Buffalo, NY Struggling to Join Waterfront Revolution

Like a growing number of Great Lakes cities, developers in Buffalo, NY have a $750 million plan to add new housing, commercial space, and recreational opportunities to a long-abandoned harbor. But the deal is in trouble due to possible environmental concerns on the property, according to a recent report by Buffalo News Staff Reporter Sharon Linstedt.

"This is the people's waterfront and it's our responsibility to finally make something happen out there," said Gregory Stamm, chairman of the Niagra Frontier Transportation Authority, the agency concernd about liabilities associated with potential pollution lingering at the site.

Modern Mobility

The first mass transit line linking commuters in the suburban City of Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis took a big step forward this week when the Federal Transit Administration approved the project to move into the final design phase.

When service begins in 2009, the $307 million Northstar line will be 40 miles long and carry an estimated 5,600 daily riders on cars equipped with power stations for laptops and on-board bathrooms. The new service will also help the greater Minneapolis metropolitan area reduce traffic congestion and related pollution, stimulate private investment around six major stations, and strengthen its competitive edge in the global economy.

"Northstar is an important piece of Minnesota's transportation future," Governor Tim Pawlenty said. "It will add more transportation capacity in one of the fastest-growing areas of the state and get commuters to work and home faster."

Free Parking in Ferndale, MI...

...but only if you drive a fuel-efficient vehicle that gets 30 MPG or better, according to a new ordinance passed by city officials. The ordinance, detailed in today's Detroit Free Press by staff writer Frank Witsil, aims to provide a financial incentive for residents to adopt more sustainble consumer behaviors.

“We’re all hurting with the high gas prices and this is a small, symbolic step to send a message: We care about progress,” said Craig Covey, the Ferndale council member who proposed the ordinance.

In related news, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm aims to put Michigan at the center of the alternative fuel future. Her latest goal is to have 1,000 biofuel pumps in the state by 2008.

Battle Creek, MI Part of Waterfront Revolution

Private developers are investing millions into downtown Battle Creek, transforming the city from a tumbleweed Rust Belt town into a happenin' place for people to live, work, and hang. One project includes 24 riverfront condos ranging in price from $110,000 to $300,000. Now if you could only swim in the river.

``Young individuals want an environment that gives them an urban experience to live, work and walk downtown,'' said George Erickcek, an economist with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.

Something to Drink About

Great Lakes cities are on the outside looking in when it comes to Forbes.com's list of the Top 10 Best Places To Do Business or the Best Places for Singles. But they sure do party.

When it comes to America's Drunkest Cities, Forbes taps the Great Lakes region as the undisputed leader:
  1. Milwaukee, WI
  2. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
  3. Columbus, OH

Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh took 6, 7, and 8.

Surprise Surprise

Reducing the amount of mercury pumped into the atmosphere also decreases the presence of methylmercury, a toxic organic form of mercury, that rains on lakes and rivers making the consumption of freshwater fish a health hazard. That according to a recent study published online at Environmental Science and Technology.

The Power to Change

Few political leaders are doing as much as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to advance a modern energy policy in the Great Lakes region. Earlier this week, Gov. Blagojevich, a Democrat in puruit of a second term this November, made two important announcements prompted by rising fuel costs, U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as a legitimate concern for public health, the profitability of American farms, and the cleanliness of the Great Lakes.

On Monday, the Governor struck a deal with a major Illinois utility to slash mercury pollution and reduce smokestack exhaust, a key source of smog and soot. The deal is the second such agreement the Blagojevich administration has brokered in recent weeks with a major power provider and it comes as business lobbyists across the region contend such tight-fisted standards will sink the economy.

Then, on Tuesday, the Governor announced a $1.2 billion plan to wean Illinois off foreign petro products and reshape the state energy portfolio with homegrown alternative fuels, such as ethanol generated from corn husks and wood pulp.

Meanwhile, across the region, developers plan to erect eight giant wind turbines on the abandoned site of Bethlehem Steel in Buffalo, NY.

Entreprenurial Attraction

Entreprenuer Magazine just released its 12th annual Hot Cities report, which measures the best places for entreprenuers to do business. Attracting talented workers requires, among other things, vibrant and convenient cities, a population that's racially and economically diverse, and a clean environment, especially access to water and water-related activities. Cleary, the Great Lakes region has some work to do.

Not one big city from the region ranked in a Top 10 list that includes Memphis, Las Vegas, and Nashville. The Chicago-Gary-Kenosha super region scored the best, coming in 12. Then its Milwaukee-Racine at 18; Cleveland-Akron at 23; and Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland at 26.

Detroit, the largest city in the nation without legitimate mass rapid transit and the wounds of racial strife that just won't seem to heal, came in at 29.

Grand Vision

Welcome Lansing, the capitol city of Michigan, to the waterfront revolution.

Mayor Virg Bernero recently established a committee of 72 people and charged it with developing a plan to reclaim the parking lots and forgotten old buildings - the great omnipresent pillars of the Rust Belt society - that litter the banks of the Grand River. The effort already is attracting interest from developers on the east and west coasts, as well as Chicago and Germany.

Read all about in a piece by Thomas P. Morgan in today's Lansing City Pulse, the local alternative paper.

Bono on America's Heart

"There's a moral compass in the heart of this country that sets the tone for the rest of nation," said Bono, lead singer of U2, discussing Midwestern values in a recent speech to the Grand Rapids Economic Club.

With the 2008 presidential election quickly approaching, one wonders if politically all-important states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan can guide the national agenda in a more responsible direction. The leadership in the U.S. clrearly is distracted by exceedingly expensive foreign wars, fraud in Congress, and meaningless issues like steriods in baseball.

Those agenda items continue to detract time, attention, and funding away from the most important challenges facing the Great Lakes region and the nation as a whole: Generating jobs. Modernizing education and healthcare. And investing in new technologies like alternative fuels and basic community infrastructure such as sewers that keep rivers clean, internet access, and mass transit to speed the transition to a modern knowledge economy.

The Conservative Approach

Pressed by dwindling supplies, the City of Waukesha, WI is becoming a regional leader in water conservation. Kollin Kosmicki reports in yesterday's Great Milwaukee Today that the city is poised to reduce its annual water use by 10 percent. The city also likely will experience lower energy costs and reduced spending on purification materials as it process less water.

If nothing else, the city is proving that improved management of existing water demand is possible, and a legitimate alternative to relying solely on finding new sources of water, building more pumps and purification stations, and withdrawing ever more water.

The Waukesha findings come as Lake County, IL launches a $48,000 study to determine how the community will meet growing water demand. One wonders if conservation will be considered as a practical recommendation.

"It's no secret that as villages and population continue to grow in the region, we're certainly going to need more and more water," said Wes Walsh, the director of public works in the Village of Lindenhurst.

Casualty of War

Government officials estimate the price of war in Iraq ranges between $6 and $9 billion per month. It's staggering to think of the financial resources such heavy spending drains away from schools and universities, economic development programs, and basic community infrastructure like roads, sewers, and internet in the United States.

Another casualty of the war is a visionary plan to restore the nation's oasis, the Great Lakes. Public officials say the plan is essential to modernize the regional economy, safeguard public health, cleanup the environment, and improve the quality of life in the heart of the nation. But, they also say in unison, there's no money to fund it.

Obviously, federal, state, and local governments spend plenty of tax-payer dollars. The cost of the war now exceeds $307 billion, according to the National Priorities Project and government documents. In fact, based on the most conservative estimate, four months of spending on the war would fully fund the proposed Great Lakes cleanup. Take a few more months of war funding and we could network the entire region with high-speed train lines that connect all major cities, reduce traffic congestion in places like Detroit and Chicago, and improve mobility across the second most productive regional economy in the country.

Money is available to do just about whatever is needed. It's a matter of setting priorities and investing strategically for the future.

NE Ohio Joins the Waterfront Revolution

The latest indication of how quickly and universally Great Lakes communities are realizing that water is one strategic key to the region's 21st century prosperity comes from Lake County, Ohio, where a local commission has unveiled a $77 million plan to revitalize the Lake Erie shoreline.

"I think, finally, Ohio is catching on that its greatest resource is the lakefront and Lake Erie," said U.S. Representative Steven LaTourette from Concord Township. "We were embarrassed by Wisconsin and Chicago. But now we see it's a potential millions of dollars in economic impact and dramatic increase in the quality of life."

So local officials have a plan to cleanup the lakefront, attract new residents and businesses, and transform their economy for the Digital Age. So does Muskegon, MI, Racine, WI, Cleveland, OH, Gary, IN, and countless others. Now they need the money to execute it. So does Muskegon, MI, Racine, WI, Cleveland, OH, Gary IN, and countless others.

Meanwhile, the $20 billion Great Lakes restoration plan struggles to rise as a top priority for state and federal officials.

New Mexico Gets Water Savvy

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson issued a call for "big ideas" to solve his state's water crisis, according to a report in today's Free New Mexican.

How did top water thinkers in the state respond? They called for installing modern technology to clean and recycle wastewater; revising government regulations to encourage - rather than discourage - farmers to use the latest water-saving equipment; and establishing a business incubator to develop new water-conserving products and services.

New Mexico seems poised to join Arizona as the second U.S. state seriously thinking about how to attract and grow companies that develop, commercialize, and implement modern water-friendly technologies. It's a smart move. Water-related equipment and services already make up a $400 billion market, according to expert estimates.

Yet the conversation about targeting the emerging industry as a growth sector is hardly underway in the Great Lakes region. Political leaders and economic development officials in the Rust Belt settle for the water-bottling industry, and give little thought to the broader spectrum of companies and opportunities now organizing around improved water stewardship.

Kudos to GM

In the face of fierce global competition, shrinking market share, and mass layoffs, General Motors is emerging as a leader among automotive companies in the pursuit to achieve sustainability, according to a recent report on GreenBiz.com.

And that commitment is having a direct effect on the company's competitiveness and bottom line. Consider General Motors’ Warren Transmission plant, near Detroit, which recently installed a new water treatment system that tripled the efficiency of its water use and reduced annual water needs by 1.2 million gallons. The move also cut costs at the plant by $2,200 a year.

General Motors actually cut overall water use at its Michigan facilities by more than 15 percent from 2000 to 2003, according to company records. The Pontiac Assembly plant, for example, slashed the amount of water purchased and sent back to the wastewater treatment plant by 52,000 gallons per year. The Orion Assembly plant dialed its water demand back 12 percent. And the Saginaw Metal Casting Operation began reusing more than 20 million gallons of treated wastewater every day, a change that also limited discharges to the Saginaw River.

“If you’re producing waste,” said Susan Kelsey, GM’s manager of environmental services in southeast Michigan, “you’re losing money.”

Corporation Water

Waste Not, Want Not

Great Lakes residents have long feared that it will be the parched people of distant lands like Arizona, California, and Asia who would seek to siphon water off the Great Lakes system. But clearly the more immediate challege is much closer to home, as evidenced by Darryl Enriquez's latest report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailing the ongoing saga of Waukesha, WI to find more water.

The rapidly growing suburb of Milwaukee already pumps groundwater faster than nature replenishes it. But conservation is rarely mentioned as a legitimate solution to stimulate new development. Instead of carefully scrutinizing and managing current demand, many communities across the region rely soley on finding new sources of water, adding more pumps, constructing ever-larger pipes and purification stations, and withdrawing ever more water. Ultimately, that strategy costs residents and local governments money and puts globally unique natural resources such as the Great Lakes at risk.

There is another way. As the costs of maintaining public water and sewer service escalate, astute leaders across the nation are shifting the focus away from an exclusive reliance on building more pumping stations and pipelines and towards making existing systems operate more efficiently.

One stark example: The number of Seattle Water Department customers grew by 20 percent from 1980 to the mid 1990's. But metro area water needs essentially remained unchanged. How? A modern plumbing code, rates designed to encourage conservation, and other innovative strategies. In fact, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the City of Santa Monica, CA, and the City of Houston, TX all have demonstrated that thrifty -- more sustainable -- use of water actually grows and strengthens the economy for businesses, homowners, and governments alike.

Cleaning up the Mercury Mess

The Great Lakes offer some of the best freshwater fishing in the world. But, strengthening the Rust Belt perception, rock bass, perch, crappie, large- and small-mouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskie caught across much of the region are virtually unedible due to the serious health implications stemming from decades of mercury pollution that continues to this day. No more than one meal per week, health officials say.

As expected, old-line business lobbyists resist common-sense programs to dramatically reduce the threat, cleanup the lakes, and protect human health, according to an insightful report from Associated Press reporter John Flesher.

"We're already the only nation on the planet regulating mercury, and Michigan wants to go beyond the federal requirement. Talk about a competitive disadvantage," said Michael Johnston, regulatory affairs director for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, in response to a state plan requiring power companies to cutback mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015.

Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania have set similiar goals. But lobbyists apparently prefer a much slower Bush Administration plan to reduce emissions by 70 percent by 2018. They say anything more aggressive would cost too much money to implement, dramatically retard job growth in the region, and severely jack up energy costs.

Meanwhile, a second Flesher report reveals industry officials aren't buying the can't do attitude.

"I'm confident we can make this work," said Steven Derenne, an engineer with Milwaukee-based We Energies.

Going Green in Chicago

When Chicago Mayor Richard Daley made achieving sustainability -- and especially improving water stewardship -- a citywide priority, critics said business would suffer, taxes would rise, and jobs would run. As it turns out, the critics were exactly wrong.

"The situation is much clearer today," Mayor Daley told a conference of Great Lakes mayors in 2004. "We have learned that protecting the environment makes sense both economically and politically. We've learned over the past 15 years that you can actually save money on taxes, business, and household expense by basically paying attention to the environment."

"When we let stormwater run into the ground rather than the sewers we save money on sewer repairs and cut down flooding," the mayor told me after his speech. "When we adopt road-building techniques that keep salt, soil, and gas from flowing into our lakes and rivers we keep our beaches clean and save money on water treatment. When we help business improve their manufacturing process to reduce water use they save money, which keeps them competitive and strenghtens the overall economy."

"At the same time," Mayor Daley added, "we enhance our quality of life, which builds pride in our communities and helps us attract new employers, residents, and tourists, all ingredients of a strong local economy."

Those comments came some two years ago now. But the Mayor's work continues to gain widespread attention. Friend and colleague Keith Schneider recently published a piece in the New York Times highlighting the Mayor's plan to turn Chicago into the "greenest city in America." And Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen recently published an article in the Washington Post describing how the mayor's ideas are moving into the mainstream.

Create Jobs, Fix Sewers

Like most Great Lakes cities, Grand Rapids, MI has been busy shedding manufacturing jobs. In fact, the city lost a total of 11,600 manufacturing jobs from 1995 to 2005, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution.

Fortunately, the city also launched a major sewer renovation project during that trying time. The work, when finished, will have invested more than $350 million to modernize the sewer system and generated approximately 16,450 jobs, according to estimates prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers which project 47,000 jobs created for every $1 billion of public speding to improve basic infrastructure like roads and water systems. The overarching goal of the project in Grand Rapids is to separate pipes carrying human sewage from pipes carrying storm water and protect the quality of the Grand River.

Milwaukee lost 29,700 manufacturing jobs from 1995 to 2005, according to Brookings. Cleveland lost 52,700. Detroit lost 87,700. These and other Great Lakes cities need jobs. They also generally have crumbling sewers. Fixing those systems is one way to put people back to work.

In fact, the federal government alone could generate some 350,000 jobs throughout the region if it embraced a 2005 plan to restore the Great Lakes and followed the recommendation to earmark $7.5 billion for repairing outdated sewer systems. State governments could generate tens of thousands more employment opportunities if they chipped in the recommended $6.2 billion in matching funds for the infrastructure overhaul.

Yet, even as they express commitment to reversing the job losses and economic decline in the Midwest, the president, Congressional leaders, and state officials fail to make the restoration plan a top priority. That's principally because they view the plan as an expensive one-dimensional environmental cleanup program. Not as a key piece of the region's 21st century economic development strategy.

Aqueous Economy

The market for clean water and the knowledge and technologies to sustain steady supplies in the United States alone will be worth at least $150 billion by 2010, according to a report by Claudia Deutsch in today's New York Times.

Entrepreneurs in the Great Lakes have begun to recognize the opportunity. In April 2006, approximately a dozen business leaders submitted water-related proposals to Michigan's 21st Century Jobs Fund, a $100 million initiative designed to funnel public investment toward high-tech companies, generate modern employment opportunities, and diversify the economy. Five of those proposals survived an intense review process managed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and will compete with 179 finalists for funding.

Applied BioSensors, Inc. seeks venture capital to commercialize a more effective water quality testing device. Syed Hashsham, an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Michigan State University, is developing a computer chip capable of detecting some 50 toxins that threaten water quality. And John McCulloch, the Oakland County Drain Commissioner, aims to establish the Michigan Drinking Water Protection Technology Incubator.

"The firms who get the new equipment to market first win," said Jim Ridgeway, who heads a Detroit-based environmental consulting firm working on the proposed incubator project. "This [industry] could be worth a ton. There is a tremendous opportunity in Michigan to take our existing knowledge, leverage that knowledge, and develop, test, and commercialize the new technologies."

Winners will be announced in September. But in Michigan, Wisconsin, and other Great Lakes states the water industry typically means pumping water out of the ground, packaging it in plastic bottles, and shipping it away in semi trucks. Developing the skilled workforce, manufacturing the products, or commercializing the new ideas to improve water management is hardly a consideration.

It's a prime example of how the region is struggling to transition from an economy defined by extracting and exploiting natural resources (think fur pelts and lumber) to a more modern marketplace defined by high technology, new information, and invention.

Water Works

Access to clean fresh water already is becoming the defining issue of global warming in the western United States. And as population growth, pollution, and other global mega-trends steadily drive up worldwide demand, the abundant supplies available in the Great Lakes -- and the knowledge about how to manage them -- are the region's ace in the global economy. There are several ways to leverage the unique competitive advantage in the pursuit of 21st century prosperity:

1) To retain and grow existing industries. Ready access to clean, accessible lakes and rivers shore up traditional economic sectors like tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing. The Great Lakes region, for example, supports 60 percent of the nation's manufacturing industry.

2) To gain an edge in the global competition for modern companies and talented workers. The new economy uses information as its essential raw material and is defined by technology and mobility. Companies and their workers are no longer bolted to a specific place by the need for natural resources like iron ore. They can be almost anywhere. As a result, quality of life, and especially access to water and water-related activities, continually ranks among the critical assets employees and executives cite in choosing where to live and do business.

3) To spur new industry. Water is a booming business. Worldwide, annual industry revenues are estimated at $300 billion. And entreprenuers in the Great Lakes region now are discovering that there is a lucrative worldwide market for new ideas to clean and conserve water. Check out Falcon WaterFree Technologies or Sensicore.

Tax Liabilities, Not Benefits of Business

As it debates the development of a more effective business tax structure, Michigan has an historic opportunity to inspire cutting-edge innovation, accelerate job creation, stregthen the economy, and enhance its quality of life.

One challenge is to shift taxation away from economic benefits such as job creation and profits and toward activities such as pollution and waste that degrades communities and ultimately cost taxpayers real money.

Michigan and other Great Lakes states also must establish other economic incentives that strongly encourage manufacturers, farmers, and cities to proactively pursue sustainable practices. Incentives might include tax credits, low-interest loans, matching grants, accelerated permitting, and similiar policies that reward reductions in pollution, more effective use of natural resources, waterfront rehabilitation, and other activities that have far-reaching fiscal, ecological, and cultural benefits.

Smart Consolidation

Voters elect 537 people to run the entire United States. (1 president, 1 vice president, 100 senators, and 435 representatives.)

In their regular elections, voters in Kent County, MI elect 637 people -- 100 more than the whole United States -- to run 47 local units of government (1 county, 12 cities, 29 townships, and 5 villages.) The estimate is that more than $650 million is spent each year by the numerous and individual mayors, supervisors, village presidents, city managers, deputy managers, planning directors, police chiefs, fire chiefs, attorneys, clerks, etc. (Grand Rapids, Michigan's second largest city, is the county seat.)

In an effort to save tens of millions of dollars every year, a small group of local officials pushed during the mid 1990's to more effectively coordinate government. Streamlining current services by just 5 percent, they figured, could save everybody some $30 million annually and make life easier for businesses and residents alike.

A solid, fiscally responsible argument to be sure, especially as state and local budgets go broke. But Kent County and its various jurisdictions failed to change, and the discussion now is dead. Perhaps Milwaukee County, WI, located on the opposite side of Lake Michigan, will have better luck as officials there launch a similiar debate.

Ending the Exodus Myth

Popular media does a splendid job of reporting that young, talented students flee Michigan, Ohio, and other Great Lakes states in droves for more modern cities and job opportunities elsewhere in the country. But that's only half the story.

The other half is about homecomings, family roots, and building a future rather than chasing it around from state to state. Contrary to popular perception, Michigan retains a greater percentage of its native population when compared with other states in the nation, according to 2000 U.S. Census data. Nearly 94 percent of the people who reported living in the state in 1995 still resided there in 2000.

What's more, according to Ken Darga, a demographer with the Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, Michigan is tops in the country at holding on to kids through age 19; the state is third best at retaining its own 20 year olds; and it ranks first when it comes to keeping people ranging in age from 30-54 years old.

So are people really running away from Michigan and the Rust Belt? Just read what young graduates like Leah Johnson have to say.

The Next Industrial Revolution

A growing movement of business and civic leaders strive to establish the idea of sustainability as the central organizing principle for economic growth in the Great Lakes region. Sustainability is both a philosophy and a practice. It means a form of development that is able to continue indefinitely, simultaneously boosting profits, building social equity, and enhancing - rather than steadily degrading - the natural environment. Even amidst huge financial losses and massive layoffs, GM and Ford now embrace so-called green building practices.

Yet, surprisingly, few candidates for governor are embracing the vocabulary and framework of sustainability. Mike Hatch, the Democratic challenger to Minnesota's incumbent Governor Tim Pawlenty, has drafted a lengthy agenda on how his state can achieve energy independence and better balance economic and environmental goals. He's one of the few actually using the term 'sustainability.'

Other sitting governors and candidates for high office in the region talk separately about developing alternative fuels, protecting the environment, or growing the economy. But few have connected all the dots in one strategic agenda for action that will help plug the region into the global movement toward sustainability. Meanwhile, states like Arizona, California, and Oregon are actively promoting the concept to drive the development of new industries and prosper in the global economy.

Who's leading the movement in the Great Lakes region? Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, a growing number of businesses like Herman Miller, and the grassroots.

A Shore Thing

The race to remodel the Rustbelt is on. And Chicago clearly remains in the lead. The city just announced a new 1.3 mile park along Lake Michigan for hiking and cycling. But Cleveland, Gary, Detroit, Milwaukee, Duluth, Buffalo, Toronto, they all have waterfront redevelopment plans too. One entreprenuer in Toledo already is operating river taxis. In fact, wherever you look in the Great Lakes region cities are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to cleanup up riverfronts, restore lakefronts, and reorient their communities around the water resource.

They are tearing down obsolete factories, redesigning highways, and reclaiming polluted properties to provide more access and opportunity at the waterfront. The phenomenon is perhaps the most visible sign of the increasingly important role that clean, fresh water plays in the region's push to improve quality life, attract talented workers and modern companies, and boost global competitiveness.

Mega Midwest

Despite losing more than three million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005, the urban corridor stretching from Chicago to Pittsburgh remains the second most powerful economic center in the world according to a recent article by Richard Florida, author of the 2002 best-seller The Rise of the Creative Class.

Defined by clusters of hardworking metropolitan areas like Cleveland and Detroit, talented people, and a spirit of innovation, the super region generates approximately $2.3 trillion in economic activity each year. That's second only to the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, which produces approx. $2.5 trillion in annual economic activity.

Florida refers to these super regions as a Mega, or "a vast expanse of trade, transport, innovation, and talent." He also suggests that Mega regions are the new organizing unit of the global economy, not nations, states, or cities. Florida counts 20 Megas worldwide, including Beijing to Shanghai, the Euro-sunbelt stretching from Barcelona to Marseille, and So-Cal running from L.A. to San Diego across the border to Tijuana.

The principal challenge confronting the Great Lakes Mega as it pursues prosperity in the new knowledge economy is to think like a unified region, rather than a disparate group of competing individuals, cities, and states.

Rust Remover

In the midst of heavy job losses, outsourcing, busted budgets, and other dismal economic trends, leaders across the Great Lakes have reached a consensus about the need to redefine the region’s identity and purpose in the global marketplace. Yet none of the 15 candidates vying for governor in the region's 2006 election have seized on the Great Lakes restoration issue as a strategic opportunity to achieve economic success.

The Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes, adopted in December 2005 by a coalition of federal agencies, mayors, business leaders, and tribes, calls for new policies and a $20 billion-plus investment to improve environmental cleanliness and sensitivity. But the massive public works project also has the potential to stimulate the economy. It would put tens of thousands of people to work today, quicken the pace of urban revitalization, generate new business opportunities, spur the jobs of the future, and dramatically enhance the region’s ability to compete in the global knowledge economy.

The trouble is that Congress is reluctant to fund the initiative. And candidates for governor so far aren't talking about or pushing the issue. They express a universal theme about the need to lure talented workers, attract high tech companies, generate good paying jobs, and strengthen competitiveness. But not one publicly promotes the power of rehabbing the globally unique Great Lakes ecosystem as a reasonable means to kickoff that entirely necessary 21st century development strategy.

Incumbent Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D)
Judy Barr Topinka (R)

Incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D)
Dick DeVos (R)

Incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R)
Mike Hatch (D)

New York
Eliot Spitzer (D)
Tom Suozzi (D)
John Faso (R)

Ken Blackwell (R)
Ted Strickland (D)

Incumbent Gov. Ed Rendell (D)
Lynn Swann (R)

Incumbet Gov. Jim Doyle (D)
Mark Green (R)

What's the Big Idea?

To compete successfully in the global economy, a modern development strategy for the Great Lakes region must include much more aggressive investment in:

  • Education to retrain and nurture a talented workforce and attract high tech companies.
  • Modern infrastructure like mass rapid transit to improve regional mobility and spur the revitalization of central cities; internet access; and alternative fuel sources that move society beyond the Age of Oil.
  • Streamlining and coordinating government to eliminate inefficency and redundancy in city halls and state capitols.
  • Rehabilitation of the globally unique waters of the Great Lakes ecosystem to enhance quality of life.