Michigan Looks Forward and Sees a New, Blue Economy

Lake Michigan & Cloudy Sky.  Photography by J. Carl Ganter.Business and government leaders in Southeast Michigan want to move beyond the green economy to a blue one, leveraging the state’s plentiful freshwater access for its economic advantage.

And the state’s lieutenant governor plans to make that pitch overseas when he heads to the Middle East Saturday.

At a conference outside Detroit Tuesday morning, the Engineering Society of Detroit and the University Of Michigan-Dearborn hosted a presentation called “Blue Economy: Turning Michigan’s Freshwater Into Renewed Prosperity.” Panelists included Lt. Governor John Cherry, who spoke about the potential to turn the Great Lakes state into a global freshwater supplier status.

“It has been said that ‘water is the oil of the 21st Century’,” Cherry said in his remarks to the conference. “And so the Great Lakes state and its great learning and research institutions can also be at the center of developing the water conservation, management, cleaning and treatment technologies the world needs.”

“Water technology and tools to conserve, treat, measure, monitor and smartly manage this precious, finite fuel for life is a growing, $500 billion global business,” he added. “Ninety percent of China’s urban water is polluted, and they are looking for help. Las Vegas in the West and Georgia in the East are crying for water, and wasting what they have.”

“All of these circumstances are an opportunity for Michigan and the Great Lakes to lead the way in solving regional and national problems of water and sustainability; to develop the new technologies and jobs based on cleaning and stewardship of this precious resource.”

Cherry noted that the opportunity carries responsibilities to also safeguard the state’s freshwater.

“As we put our water to use in the Great Lakes, we also put this life-giving resource at risk—through pollution, toxins, water-fouling plants and brownfield sites,” he warned. “For example, our trade with the world also brought in exotic species that changed the complexion of these waters.”

Any use of water for economic growth, according to Cherry, must be accompanied by four goals: water that is not toxic or quarantined by past damage; beaches that are not closed due to sewer overflows; native Great Lakes fish that are abundant and safe to eat; and wetlands, dunes and beaches to filter damaging sediments and afford public access and enjoyment.

Cherry and other state officials head to Israel and the United Arab Emirates this weekend on a week-long trip to deliver that message in person to Israeli businesses, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. Cherry will be accompanied by officials with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The trip follows Cherry’s announcement of a “Green Jobs for Blue Waters” initiative earlier this year to market Michigan’s water management expertise, workforce and manufacturing base.

Cherry’s Middle East trip also follows an investment mission by Governor Jennifer Granholm. Last year Granhom met with Israeli government and company officials to form water-technology partnerships and encourage investment in Michigan.

Panel participants at Tuesday’s conference talked about creating an organization called NextWater to shepherd the development of the new “blue economy.” The name and mission are modeled after NextEnergy, a nonprofit launched in Detroit in 2002 to serve as a research catalyst and business accelerator for alternative and renewable energy.

Crain’s Detroit Business quoted Christopher Webb, co-director of the Engineering Society Of Detroit Institute, as saying that Michigan’s water resources can promote growth in battery, semiconductor, biotechnology and other industries.

“The world is thirsty for water, and Michigan is thirsty for jobs,” Webb said.

Sources: Crain’s Detroit Business, WWJ Newsradio 950, Lt. Governor John Cherry

Read more about the U.S. Water Scarcity and more about global water views and climate change.

This article has been updated since its original publish date

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