Blog: John Austin

John Austin is our guest blogger this week. John is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education.

John has been examining the economic strengths and opportunities of the Great Lakes region as detailed in the Brookings Institution report: The Vital Center, A Federal- State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region

Post No. 3

One of our greatest economic assets --and a potential platform for growth-- are the environmental attributes of our region. 

As the nation’s “North Coast,” the Great Lakes possess unique natural resources and amenities that matter to today’s knowledge economy. 

The Great Lakes themselves include one-fifth of the world’s freshwater (a scarce global asset) – giving us the natural infrastructure to support long-term sustainable grow. With plentiful fresh water and lack of natural disasters that mark the Sunbelt and other U.S. coasts (hurricanes, earthquakes), our economic development is less vulnerable and more efficiently sustainable.

Today’s knowledge worker values the opportunity to live and work with access to a clean, green environment. The 10,900 miles of Great Lakes coastline --along with our rivers, forests, inland lakes and scenic areas-- provide for a rich quality of life. We have a large number of recreation/environment-based economic activities (tourism, boating, fishing, outdoor sports, etc.), as well as opportunities for water-based commercial and residential development.

 To support national sustainable development, and the growth of populations and the economy in the Great Lakes region—the nation and region should build out this “North Coast." This would require developing strategic water-based economic projects, cross-state branding, promotion of the region initiatives, improved public access to lakes and waterways, and effective federal state compact to clean up the Great Lakes.