The Great Lakes state has a wet and colorful opportunity

Insight into Michigan’s ‘blue economy.’

John Austin, Director of the Michigan Economic Center at Prima Civitas Foundation, delivered insight in a recent report into Michigan’s potential for a stronger economy after matched with our greatest natural resource, freshwater! Now, most people would have at least heard of “green jobs” by now and their purpose for supporting a “green economy.” These jobs have been growing for the last few years due to demand from the public and private sectors around clean energy, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability.

But what is the blue economy? A blue economy is an economy driven by and for water. One resource has the ability, if used properly and efficiently (after all, it is finite.), to drive an entire economy. Michigan, for example, has coastal and inland communities that depend on water for a variety of reasons, such as tourism, manufacturing and agriculture. It just so happens that all three examples make up Michigan’s three largest industries.

According to Austin, jobs in the blue economy are “driven around water innovation and research, water technology on a global level, health, fresh water treatment, and/or conservation of fresh water.”

Michigan, when you stop and think about it, is surrounded by bodies of fresh water that can fuel a “blue economy.”

Austin stated, “Currently, Michigan relies on water for Great Lakes commerce shipping and receiving and warehousing, which is said to provide approximately 65,000 jobs. An additional 660,000 jobs are in large industries, such as agriculture and manufacturing. Tourism is said to provide nearly 200,000 jobs in the Great Lakes state.”

After all, food, goods and services are essential components to modern-day living.

Austin later went on to discuss the potential for this emerging blue economy and why it has relevance for Michigan. It is a resource that helps define community and place by providing an attractive place to live and recreation near or on the water. Coastal tourism alone, he later said, provides nearly 50,000 jobs. In addition, water innovation and technology as well as water-based economic development in Michigan provide nearly 1 million jobs. Statewide, clean-up of rivers and coastline restoration is proving to serve as a long-term economic development strategy, as the final results can draw people into the community alongside shorelines.

Port Huron, for example, where Michigan State University Extension of St. Clair County is based, is transitioning their community to make it more inviting by restoring a large portion of the water front and opening it up as a park. Austin does make note of Port Huron’s recent progress to bridge placemaking with the restoration efforts that can contribute to the area’s “blue economy.”

Austin finished his interview by commenting on Michigan’s past and potential progressive future. He went on to mention that because of Michigan’s pioneer efforts to clean the great lakes they have the opportunity to help developing countries clean up their industrial waste in their water systems. Michigan can become the leader in the energy and water efficiency industry and be part of the global solution while benefiting economically from it via job creation and innovation. 

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