From an article by Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The last oceangoing ship of the year steams out of the Port of Milwaukee this week, bound for Morocco with a load of soybeans, ending what’s been a good shipping season – with total tonnage down but steel shipments surging from a year ago.

The port handled about 1.9 million metric tons of cargo through Nov. 1, compared with 2.4 million a year earlier.

Most of the decline was blamed on fewer road-salt shipments, one of the port’s largest commodities.

About 32% less salt was brought into the port this year, largely because of a surplus from 2009, said Eric Reinelt, Port of Milwaukee director.

The port had strong exports of grain and mining equipment and high imports of steel, according to Reinelt.

It’s had visits from 207 ships, up from 191 at this time last year.

“The good news is that anything related to the overall economic cycle did fairly well,” Reinelt said. “Purchases of specialty steel products through the port, mostly from Europe, are up a whopping 50% over last year. . . .”

The port has made room for storage of wind-turbine blades, hoping to get more of that cargo business.

Earlier, Milwaukee’s port and terminal operators lost millions in revenue and about 25 jobs because of state rules that clamped down on the shipment of wind-turbine components on Wisconsin highways.

Caravans of the huge turbine parts were shipped through Duluth, Minn., and Beaumont, Texas, rather than Milwaukee.

But Wisconsin’s highway rules have been relaxed, Reinelt said.

“Next year, our big marketing effort is going to be in wind-power products. I think next year, and in 2012, we should see that business come back,” he said.

Also, the entrance ramp to Interstate-794 was widened this year so that trucks could get on the highway easier and not have to use city streets. That move was a huge improvement for the port and its terminal operators, Reinelt said.