LPI and MNFI partner on study on green infrastructure drivers of economic performance in Michigan

A report detailing the natural features, green infrastructure and social/cultural amenities for the state is now available from the MSU Land Policy Institute (LPI) in partnership with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI).

A report detailing the natural features, green infrastructure and social/cultural amenities for the state is now available from the MSU Land Policy Institute (LPI) in partnership with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI). The study, Drivers of Economic Performance in Michigan: Natural Features, Green Infrastructure and Social/Cultural Amenities, expands the scope of natural amenities beyond those considered in previous studies, by including specific ecological variables measured at the local level and by focusing on place assets.

The Institute partnered with MNFI, an MSU Extension program, on this study to provide a greater understanding not only of Michigan’s diverse natural features and green infrastructure amenities, but also of the potential for a nature-based economic development strategy for the state. This partnership offers a preliminary, but important, opportunity to better understand the relationships that exist between the environment and the economy. The economic analysis here can serve as the basis for further research on how the environment is linked to economic success and prosperity.

The key issue of focus in this study is exploring the roles of green infrastructure and other natural features in economic growth. The analysis delves to a new level of detail about green infrastructure and other natural features by accounting for specific statewide variables, many of which are only available from MNFI.

Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the Michigan Center for Geographic Information, the U.S. Geological Survey and others, the report examines, in depth, three types of growth--employment, income and population--as well as overall effects of social/cultural, natural features and green infrastructure amenities, and their role in economic development in Michigan jurisdictions (cities, townships and villages) from 1990-2000. Report findings about green infrastructure include:

  • For each additional State Forest Campground in a jurisdiction, the number of employed people increased by 27.
  • Each acre of an inland lake a jurisdiction has translated into an additional $4.80 in per capita income.
  • If a jurisdiction was identified as having important or significant bird habitat, population was expected to increase by 136 people.
  • Each additional marina in a jurisdiction was associated with an additional 34 employed people.

A key finding from this analysis is that natural features, green infrastructure and other natural amenities not only deliver individual pecuniary benefits, but that they influence the economies of places. The results of this study clearly demonstrate that natural assets can be important to the economic performance of local communities in Michigan, and the report presents 20 different recommendations for policy, outreach, funding and research, including:

  • Michigan should develop a green economy plan that incorporates ideas about how its natural resource base can be leveraged to help position its economy for long-term success, while improving the health of Michigan’s natural assets and environment. The People and Land Initiative identified Natural Resources for Recreation and Jobs as a “Pillar for Prosperity,” but no definitive plan exists to reach such an objective. We recommend that the administration should direct its agencies to collaborate and deliver a plan for securing and improving Michigan's natural resources for place-base economic development, quality of life, recreation and talent attraction. If there is a prosperity pathway through “green,” Michigan should be the state that’s leading the nation.
  • One of the unique observations resulting from this study is that people are attracted to both employment centers and natural assets. However, employment centers in Michigan are typically highly urbanized. Urban and suburban communities have an excellent opportunity to increase their locational competitiveness by maintaining, restoring and enhancing their unique natural assets.
  • One of the keys to facilitating the smart conservation/restoration of green infrastructure is to increase the accessibility of natural features information to local communities and decision makers. To do this, we will need: 1) a central hub to organize the information and serve as a gateway; 2) a suite of decision support tools for different types of applications, such as utility planning, climate change adaptation and comprehensive land use plans; 3) a clearinghouse to store and share relevant data, information and knowledge; 4) technical support to assist end users and build capacity within communities; and 5) outreach and education to engage and inspire constituents across the state.
  • In order to fully capitalize on a region’s natural features, local communities need to know what they have, where it’s located, how much they have, and what condition it is in. To accomplish this, there should be long-term financial support from the state to conduct a statewide systematic natural features inventory. This type of effort should be prioritized based on a set of logical criteria, such as the degree of threat to the resources, the amount of natural features, proximity to population centers, etc.
  • By conducting this analysis at the local level, this study was able to uncover patterns occurring at a relatively small scale. As a follow up, a better understanding of the proximity effect of various quality-of-life and cultural assets and green infrastructure assets on community growth is needed. For example, someone may live and work in different places. Understanding the effects that nearby jurisdictions have on population, employment and income change is essential. These proximity effects could have a significant impact on the potential growth of a community.

The report is part of an ongoing series of New Economy reports published by LPI. Summary and full report versions of Drivers of Economic Performance in Michigan are available for download.

Questions regarding this study should be sent to either Tyler Borowy, LPI Research Coordinator, at borowy@landpolicy.msu.edu or call 517.432.8800 Ext. 113; or John Paskus, MNFI Senior Conservation Scientist and Lead Conservation Planner, at paskusjr@msu.edu or call 517.335.3973.

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