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Clean Lakes Mean Good Jobs

Granholm should push feds to fund Great Lakes restoration

March 1, 2007 | By Andy Guy
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Great Lakes Information Network
  Local and state officials are pushing Washington to invest $20 billion in a Great Lakes cleanup.

Trips overseas to Japan and Germany can be fun and productive. But if Governor Jennifer M. Granholm truly intends "to go anywhere and do anything to bring new investment and good jobs to Michigan," she should immediately book a flight that puts her in Washington, D.C. on March 6—officially known as Great Lakes Day.

That is when Washington lawmakers will be hearing from supporters of the proposed $20 billion Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes. Governor Granholm needs to be there, pitching hard for the proposal. If passed, it would quickly generate thousands of short-term jobs for workers across the Midwest, accelerate the rejuvenation of Rustbelt cities, and permanently position the greater Great Lakes region to compete and win in the 21st century global knowledge economy.

With Detroit’s Big Three chopping ever more jobs, and people—particularly young talent—fleeing the state in droves, Michigan could benefit greatly from the federal cleanup proposal, which Midwestern legislators are expected to reintroduce soon in Congress.

Designed by a broad, diverse coalition of Great Lakes citizens and civic leaders, the strategy would no doubt have a profoundly positive effect on the natural environment. The cleanup would rehab hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands, modernize thousands of miles of drains to eliminate sewage spills, and clean up dozens of the most contaminated sites in America.

But the plan, done right, also is guaranteed to have a direct, deep, and lasting effect on the region's dismal economic situation. Indeed, restoring the Great Lakes ecology will have at least five very positive economic effects:

It would generate immediate short-term job opportunities. A federal investment of $7.5 billion in sewer repairs could, all by itself, generate some 350,000 jobs in the regional construction industry, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Fully implementing the entire $20 billion restoration strategy would generate thousands of additional jobs—not only for blue collar workers, but also for scientists, contractors, skilled laborers, technicians, and an unknown number of related support staff.

It would leverage needed private urban investment. As government invests in this major public works project, waterways and waterfronts will become cleaner and more attractive to private investors, particularly in decaying urban areas. Economists at the University of Illinois confirm that eliminating pollution in local waterways could drive up the value of nearby urban property and add hundreds of millions of dollars to local tax rolls. Detroit, Muskegon, Grand Rapids, and other Great Lakes cities have new plans to reclaim the waterfront and reenergize their downtowns with new condos, restaurants, and offices; cleanups will broaden and accelerate that trend.

It would guarantee long-term job retention.  Ready access to a robust, clean supply of Great Lakes water is essential to Michigan's ability to grow a wide array of industries, including tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing. At a minimum, spending to improve water quality and natural habitat could strengthen a $4.5 billion fishing industry.

It would give the entire region a competitive edge.Because the 21st-century economy uses information as its essential raw material, modern industries and their workers are no longer bolted to a specific place by the need for a specific resource; in fact, they can locate almost anywhere. Today, quality of life—including access to water and water-related activities—ranks high among the critical assets employers and employees cite in choosing where to live and do business. That makes the health of the Great Lakes crucial to the region’s modern economic development plans.

It would spur new industry.Water protection and management is a booming business. Worldwide, annual industry revenues are estimated at $300 billion, according to a 2003 report prepared by the Battelle Memorial Institute. Some U.S. states already are positioning themselves to cash in. Arizona, for example, aims to double employment in that sector by 2010 and becoming the “water management capital of the world.”

The opportunity has not gone unnoticed around the Great Lakes. Entrepreneurs in Ohio, for example, are pioneering new ways to develop riverfronts that promote both shipping and fish habitat. They figure the so-called “green bulkhead” market is a $1 billion industry in the Midwest alone. Others, some funded by Michigan's 21st Jobs Fund, are developing new technologies to better conserve water and detect water pollution.

In short, investing in environmental restoration and fresh water conservation can drive workforce development, product manufacturing, commercialization of new ideas, and the expansion of a new economic sector—water tech and management.

These economic benefits will reach far beyond Michigan. Since the Great Lakes restoration strategy is a regional initiative, neighboring cities like Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Gary, Waukegan, Milwaukee, and Duluth all stand to gain from the investment.

Governor Granholm should strengthen her case in Washington by inviting her Democratic and Republican colleagues from the Council of Great Lakes Governors to join her there. The council helped draft the restoration strategy, but has yet to make a meaningful, sustained public push to see it implemented.

Ms. Granholm is scheduled to travel to Germany on March 10 and continue her campaign "to go anywhere and do anything to bring new investment and jobs to Michigan." She should stop off in D.C. along the way and make the case for not only beginning, but accelerating, the proposed Great Lakes cleanup. Once that’s done, the sky is the limit for the Great Lakes Basin’s prosperity.

Journalist Andy Guy directs the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Water Works project and writes about Smart Growth issues from Grand Rapids. He is also managing editor at Rapid Growth Media and maintains a blog at http://greatlakesguy.blogspot.com/. Reach him at aguy@mlui.org.
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