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Port of Milwaukee: Enhancing the Milwaukee Economy

Governed by a seven-member board of Harbour Commissioners, the Port of Milwaukee works to promote the shipping and economic development of Wisconsin and the surrounding states thanks to its commitment to stimulating trade on both a local and international scale. Working with its tenants, customers, transportation providers, logistical experts and other supply chain experts, Port of Milwaukee sustains the water-centric city of Milwaukee with a thriving cargo industry, reliable transportation links and the continued development of the leisure sector to see significant economic growth in the region for many years to come.  

Located to the west of Lake Michigan, the Port of Milwaukee serves as a hub for the distribution of cargo and materials travelling from the Gulf Coast, and into vital US states such as Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Indiana. Thanks to its strategic location just 1,021 nautical miles from the coast of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, the port also serves as a vital link with Canadian markets, including those in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Therefore, in its role to promote the shipping and commerce of the region, the Port of Milwaukee’s operations are influential in both domestic and international markets.  

One of the major advantages of the Port’s location is its excellent infrastructure links with the railroad and highway systems. The Port of Milwaukee is served by two Class I railroads; the Union Pacific (UP) Railway and the Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) Railway. These provide an essential link to other states, and so vessels stopping in Milwaukee can use the port to distribute its products throughout the region and onto the national marketplace. This reliance on the railroad infrastructure has been further developed by the Port of Milwaukee as it also owns and maintains 14 miles of its own rail track, which connects up with the UP and CPKC railways.  

In addition to the railroads, the Port of Milwaukee is also directly served by the Federal Interstate Highway System with the I-94/794 which allows trucks to drive directly into the port. This ease of access to the port for the land freight forwarders and trucking companies allows for a quicker turn-around on shipment pick-ups and therefore a speedy delivery to customers. Consequently, through almost 350 miles of highway connection, the Port of Milwaukee provides direct from its ports to crucial trade hubs such as Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul., Peoria, Des Moines, Moline, Indianapolis, Madison and Green Bay.  

Annually, operations at the Port of Milwaukee see 2.3 million metric tons of cargo handled through the port, which adds roughly $106.5 million in economic activity and $68.1 million in income generated. In addition to these regional economic benefits, the Port of Milwaukee also provides 1,309 jobs which continues to bring both personal and local economic benefits for the region.  

The history of the port dates back to 1835 when it was known as the Great Lakes port, dealing with commercial cargo vessels serving the struggling new village on the west shores of Lake Michigan. The area provided access to the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinic rivers which join Lake Michigan within Milwaukee’s harbour. Therefore, the port slowly began to grow in size as settlers and traders were drawn to the region to take advantage of this vital port at the heart of three rivers and Lake Michigan. Over the years an ‘inner harbour’ was developed, and a comprehensive plan was formulated to build a lakefront area within the outer harbour. This harbour, under municipal control, played a crucial part in the development of the port into the modern port that we see today. Today, the port has built on this success and today is overseen by a board of commissioners who work everyday to strategically promote the port’s operations, and work with those across the industry to devise plans to help the port maintain its role in the future of America’s economy.   

Within the Port of Milwaukee, vessels are offered a range of services to offload and unload cargo, whilst providing 330,00 square feet (sq ft) of covered warehouse space for bulk, steel and general cargo, as well as 30,000 sq ft of climate-controlled space. Key cargo moving through the Port includes a variety of breakbulk and non-containerized cargo including steel, wind turbine components, brewery tanks, mining equipment, yachts, forest products, transformers, farm and construction machinery, manufacturing equipment, bagged materials and other project cargoes. Therefore, as we can see, the Port of Milwaukee is involved in a whole number of sectors from manufacturing, to renewable energy, mining and agriculture, which each play a vital role in enhancing the American economy.   

As the Port of Milwaukee moves towards the future it has implemented major developments across the port, including the development of facilities for the agricultural sector. In July 2023, the Port of Milwaukee announced a partnership with the DeLong Co., Inc. to open a $40-million Agricultural Maritime Export Facility on Jones Island. The facility is aimed to handle agricultural commodities and transport them via the Port’s truck, rail and international vessel network. These agricultural commodities include animal feed supplements derived as a byproduct of ethanol due to its high nutrient value.  

The facility will allow Wisconsin’s maritime and agricultural economies to play a greater role in international markets. It is hoped that with the successful implementation of the facility, Wisconsin will develop into a vital trade hub for its home-grown soybeans, corn and grains which it can deliver to a wider international audience. The Director of Port of Milwaukee, Jackie Q. Carter, highlighted this in the press release announcing the facility saying that “Port Milwaukee is an integral link in the Wisconsin economy. In this case, we are connecting Wisconsin farmers, growers and producers with new international markets”.   

Carter continues, “The combined support from local, state and federal officials affirm the importance of this new asset on Jones Island. The development of this facility at Port Milwaukee is a great addition to the city’s marine commerce, and I’m excited to witness the benefits it will create for our maritime economy”. Carter’s comments highlight the growing hub that the Port of Milwaukee continues to expand into, and with vital investments with key players in the sector such as agriculture, the Port can continue to provide significant economic benefits for both Milwaukee on a regional level and Wisconsin on a state level.  

The continuous development and promotion of activities at the Port of Milwaukee is what has marked it as such a vital port within both domestic and international markets. Dealing with cargo from a vast array of industries, the Port’s services, and then vital logistical links via the railroads and interstate, allows the port to remain a key player within the state-wide economy. With such a reputation for development, whilst meeting the demands of the cargo, tourism, and logistics industries, the Port of Milwaukee has been successful in promoting the shipping and commercial cargo aspects of the region. We look forward to seeing how the port continues to expand and put the development of Wisconsin industries at the forefront of its development in the years to come.  

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