Marine industry is vital cog in Wisconsin economy


Marine manufacturing is a $6 billion industry in Wisconsin.

It might sound unlikely, but among companies such as Marinette Marine, Bay Shipbuilding and Mercury Marine, the industry employs 3,200 people statewide.

“It’s an industry that’s grown up locally and by and large remained local with the more significant aspect of construction,” labor economist Jeffrey Sachse told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “Most of that money stays fairly local.”

Wages range from $12.50 an hour for entry-level and laborer positions to more than $23 an hour for a range of skilled jobs. Sachse said marine manufacturing jobs average between $46,000 and $58,000 annually.

“If you are a first-class welder, you could make $70,000 to $80,000. If you are a finish welder at Marinette Marine, you can make closer to $90,000,” he said.

To a large degree, the region’s boatbuilders do not compete with one another. They share ownership — such as Marinette Marine, Bay Shipbuilding and Ace Marine in Green Bay, all owned by Fincantieri Group — or they are in different markets. There is some overlap, but even that is mitigated by contraction in the industry worldwide.

“It’s really been an industry, as is the case with a lot of manufacturing sectors in the state, where they benefited from attrition elsewhere,” Sachse said. “It’s down to two or three companies nationally that do what they do. We can meet a lot of market needs with two or three producers, and we have them.”

Employment in the marine industry traditionally is subject to the ability to get long-term orders and contracts. Seasonal layoffs were not uncommon, but that’s an expensive way to do business. The companies have had some success in evening out the dips.

Marinette Marine, with its long-term contracts for Navy Littoral Combat Ships, is not affected, but others work to fill those lax periods.

“We do some commercial stuff, too,” said Curt Prokash at yacht builder Burger Boat in Manitowoc. “We just finished a research vessel and we are working on our second tour boat. We do some repair stuff, as well. You want to keep the people working.”

Prokash said a luxury yacht can provide a year and a half to two years work, so they prefer those orders when they’re available.