Let's rebuild Michigan through its greatest asset: its water

Water is our past and our future in Michigan. Water surrounds and cradles us. Water opened the state to trade. Water powered the rise of our mighty industry. Water defines our Pure Michigan culture and lifestyle. Water innovation positions us for leadership in the coming Blue Economy.

So begins a beautiful, inspiring and true story about the Michigan Blue Economy.

This visually rich, interactive report released today by the Michigan Economic Center at Prima Civitas, and the Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute, tells the story of how water and water innovation powered the rise of Michigan’s economy. It details the economic size, scope, and powerful ways water and water innovation already create 1-in-5 Michigan jobs and drive economic growth. It also tells the stories of, and showcases dozens of Michigan communities, companies, and education and research institutions that are leading the way in building a more dynamic Blue Economy in Michigan.

It lays out an agenda for how Michigan can realize new economic opportunities through “smart water” business innovations; as a global water education and research center; and by cleaning and reconnecting our communities to our abundant and beautiful waters, making Michigan the most attractive place to live, work and play.

The late Ned Gramlich, University of Michigan provost and Federal Reserve board governor, was once asked to sum up the economic opportunities for Michigan and the Great Lakes region looking forward. He put it simply: “The opportunity for the Great Lakes States to thrive economically, as a center of innovation, and as an environmentally sustainable, clean-green playground for our nation’s people to live and work is unrivaled.”

Michigan can be that unrivaled playground if the water is clean and our communities reconnect to it. It’s our “blue” alongside our “green.” And innovation in water can make us the world center of water education, R&D, and new “smart water” technologies and business development, and propel a new era of economic growth and job creation.

Michigan’s Blue Economy of today is defined and documented in this report – accounting for nearly $60 billion dollars and one million jobs already, including:

  • Transportation, ports, shipping: contribute over 65,000 jobs and $3 billion dollars annually
  • Big water using sectors such as farming and manufacturing account for 581,000 Michigan jobs
  • Emerging water-growth sectors, including water technology product and service firms, account for 138,000 jobs
  • Economic activity driven by water placemaking: water cleanup, waterfront development, recreation and enjoyment, collectively accounts for more than 175,000 jobs and $12.5 billion annually
  • Michigan’s 10 university water research centers 190 water programs, and 18 community colleges engaged in water-related education employ thousands of people, attract thousands more, win research dollars and drive new start-ups. The University Research Corridor Universities (MSU, U-M and Wayne State) alone conducted $300 million worth of water research over recent years ‒ as much as they did for the auto industry.
  • Water conservation organizations employ another 2,700 people and contribute $80 million to incomes.

The report also tells the inspiring stories of how Michigan companies like Ford Motor Company became one of the greenest companies in the world through smart water use; how Dow Chemical claims worldwide water technology innovation leadership; Whirlpool finds a future in making hyper-water efficient appliances and kitchens; auto parts makers like Cascade Engineering re-engineer to make life-saving water cleaning products for developing countries, and Steelcase pioneers water and energy conservation tools in its global supply chain.

And newer firms are emerging as Blue Economy leaders, too, including Somnia Global, which finds innovative ways to clean hospital waste and manufacturing water-byproducts, and Limnotech, which engineers water cleanup and ecosystem management efforts worldwide.

The report documents the work of over 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.

And there is inspiration in the water education, and water work going on in dozens of colleges and universities, from Michigan Tech to Macomb Community College. Michigan institutions 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 our rich water history, fantastic real estate astride so much water, and the tremendous innovation horsepower among our companies, colleges, and our people – the Blue Economy is Michigan’s economic sweet spot. There is a lot to do to build out this economy, with roles for everyone: business leaders, elected officials, nonprofit managers and philanthropists, scientists, citizens, and teachers, and the report makes clear recommendations for how all stakeholders can contribute to Blue Economy growth

By becoming the world’s center of water education, research, smart and sustainable use – and bringing the magic water and its “blue” into our special Michigan “clean-green” playground – we send a message to the world that this is the most attractive place to live, work and play. A place where we care for our water and our planet, celebrate its history and place in our lives, and will make our living showing the way to use it smartly and well. Our water then becomes an engine for creating new jobs and our Pure Michigan a magnet for people to repopulate our state. Let’s all create and catch the Blue Economy wave.

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Tue, 04/07/2015 - 7:39am
The next growth business for Michigan - a water pipeline from the great lakes to California, we could become the OPEC of water. LOL.
Wed, 04/08/2015 - 7:18pm
***, OMG! You said that outloud! Jerry Brown is probably dialing Gov. Snyder to offer to fix the State's roads for the Michigan half of Lake Michigan. And with the polls that maybe the second vote in May.
Tue, 04/07/2015 - 11:02am
All that yet interestingly enough your president is intent on letting it become infested with Asian carp through his refusal to shut the Chicago Sanitary Canal!
Tue, 04/07/2015 - 5:03pm
Stating the phrase "Your President" shows incredible disrespect on your part and whether you like it or not, President Obama is YOUR President as well. Do you understand the basics of democracy? He's still your President whether you voted for him or not. If the President had a great proposal, that would benefit most Americans, you would likely be opposed to it because it might increase the President's approval rating. Republicans in Congress routinely dismiss creative, innovative ideas from the President because it might make him look good. Using a phrase like "your President" is like a poker tell, Matt: not only are you a poor loser, you reveal your bias against America because of your unilateral bias against someone you didn't vote for.
Tue, 04/07/2015 - 2:06pm
Well, there is your solution to the problem, the carp can go by water pipe to California. :)
Tue, 04/07/2015 - 3:42pm
but your president doesn't like pipelines either!!
Tue, 04/07/2015 - 8:59pm
I think it depends on the pipeline and the direction, north/south no but maybe east/west. :)
Larry Lewis
Thu, 04/16/2015 - 11:47am
Most ot the previous comments, make me hesitant to add mine, however for what it is worth Mr. Austin's brief outline of the historical importance of our Great Lakes is spot-on. This natural resource has helped shape not just Michigan, but all of the midwest and Canadian Proverences that surround the Lakes. It's importance to commerence, recreation,agriculture, source of drinking water, yes and even sewerage. Unfortunately, this later seems to be the way many have thought of our "Great Lakes," as a dumping area for many of our communites, industries & runoff from farming. Now new threats to our lakes take on a greater danager that we might loss this vaulable resource. Just a thought