Region’s leading airports enhance facilities for business travel abroad
By New North B2B staff
Improvements underway at two northeast Wisconsin airports during 2015 are set to make the region more welcoming to international business professionals, as well as leave an exceptional impression as a potential first point of entry into the United States and the region.
Outagamie County Regional Airport in Greenville is in the process of becoming just the state’s third designated international airport behind Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay and General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. The airport received conditional approval from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol earlier in 2014 to become a “user fee” international airport, according to airport director Abe Weber, meaning it will develop its own facilities and fund operations for federal customs agents.
As part of the designation, the airport will formally change its moniker to Appleton International Airport in August upon completion of a newly renovated international facility in its 3,000-sq. ft. former fixed-based operator building adjacent to the main terminal. Construction of that $1.7 million project is expected to begin in April.
The international designation will allow aircraft of 20 passengers or less arriving from outside the United States as well as planes with limited foreign cargo to arrive at the airport and be cleared for entry into the country. The international designation was sought by the Fox Valley business community which increasingly welcomes foreign business professionals visiting the area in corporate and other private jets. Those planes currently need to first land at another international airport to clear customs and border processes before proceeding to Appleton, Weber indicated.
“(The international designation) has the potential to be the doorstep into the Fox Valley for many of the business professionals coming into the area from abroad,” Weber said. “We see (the airport) as an economic driver in the community.”
To help the airport with some of its estimated annual operating costs of $150,000 to $200,000 to support U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Weber said the airport received five-year pledges from Fox Cities Regional Partnership for $10,000 annually and $1,500 a year from Fox West Chamber of Commerce. User fees paid by many of the planes arriving internationally will offset other costs of operating.
The designation will also allow corporate and private jet passengers leaving Appleton for international destinations a variety of boarding and registration advantages to being cleared in Appleton as opposed to first flying to another domestic airport with international status before leaving the country, Weber said.
Improving international facilities
At Austin Straubel in Green Bay, which has held its status as a U.S. Customs and Border point of entry for some time, construction is underway to revamp a former airport firefighting structure as a 6,100-sq. ft. standalone international arrivals facility. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol operations at Austin Straubel currently occupy a small space on the second floor of the airport’s main terminal in order to process the nearly 400 international flights which depart through Green Bay annually.
Airport officials indicated the new expanded facility will allow for more customs staffing and the ability to develop a full service federal inspection station for commercial operations.
The $4.3 million project is funded primarily through the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as partial funding from the state and from Brown County. The new facility is expected to be complete and operational in July.
Port year will be tough to top
Expected decrease in coal shipments will prove difficult cargo to replace
Port of Green Bay officials experienced a good year in 2014, eclipsing the 2.3 million ton threshold of cargo for the first time since the recession.
But reaching that total again in 2015 will be quite an accomplishment, noted Dean Haen, director of Brown County Port and Resource Recovery. Haen said projected coal shipments – which typically account for nearly 10 to 15 percent of total cargo coming through the port – could decrease by 24 to 40 percent during the 2015 shipping season, primarily because Georgia-Pacific Corp. implemented a new natural gas-fired boiler for its manufacturing facilities in Green Bay, replacing older coal-fired boilers.
“If (port operations) are as equal to last year, then we’ll have a great year in 2015,” Haen said.
Port activity will likely begin later in March for the 2015 shipping season, and shipments are likely to continue growing for other commodities such as petroleum coke, limestone and other petroleum products including ethanol, diesel and gasoline. Limestone is the single largest commodity into the port, and has increased at a rate of about 5 percent a year for each of the past five years. Shipments of petroleum coke arrived at historic levels during 2014, and Haen reported Kimberly-based U.S. Venture has experienced double-digit growth of its petroleum product shipments each of the past few years.
Annual dredging projects that occur throughout the 11-mile port zone – which extends eight miles out into the bay and three miles up the mouth of the Fox River – will extract alluvial deposits in 2015 to allow larger petroleum-carrying vessels into the port harbor to service U.S. Venture.
Additionally, Fox River PCB contamination clean-up efforts move downstream to the port harbor during 2015 and 2016, Haen said. While the clean-up dredging efforts will create a variety of obstacles around the port for commercial ship traffic and recreational boaters alike, Haen said affected areas under work will be well marked.