End or Beginning

If the future of Great Lakes society depends in part on reanimating the spirit of industrial innovation, embracing clean energy, and renewed environmental conciousness, then last week was not a good week for the campaign to transform the Rust Belt into the Blue Belt.

A quick news analysis reveals the region as a whole continues to move much too slowly towards deploying the basic infrastructure of a modern economy. Even more troubling, some decision makers seem content on perpetuating the outdated practices of a waning industrial era, rather than shaping a new destiny defined by creativity, determination, growth, and prosperity.

We begin in Kalkaska, MI, where 'Officials Hope to Woo Water Bottlers,' according to a recent headline in the Record Eagle. Apparently the good ole boys in Northern Michigan still think economic development is about attracting companies that mine natural resources from the ground, rather than luring modern businesses and retooling the workforce to generate new ideas for a global knowledge economy.

"A lot of those oil-field boys could kind of cross over. Instead of pumping oil, pump water," said John Wheeler, a local official."

"Is this the 21st century Michigan we want," asked David Holtz of Clean Water Action.

Jumping over to New York, the Hamlin Town Board approved a one-year moratorium on new energy producing wind turbines. "This moratorium will give our committee time to thoroughly discuss the facts without the fear of a developer coming in tomorrow," Supervisor Denny Roach told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Granted, the move buys time to write a responsible wind power policy. But it shouldn't be driven by fear. Wind is increasingly regarded as a no-brainer when it comes to diversifying America's energy portfolio, protecting air quality, and generating modern jobs. The market, not part-time local officials, will determine if Hamlin is a good place to generate wind energy. Government should serve as a catalyst, rather than a barrier, for that private investment.

On to Waukegan, IL, where the effort to restore the harbor, add hundreds of millions of dollars in property value to the tax rolls, and revitalize the community is threatened by Gov. Blagojevich's budget proposal, which cut $4 million in state matching funds for the approx. $36 million project.

The out-of-touch move comes amidst mounting consensus that restoring the Great Lakes and its globally unique tributary waters is one of the most important things the region can do to wave bye-bye to its Rust Belt image, attract talented workers, and compete more effectively in the global economy.

Indeed, rather than illustrating the beginning of a bold new era for the greater Great Lakes, last week more characterized the ineffectual leadership that's slowing the region's return to economic, cultural, and environmental primacy.