By MAGGIE JARUZEL-POTTER
The Great Lakes conjure up images of wide-open waters as far as the eye can see, beautiful beaches and massive sand dunes. But these big bodies of water also should trigger images of dollar signs.
“The Great Lakes regional economy is a $2-trillion juggernaut,” said Peter Annin, author of The Great Lakes Water Wars
If the region were a country, he says, it would rank among the top five largest economies in the world today -- right up there with the U.S., China, Japan and Germany.
“Much of that [Great Lakes] economy is intimately tied to the region’s water-rich resources, which means billions of dollars and an untold number of jobs.”
Increasingly, business leaders, legislators, environmentalists and property owners agree with Annin. They say protecting and restoring the Lakes is not only in the region’s best interests but also the nation’s.
A February 2009 report produced by Michigan Sea Grant
-- a cooperative program of University of Michigan
and Michigan State University
that is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
-- says 15 percent of all jobs in Michigan are connected in some way to the Great Lakes.
John C. Austin, director of the Great Lakes Economic Initiative
at the Brookings Institution, says the Lakes play a key role in the region’s current employment picture. And he expects them to figure prominently in the region’s future because of the growing fields of clean technology and freshwater technology. [Read an interview with John Austin.]
These two specialty areas, Austin says, are becoming a $500-billion annual global business, with companies in the Midwest producing water cleaning technologies, water conservation systems and desalination pumps that are being sold around the world, including the Mideast.
“There are lots of new jobs in freshwater treatment, freshwater management and energy conservation linked to smarter water use that this region can capitalize on,” Austin said.
“We can use these to re-purpose some of our manufacturing base, but we can also be a global leader in new sustainable technologies that we can share and sell to the world.”
Earmarking public and private money for new technologies in the region is a wise investment, Austin says. And earmarking money for infrastructure updates also could prove beneficial.
A 2007 Brookings report co-authored by Austin, Healthy Waters, Strong Economy
, concludes that for every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration, $2 or more will be generated in long-term economic development, jobs, and increased tourism and recreation. Along with the short-term “stimulus” projects, which put Michigan and Great Lakes residents to work rebuilding sewer infrastructures and cleaning toxic areas of concern, the economic benefits could top $80 billion.
Since 2007, Mott’s Flint Area program has provided two grants totaling $300,000
to the Brookings Institution for its Great Lakes Economic Initiative
. The initiative is a multiyear research partnership between Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and the public, private and nonprofit sectors, including the academic community. The group works to improve the economic vitality of the Great Lakes region.
Another Brookings report, also co-authored by Austin, is called Place-Specific Benefits of Great Lakes Restoration: A Supplement to the ‘Healthy Waters’ Report
. The 2008 report was commissioned by the Healing Our Waters Coalition, whose leadership includes several Mott grantees such as the National Wildlife Federation
, Alliance for the Great Lakes
and Freshwater Future
The report concludes that if the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC)
-- a state-federal strategy to restore and protect the Lakes -- was fully implemented, the economic benefit from increases in property values alone could range between $16.1 billion and $26.5 billion. The greatest rises, the report says, would be for properties in the region’s most populated cities along the Great Lakes such as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.
“There is a magical quality of living near water,” Austin said.
“You have water that is available to enjoy -- to boat on, to swim in, to look out your window at and to simply enjoy the sunsets or sunrises -– depending on location.”
But major financial investments are needed to upgrade wastewater infrastructure in the region, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA estimates that it will take $74 billion to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure in all eight Great Lakes states -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Money already is headed to the Great Lakes region for this purpose from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
, says Joy Mulinex, director of the bipartisan Senate and House Great Lakes Task Forces
, which are staffed by the Northeast-Midwest Institute (NEMW)
in Washington, D.C.
The task forces, created in the mid-1980s, advocate for policies and programs that enhance environmental quality and economic development throughout the Great Lakes Basin. Since 1982, Mott has provided 18 grants to NEMW
totaling $1.9 million for its work on Great Lakes issues.
Mulinex says the federal economic stimulus package has earmarked $4 billion nationally to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund
and another $2 billion nationally for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund
to repair and upgrade wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.
Of the combined $6 billion, she says, the Great Lakes states are expected to receive almost one-third, or $2 billion, for wastewater infrastructure work.
“We want to expand enthusiasm for this cleanup beyond the eight Great Lakes states, because the Lakes provide an economic benefit beyond this region in a lot of ways,” Mulinex said. “For example, vacationers spend their money in the region. Also, goods and services produced in the Great Lakes region are used throughout the nation.”
Just as federal, state and local public dollars were used to clean up the Chesapeake Bay in the East and the Everglades in the South, Austin says, public money should be allocated to protect and restore the Great Lakes in the North.
Joel Brammeier, acting president and CEO of Alliance for the Great Lakes, says the waterways move bulk commodities and Midwestern crops to market, and also transport raw materials -- such as on iron ore, coal and limestone -- to manufacturers.
Additionally, water-dependent industries -- such as food processing, electronics technology, and the optical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields -- are located in the Great Lakes states.
“If we wisely preserve, restore and regulate this ecosystem, the Great Lakes region will be an economic player for decades to come,” Brammeier said.
- Read a related article Great Lakes invaluable, irreplaceable.
- Read an interview with John Austin, director of the Great Lakes Economic Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
- Listen to a short radio public service announcement from the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ campaign called This is my Water.