Mott Communications Officer Maggie Jaruzel-Potter interviewed John Austin, director of the Great Lakes Economic Initiative at the Brookings Institution, about the Great Lakes. He shares his views in a Q & A format below. (Brookings is a Mott grantee.)
MJP: What are the major assets of the Great Lakes region?
I think the two major assets that we have in Michigan and the Great Lakes region are, number one, incredible learning and research institutions, and an opportunity to be a center for new technology. This includes clean energy and clean-water technology and business technology development.
The second great asset is this really special piece of real estate -- the Great Lakes themselves -- and the thousands of miles of coastline, the natural features, the outdoors, the opportunities for a very high quality of life and an attractive place for people to choose to live and work. MJP: How can the Great Lakes influence job creation in the region?
John C. Austin
There are new water technologies, new water conservations and new water treatments. These are going to open tremendous opportunities for the Great Lakes. As we do more of that work, we are going to develop the leadership in what’s coming to be called clean technologies.
Freshwater technology is a growing, $500-billion annual global business. It includes freshwater monitoring, freshwater cleanup and freshwater management. It is related to energy use because the biggest use of energy is in water management and water flows in residential, commercial and industrial uses. So it is directly related to reducing the water/energy usage in the region and the world.
Water is increasingly scarce and polluted around the world so the families of technologies that can conserve water -- use water smarter -- are a huge growing business. It’s creating a sector of new jobs for the long term. MJP: What economic benefits could result from restoring the Great Lakes?
In our study, we put some hard dollar figures on the economic development benefits that can come -- and will come -- when the water is clean and not polluted, when beaches are opened and not closed, when toxic areas in the Great Lakes are cleaned up so that the areas and the communities around them are available for development and for people to live and work.
There are direct, technology-based jobs that we can create, as well as those coupled with the economic benefits of cleaning up the mess we made from our factories and industrial economies. We have many brownfields -- more polluted areas, more contaminated sediments, and more damage done to water and the natural environment -- in the Great Lakes/Midwest region than in a lot of other places.
If we clean all that up, we can leverage our region as a very attractive place to live and work. There is tremendous economic power in a special place. That is partly why people like to live on the coast, whether they are on the West Coast or on the East Coast or on any coast. We have this underappreciated freshwater coast that is sometimes obscured by the relics of our factory economy. It is spectacular, and cleaning it up is a huge part of our economic future.