• WisBusiness

Monday, July 13, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Green Bay group seeks to turn vacant armory into indoor farm

By MaryBeth Matzek
A long-neglected building in Green Bay may soon find new life as an indoor farm and agribusiness.

The Farmory, which would be located in an old armory on Chicago Street near downtown Green Bay, received a $50,000 grant recently from the United States Conference of Mayors to help get the project up and running. NeighborWorks Green Bay, a non-profit committed to revitalizing neighborhoods and promoting homeownership, would run the operation, which would grow produce inside the building and then sell it to fund on-going operations.

Noel Halvorsen, executive director for NeighborWorks Green Bay, first proposed the idea in 2013. Since then, NeighborWorks America and the Greater Green Bay Basic Needs Giving Partnership have also backed the project. The next step is gathering stakeholders to put together a final plan on how to run the urban farm and figure out how much it will cost.

"The national grant will really help us to put our arms around the project," he says.

The building was built in 1918 by the Allouez Mineral Springs Company as a bottling plant. After a few years, it closed and stayed empty until a Wisconsin National Guard infantry unit moved in 1927 after their previous armory burned down. The Guard used the 20,000-square-foot building until 1963. Since then, it has sat mostly vacant.

Halvorsen envisions growing a variety of food crops including leafy greens, mushrooms and some other plants year-round in an indoor environment. Halvorsen already connected with Will Allen, who started Milwaukee's Growing Power urban farming project, as well as Riverview Gardens, an urban farm in downtown Appleton.

Besides growing crops, Halvorsen says The Farmory would provide an economic boost to the neighborhood and also serve as a training site to help people learn job skills.

Training center adds on

Operating engineers from around Wisconsin have a new place to go for year-round training. Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a new 108,000-square-foot addition at the Wisconsin Operating Engineers training center just east of Coloma.

Operating Engineers Local 139, the parent organization of Wisconsin Operating Engineers, funded the $10 million project entirely through members' paycheck deductions.

The 400-acre training center is busiest the first four months of the year as thousands of operating engineers from around the state come to improve their skills. The addition's centerpiece is a 51,000-square-foot indoor arena with a sand floor and a roof more than 60 feet in height at the centerline, which means engineers will have the ability to train inside during Wisconsin's winters.

"We'll keep the inside temperature above freezing so our members can run cranes, bulldozers, excavators and the other pieces of heavy construction equipment that we operate, without Old Man Winter getting in the way," says Terry McGowan, president/business manager of Operating Engineers Local 139.

McGowan says the center contributes to the local economy since many of the trainees stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.

Manufacturer plans Northwoods expansion

Great Northern Innovation LLC, a manufacturer of rubber screen media and wear components used in mining and aggregate operations, plans to bring 35 new jobs to Milltown, a small town in northwestern Wisconsin.

The company, which was started by Gabe Feuerhelm just a year ago in Polk County, is leasing a new 22,000-square-foot building and has plans to buy additional equipment to help meet its growing customer demand. The construction project will be complete this fall.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is giving Great Northern Innovation up to $180,000 in state tax credits through 2018. The actual amount of the tax credits is linked to the number of new jobs created.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


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