Grant could be step in expanding Port shipping, regional economy

GREEN BAY — Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay now have a green light to investigate whether renewed demand for an old service – container shipping from Great Lakes ports – has the potential to usher in a fresh era of freight transportation and job growth for the Green Bay area.

The University announced Tuesday (Dec. 2) that in collaboration with the Port of Green Bay it has received a $55,000 research grant from the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute for the “The Great Lakes Marine Container Service Feasibility Study.”

Faculty members and student research assistants will use surveys, background analysis and confidential interviews with potential shippers to:

• Identify products or commodities that may be suited to containerized transport via Great Lakes shipping, including those which have previously moved via highway and rail combination to increasingly congested Atlantic ports;

•Analyze the viability of connecting Great Lakes container operations via the St. Lawrence Seaway to high-capacity, ocean-going vessels at Montreal and Halifax, Nova Scotia;

• Identify shipper requirements and interest in shifting from land-based to marine service linking markets on the Great Lakes; and, ultimately

• Determine whether there would be sufficient volume to support a common “intermodal” terminal to be created at the Port of Green Bay and, if so, conduct an analysis of potential terminal size, location, requirements and features.

Local interest in a possible intermodal terminal has risen along with global trade, fuel-cost uncertainties, and appreciation of the importance of sustainable business practices.

Supporters say a cost-effective new shipping option could be a magnet to retain, expand and attract industry. Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, County Executive Tom Hinz and Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce President Paul Jadin joined University and Port officials at Tuesday’s kickoff meeting on campus.

“With regional collaboration such a critical factor in economic growth, I am proud the University is a central player in this project,” says UW-Green Bay Interim Chancellor David Ward, a specialist in economic development.

Container shipping – using standardized cargo boxes that can be transferred from ship to truck or train – is common internationally but has been rare on the Great Lakes since World War II, when rail and, later, highway transport grew in favor.

Like all Great Lakes ports, Green Bay now handles mostly bulk commodities. At the 13 private shipping terminals along the lower Fox River, freighters carrying coal, limestone, cement and salt (forest products and tallow are among the other products) account for most of the 200 visiting ships and about 2.3 million metric tons of cargo per year.

Dean Haen, director for the Port of Green Bay, says the Port contributes about $76 million annually to the regional economy, serving businesses from Sheboygan to Wausau to the Upper Peninsula. He observes that a number of industries – paper, agriculture and manufacturing among them – have competitive advantages that would only be enhanced by improved global access.

“Many people don’t realize what a resource we have with the Port,” Haen says, “and that the growth potential is so strong.”

The UW-Green Bay study will look at Green Bay as a single node in the network, but the research could also be a resource for shippers, freight planners, ports and public entities elsewhere. Oswego, N.Y., located on Lake Ontario, is already proceeding with plans for a container port. Another new port is being built in Nova Scotia at the entrance to the Seaway, along the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The $55,000 grant is renewable, and will fund year one of a two-year project. The granting agency, the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute, is based in Duluth as a consortium involving the University of Minnesota Duluth and UW-Superior. The Institute promotes research on economically and environmentally sustainable maritime commerce on the Great Lakes.

Principal researchers for UW-Green Bay are Prof. Ray Hutchison, chair of the Urban and Regional Studies academic unit, and Don McCartney, senior lecturer in marketing in Business Administration. Also assisting will be Libby Ogard, a former railroad and logistics-industry professional who since 2001 has operated her own freight transportation consulting firm, Prime Focus LLC, headquartered in De Pere.

It is expected about four UW-Green Bay students will participate in the research, helping to compile data and develop a survey instrument.

The grant application was submitted after the Port of Green Bay found significant interest in the project at a May 2008 meeting involving about 40 manufacturers, transportation-related industries and local officials.

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