Gov. Walker Joins Marinette Officials for WMCOE Opening
The long-awaited Wisconsin Maritime Center Of Excellence (WMCOE) at 1320 Main Street in the City of Marinette was officially opened for business with ribbon cutting ceremonies on Wednesday, Jan. 31.
The 23,715-square-foot WMCOE, more than five years in the making, was constructed under the oversight and ownership of Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI). It will act as a business incubator and to house gathering space and offices for U.S. Navy officers and personnel assigned to oversee construction of Littoral Combat Ships at the adjacent Fincantieri Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard on the banks of the Menominee River. One of the center's key objectives will be to support the Navy's commitment to building the LCS and other military vessels in Marinette through 2022 and beyond.
Primary goal of the WMCOE, in addition to providing space for the Naval offices, is to assist individuals and small businesses related to maritime industries to become sustainable, successful companies and employers in the community.
The initial $5 million grant from the Wisconsin Building Commission that spurred construction of the building was announced by Gov. Scott Walker on Dec. 11, 2013, and Gov. Walker was on hand to wield the scissors that cut the ribbon on Thursday, along with George Bousley, Niagara mayor who was chair of MCABI during the years of planning and construction.
Bousley has since retired from the MCABI board and that position is now held by Crivitz Village President John Deschane, who was also on hand, along with numerous members of the MCABI board.
Holding the ribbon for the outdoor cutting while the crowd watched on a chilly Wisconsin afternoon were Ann Hartnell, recently retired Executive Director of MCABI; her successor Lindsay Callow, and Fincantieri Marinette Marine President, CEO and General Manager Jan Allman.
Prior to the ribbon cutting, speakers in addition to Gov. Walker included State Rep. John Nygren of Marinette; Navy Commander Josh Fields; Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot; Allman; Jennifer Garner, an aide to Sen. Tammy Baldwin: Deschane; spokesmen for Smet and Moyle Construction; Bousley; Lockheed-Martin spokesman Ron Hutchison, Hartnell, and others.
Most members of the MCABI Board of Directors were on hand,as Was County Board Chair Mark Anderson. MCABI serves as the economic development arm of Marinette County government.
Several speakers praised Gov. Walker as a friend of industry, and Hartnell for her perseverance in overcoming obstacles and getting the job done. First there were problems finding a suitable site, and then when the site was selected it was found to soil contaminants. That problem was cleaned up with the help of a separate $500,000 Brownfields grant from Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to help fund cleanup work on the 2.2- acre site.
"This building is a testimony to his ability to see the big picture and make it happen. Thanks to him, the help we needed was there when we needed it.," declared Deschane when introducing Gov. Walker at the start of the afternoon program. Deschane, now MCABI chair, was a member of the MCABI board during the entire time the WMCOE project was being planned and constructed.
Walker said workers at the Marinette Marine shipyard are building ships that are on the front lines around the world, every day, defending our freedoms.
"The Wisconsin Maritime Center is a significant investment in Marinette County's maritime and shipbuilding industry," said Governor Walker. "This center will help improve our workforce by providing unique education, research, and training opportunities to local technical college students, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders," the governor declared.
He particularly thanked Nygren, who he said has done a phenomenal job with the project, as well as Rep. Mike Gallagher in Congress helping to get things done. He mentioned need to get students excited about joining today's job market, and keeping education in Wisconsin in step with the needs of today. He noted, as he had during a visit to Coleman three weeks ago, that Wisconsin's new budget puts more actual money into education than it ever has before, with the goal of getting young people excited about filling the jobs of tomorrow.
Nygren said the idea for the MCOE came to him back in 2013, "But I had to go to the right guy to make it happen...the governor."
This is the most significant investment the state has ever made in the City of Marinette, Nygren said. He said when he was growing up in the city the founder of Marinette Marine was a neighbor. Referring to he nickname of the sports teams at Marinette High School, he said he always thought they were named after the shipyard. He later found that was not true, but the city and the shipyard are connected. He said there was not a stable work environment at the shipyard until 2009, when the LCS contracts began
"To say this journey was not easy would be an understatement," declared Deschane. He said just finding a site that suited everyone was nearly impossible, but thanks to Hartnell's tenacity, they got it done. He said thanks to input from the MCABI board the building is better than it would have been, and Bousley's calm leadership kept them on target. He said thanks to Board Member Fred Meintz, with his engineering and construction expertise, "this building was completed on time and in budget."
"During a time of great personal stress, Ann (Hartnell) persisted, from one site to another, until she found an acceptable location, and then she got a grant to clean up the site contamination. She can and should take great pride in her now completed building," Deschane declared. He said all through this, Hartnell also continued to carry on her other duties.
Bousley also expressed thanks to Hartnell and everyone involved, and introduced his wife, Rose, who also served on the MCABI board. He said the current MCABI Board is one of the best groups he has ever worked with. He joked that Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot, seated in front of him, "is the only mayor I've ever seen at a meeting that has kept his mouth shut for the whole meeting."
Allman said Hartnell was one of the first friends she met when she came to Marinette, and declared the new building represents her firm's partnership with the City of Marinette, and the entire operation "stands as a testament to what wise investors can achieve." Marinette Marine today stands as one of the top tier shipyards in the entire nation, and preparations are being made for future contracts to build future ships of new designs. She thanked Mayor Genisot and the City Council for their help, and Hartnell, "for her persistence and relentless focus" that made the building a reality.
Commander Field speaking on behalf of the US Navy, said this building serves as a significant milestone that strengthens the ties of the Navy to Marinette Marine. "The Navy's presence in half of this building has already improved our function here," he declared. He said previously, he and other Navy officers assigned to the Marinette projects had worked out of mobile trailers on the grounds of the shipyard.
Allman had noted in an address to Marinette County Board on Tuesday that their facility has been identified by the US military as one of the most secure shipbuilding facilities in the nation.
The WMCOE will act as a business incubator owned by the Marinette County Association for Business & Industry and operated in cooperation with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC). The primary goal of the WMCOE is to assist individuals and small businesses from the maritime industry to become sustainable, successful companies and employers in the community.
Groundbreaking was Sept. 28, 2016, less than a month after the BRownfields grant was announced. It is to serve as a training, educational, research and entrepreneurship center that is expected to help fuel commercial collaboration and supplier development for the shipbuilding industry.
MCABI offices are located in the building, low cost office and maker maker space is available for rent for startup businesses, and business assistance programs are to be conducted there. Anyone interested can contact the WMCOE director at 715-732-1050, or find the facility on line.
A free workshop, "Pathways to Entrepreneurship," aimed at getting questions answered for anyone considering starting a new business, is scheduled at the WMCOE at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Business incubators like the WMCOE are facilities that provide shared resources for young businesses, such as office space, equipment, consultants, and personnel, and may also provide access to financing and technical support. Primary goal of the WMCOE is to help new and/or growing businesses to become sustainable, successful companies and employers in the community. Providing industry related growth and quality of life opportunities. A successful tenant of the incubator is expected to graduate out of the facility within three years.
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