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Ports have 'significant' impact on state's economy

The Victoriaborg arrives to load grain after waiting at anchor in Lake Superior. (Superior Telegram File Photo)

Wisconsin's 15 commercial ports contributed $1.4 billion and 7,484 jobs to the state's economy in 2017, according to a new study.

About 27 million metric tons of cargo was moved through Wisconsin ports that year.

Ports included in the study include the Twin Ports, Green Bay, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Marinette and Menominee, and Sturgeon Bay.

"It's quite significant," said Dean Haen, president of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association and director of the Port of Green Bay. "The types of things you see move through the Great Lakes ports are steel, iron ore, cement, coal, limestone, petroleum products, and these products are used for infrastructure development, or manufacturing and other applications. Agriculture — grain moves out significantly through Wisconsin. This is a study that quantifies what that importance is."

According to the report, the commercial ports in Wisconsin contributed $480 million in personal income and local consumption expenditures and generate $241.1 million in federal, state and local taxes.

"What this study shows is that the business revenue generated by the economic activity across the entire maritime spectrum in Wisconsin is not only bringing that revenue into the state, supporting our local economies, supporting our local communities, but then when our businesses and tenants and customers at all 15 of these ports are able to use that as spending income," said Adam Schlicht, director of the Port of Milwaukee. "The import/export money is coming into the ports ... and then it's being infused back into the state economy. That's what this new study shows."

Superior's economic development, port and planning director, Jason Serck, said the Twin Ports is the heavy hitter in the study, but figures for the individual ports were not available.

"Finally, I want to highlight the shipbuilding industry," Schlicht said. "It occurs in Superior, Sturgeon Bay and Marinette, and in those three communities, that specifically supports 2,200 jobs and an additional $107 million in additional business revenue."

One aspect of the report also looked at the Soo Locks as a viable, but endangered, portion of Wisconsin's maritime system, Serck said.

The study found 13 percent of the jobs and 17 percent of the economic impact for Wisconsin ports goes through the Soo Locks.

"If the lock goes down that supports the 1,000-foot ships, we're talking a potential loss of 1,000 jobs and over $230 million in cargo movement. This study kind of reaffirms the need for another Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste Marie so we have some redundancy in the system to keep the ports viable in case one goes down," Serck said.

"This study puts a number to something that isn't easy to measure, the value of shipping and ports to our state," Haen said. "Now we can use these findings to validate the contributions this industry makes and analyze the best future investments we can make to further strengthen the economy and employ even more people in Wisconsin."