Resiliency and reinvestment are key to Port Milwaukee’s operating strategy.
Adam Tindall-Schlicht, director of Port Milwaukee, has developed immediate trade growth, while also planning for this Wisconsin facility to be the Great Lakes’ premiere port for the next 50 years.
Developing ag exports
In 2019, Port Milwaukee was among the first ports to receive a $16 million Port Infrastructure Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration.
For Port Milwaukee, this partially funds a new $35 million agriculture export facility. Construction started in 2021 and will be fully operational by the summer of 2023. In August, Tindall-Schlicht reported that the construction was “on budget and on time.”
Beyond the federal grant, this future facility’s funding came from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Port Milwaukee, and The DeLong Company, Inc.
DeLong’s participation makes this a public-private investment project, which is expected to increase Milwaukee’s ag exports by 400,000 metric tons annually, according to Tindall-Schlicht.
Based in Clifton, WI, DeLong is a sixth-generation agribusiness firm, with six divisions: agronomy, grain and transportation.
The new agricultural export facility, according to the port, will be one of the first on the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway system to handle various agricultural commodities by truck, rail, and international vessel. Foremost among the commodities is dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGs). DDGs are an ethanol byproduct, creating a highly desirable, high-nutrient food for livestock worldwide.
Milwaukee’s new ag facility will open Wisconsin’s maritime and agricultural economies to new international markets for this and other products.
Tindall-Schlicht said DDGs shipped from his port is sourced from ethanol plants in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Key global markets for DDGs are in northern and western Europe, north Africa, and Mediterranean Basin countries.
Future service at the facility will also include the export of Wisconsin-grown soybeans, corn, and grain.
Planning for the next 50 year
Tindall-Schlicht, who’s served as Port Milwaukee’s director since August 2018, said the port has worked in that time on a strategy to implement all necessary upgrades and enhancements for Milwaukee to be the Great Lakes’ premiere port through 2070.
This long-term strategy is tabbed the Capital Asset Renewal Plan. The plan outlines the $200 million in needed investment over time to boost infrastructure that’s been in place since the 1950s, at the time of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
“For the last four years we’ve focused on renewal and reinvention, looking for opportunities that will help lay the groundwork for the next generations at the port,” said Tindall-Schlicht.
Port Milwaukee is reinvesting for future commercial expansion, while exploring and pursuing new uses of the port.
The recent push has involved some demolition of facilities that were underutilized for 20 years and using that real estate to be more efficient with flexible new developments, including the DeLong terminal.
Building Business at Port Milwaukee
There has been very successful push to boost steel and passenger trade.
In 2022 Milwaukee has seen a 42 percent increase over last year in European steel imports.
Furthermore in 2022, Tindall-Schlicht said, cruise ship business exploded for Milwaukee. The category isn’t new: Milwaukee has ferried passengers and vehicles on high-speed vessels to/from Muskegon, MI, for almost 20 years.
But in 2018, Milwaukee handled less than 1,000 passengers on international cruise ships.
Several cruise companies now call on Milwaukee, with the turnaround in passenger service ramping up in 2019, with a jump to 3,300. In 2022, Viking Cruise Lines started plying the Great Lakes, with Milwaukee being an important hub. Between May and October this year, the port expects to see 10,000 cruise visitors on Viking, Pearl Seas, and other cruise lines.
Next year, Milwaukee will be the terminus of a remarkable cruise embarking from Buenos Aires, Argentina, with stops in Antarctica and then up South America’s Pacific Coast to Panama and touring the Atlantic coast before running up the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes.
Tindall-Schlicht, who grew up 10 minutes away from the port, but worked for U.S. DOT in Washington, D.C., before returning home, speaks of the importance of resilience to Port Milwaukee. The greatest example is the port’s recovery from a once-in-a-lifetime storm which struck Jan. 10-11, 2020. Storm surge across Lake Michigan pushed six feet of icy water over 70 percent of Port Milwaukee. The director indicates the port suffered $2 million in damage overnight. With a huge push, reconstruction of the port was 95% complete within two years.
Port Milwaukee by the Numbers
Milwaukee averages handling 2.5 million tons of cargo per year. The port’s “sweet spot” is a specialty serving as a premiere distribution hub for bulk and break bulk, the director indicates.
Among the strengths is importing roadside salt, which is highly valued in the wintertime by many states of the Upper Midwest.
Tindall-Schlicht, who in June 2022 was appointed to the Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee, said his port provides a valuable service in imports and exports from America’s heartland, the largest cities in the Upper Midwest and the vast expanse of south-central Canada.
“We have a strong working relationship with an array of manufacturers and ag sector customers,” said Tindall-Schlicht. “I credit the Port’s staff and stevedores for our reliable, safe, and effective operations.”
Milwaukee is a deep-water port serving Seawaymax vessels (a maximum draft of 26 feet, six inches) in 16 berths. The port also has two dedicated barge berths with drafts more than 18-feet.
Port Milwaukee is the northernmost Lake Michigan port approved to serve the Mississippi River inland waterway system with direct river barge access to the Illinois River. This is a vital connection between U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes region.
Tindall-Schlicht indicates that Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s second-largest port, trailing only Duluth-Superior. He describes it as a consistently performing medium-sized Great Lakes port. The Great Lakes has 100 ports lining Canadian and U.S. shores.
From 2018 to 2019, the port’s tonnage grew 11 percent. Even through the Covid pandemic of 2019-2020, Port Milwaukee’s business grew five percent.
In 2020 Milwaukee enjoyed almost 2.5 million tons of cargo. That volume was maintained in 2021.
Port Milwaukee is served by two Class I railroads, the Union Pacific (UP) Railway and the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway. Both UP and CP provide direct pier delivery at all Port facilities as well as necessary switching services daily. Port Milwaukee additionally owns and maintains 14 miles of its own rail track, providing continuous service and connectivity to UP and CP.
Port Milwaukee is 75 miles north of Chicago and 1,021 nautical miles from Montreal, Quebec with a transit time by water from Montreal of about 4.5 days.