They say during the winter birds migrate South, but 15 vessels from the Great Lakes will migrate to Sturgeon Bay for the winter and so do nearly 950 workers.
“The neat thing is growing up here I didn’t’t really appreciate or take notice of what we did at Bay Shipbuilding,” says dock master Kevin Lauder. “But now working here and meeting the crews and the employees and communicating with these tugs, it’s a great place. I love it.”
Great Lakes freighters don’t operate in the winter because of ice conditions so until March 25, they’ll get the repairs they need.
All the work starts before their arrival called the winter fleet.
“We’re contacting the owners and find out which vessels are coming here, what their work requirements would be and then from there we start managing the work and planning if we have to do any work in advance,” says Julie Koch, contract manager for Bay Shipbuilding. “We also have to make sure we have the manpower to support it.”
Most remarkable is the increase in business Door county sees during the winter months because of the increase of people who come to work on the fleet.
“Economically from the worker standpoint here Fincantieri bay ship building that makes a big difference for our businesses,” says Pam Seiler, executive director for Sturgeon Bay’s visitor center. “Maybe we would normally lose a few of those tourists, but we’re bringing in an entirely different workforce.”
While Door county is usually thought to be a summer destination, with each year the winter fleet brings in more business.
“You start to see an increase of people going to restaurants, shopping the streets and lodging is a big part of it from the tourism standpoint,” says Seiler.
It’s a role Bay Shipbuilding is happy to fill.
“We have vendors the owners have numerous vendors that come in and work and we assist with work with so these vendors will come in and stay anywhere from one month to two months to work on the vessels they’re staying in Sturgeon Bay we’re working along with them and that’s an economic and packed to the county.”