Michigan’s Blue Economy Means Lots Of Jobs But Needs Help, Report Says

ANN ARBOR — Michigan’s position surrounded by the world’s largest freshwater lake system means hundreds of thousands of jobs, but more effort is needed in research and conservation of this unique, irreplaceable resource.

That’s the word from a new report documenting Michigan’s “blue economy,” released Tuesday by the Michigan Economic Center, part of the Lansing nonprofit Prima Civitas, and the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University.

The interactive report, available at www.michiganblueeconomy.org, is designed to spur strategic actions to expand and grow the state’s already impressive blue economy, and help Michigan to become the world’s freshwater capital and water innovation center.

The recommendations in the report include:

* Create a business-led “Blue Economy Council” to forge public-private partnerships bringing companies and researchers together to solve thorny water treatment and new technology development issues, and spur new business lines and companies;
* Create a new state Office of Water Innovation to re-fashion water use, regulatory standards and financing tools to encourage new sustainable water technology deployment and business growth;
* Organize a Pure Michigan Water Technology Innovation fund: a catalyst organization to commercialize new water product and services, and develop new firms;
* Market Michigan as the Center of Water Education and Research Center of Excellence, and expand its footprint;
* Develop the World’s Freshwater Innovation Center in Detroit – where Michigan’s leading research universities, corporations and philanthropies focus water research, innovation, and commercialization of new ideas and technologies;
* Create Blue Economy Compacts, challenging communities and regions to organize around their Blue Economy as a priority economic development opportunity;
* Put Blue Economy building at the core of Michigan’s state, regional, and community placemaking and economic development strategy;
* Create a Blue Economy Prize for innovative community water and blue economy development strategies; and,
* Extend and make more flexible the Natural Resources Trust Fund to support blue economy building.

“More than one in five Michigan jobs already are linked to water, and given Michigan’s unique natural water, and water innovation assets, we can be the world’s center of water work, and seize more than our share of growing global water-solutions business, and related jobs,” said John Austin, lead author of the report.

Added Alan Steinman of GVSU, co-author of report: “There is only so much waterfront real estate, and with 3,000-plus miles of Great Lakes freshwater coast, 11,000 inland lakes, hundreds of rivers, and coastal and inland wetlands, Michigan is a magical place to live, work and play–if the water is clean, you can get to it, and we use it in a sustainable fashion. Taking advantage of our incredible water resources has become an exciting priority for communities across Michigan who are reclaiming and reconnecting to their waterfronts, and making them the Main Street of their communities.”

The report also defines the five ways that water matters to jobs and the economy — and details the economic impact of Michigan’s water-based economy, including:
* Transportation, ports, shipping: contributing over 65,000 jobs and $3 billion dollars annually;
* Big water-using sectors such as farming and manufacturing, which account for 581,000 Michigan jobs;
* Emerging water growth sectors, including water technology product and service firms that account for 138,000 jobs;
* Economic activity driven by water placemaking: water cleanup, waterfront development and recreation and enjoyment, which collectively account for more than 175,000 jobs and $12.5 billion annually; and
* Water research, education centers and conservation organizations: the URC research universities alone conducted $300 million worth of water research over recent years. Water conservation organizations employed 2,700 people and contributed $80 million to incomes.

“Michigan already is a leading center of water R&D, invention, and new smart water technologies and business development,” Austin said. “Michigan can show the rest of the world how to be smart stewards of freshwater, and become the nation’s leader in water-based jobs and economic development.”

The report also documents the work of more than 40 Michigan communities focused on water placemaking for economic development, including Manistee, Grand Rapids, Marquette, Muskegon, and the necklace of Southeast Michigan communities from Port Huron to Monroe. All are reclaiming once-industrial waterfronts, and re-orienting community life to face and enjoy the water.

“Our water and natural resources first propelled our economy, and today Michigan communities are cleaning and reconnecting to their waterways as a central strategy for community revitalization” said Austin.

The report features the significant water research, innovation and education programs at Michigan’s colleges and universities, like Northwestern Michigan College, the University Research Corridor institutions (Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University), Central Michigan University, Delta College and Grand Valley State University, who are pioneers in solving local, Great Lakes and truly global freshwater challenges. In the process, they are educating the water problem solvers, and providing future stewards that the world needs.

“With nine university water research centers, 190 water programs, and 18 community colleges training water workers from scientist to environmental engineer, from waste water technicians to marine submersible operators, Michigan is already a center of excellence in water education and research,” Steinman said. “We can market Michigan as the place to solve global and local water challenges, and train the water talent the world needs.”

More at www.MiEconomicCenter.org or www.gvsu.edu/wri.

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