businesses to the port.

The Port is also part of a $20 million project to restore the Cat Islands, which will recreate more than 270 acres of upland habitat that will protect 1,400 acres of shallow water, which will lead to a better environment for vegetation, fish and waterfowl.

“This is a huge, multi-year project that will generate immediate environmental improvements and keep the channel open,” Haen says. “It’s an exciting project and one that’s been in the works for awhile.”

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