Please Pass the Rust Remover

Whether it was coined by Walter Mondale in a 1984 presidential campaign attack against incumbent Ronald Reagan, or conjured up by some slick advertising executive in the sun states, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett yesterday called on Great Lakes leaders to strike the phrase 'Rust Belt' from the regional vocabulary. Changing the language, he said, could help change the perception. And that's a big part of re-igniting the civic spirit and setting a more prosperous course for the Midwest and nation.

"My request is to never use the words 'Rust Belt' again," said Mayor Barrett, in a brief speech at a forum organized by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "Let's throw it away. One of the challenges we have [in the Great Lakes region] is how we view ourselves and how we present ourselves."

Instead, Mr. Barrett recommended branding the region as the 'Fresh Coast,' on account of all the water. Others at the forum suggested 'Tech Belt,' to call attention to the region's emerging technology industries. The boys at Brookings like 'North Coast,' putting the region in a league with the heavy hitters in the East and West. This blog advocates for 'Blue Belt' to conjure images of a much cleaner, healthier, and successful society.

Whatever the name, Mayor Barrett's comments, which drew thunderous applause from the crowd of economists, policy wonks, and interested citizens, channel a new attitude that's emerging in the region and now beginning to overcome all the self-pity, hopelessness, and negative energy.

I first encountered this renewed sense of pride and optimism last fall on a reporting trip in Cleveland. I was in town to investigate the city's revitalization strategy. Like many Great Lakes cities, downtown Cleveland has experienced incredible population loss and disinvestment.

But the city also is taking steps to rebuild itself and set the stage for a new century of prosperity. Civic leaders have an ambitious plan to rehab the waterfront on Lake Erie. They're building enhanced mass transit services down the Euclid Corridor. New hospitals and medical research labs are rising from the ground. And several urban neighborhoods are experiencing significant reinvestment.

So I had lunch with leaders of the 20/30 Club, a group organized by local young professionals to help their city attract and retain young professionals, to understand if the city is on the right track. I asked Brian Klecan, the group's president, and others members what Cleveland needed to do to raise its quality of life and compete for top talent.

Surprisingly, Klecan and the others to a person basically said 'nothing.' Cleveland is hot, they said, it's a great place to live. We just need to tell people about it.

Klecan went on to say that Cleveland has all sorts of impressive assets - three major league sports franchises, worldclass museums, Lake Erie, thriving music, arts, culinary, and theatre scenes, a university, and that hard-nosed Middle American work ethic. What's important, he said, is building on and promoting those strengths.

That's basically what Mayor Barrett said yesterday in DC.

"We have to, as a region, come together and talk about the amenities that we have," he said. "We need to do a much better job at selling our selves. Whether it's Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, or Buffalo, or Detroit, or Milwaukee, or Chicago."

"We used to not have to sell ourselves. But things have changed. The jobs went south. They're going to China. We're in a world economy and we have an obligation now to let people in this country, and people in this world, know why this is a good place to raise families and do business."

Who's Gonna Compete

The pioneers of the Great Lakes' emerging knowledge economy gathered in the nation's capitol today to highlight big, bright, and reasoned ideas about how government can take a more active role in the region's economic, environmental, and social revival.

But Baiju Shah, the young and polished president of BioEnterprise, a Cleveland-based firm that recruits, incubates, and commercializes biotech businesses, was joltingly clear in his assessment of Washington's ability to help bolster the region's prosperity in these early stages of the 21st century.

"The fundamental issue is really the federal legislature's lack of understanding of what it takes to create competitiveness and innovation throughout America," Mr. Shah said. "[The challenge is] to go beyond even early understanding of what the rhetoric is to really thinking about tangible actions."

In other words, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse President John Manzetti, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and all the other new economy early birds the Brookings Institution is organizing can talk until they're blue in the face about deepening investment in higher education, urban revitalization, and Great Lakes restoration.

But if national leaders don't recognize these constantly overlooked and underfunded issues as the cornerstones of any serious agenda to promote modern prosperity in America's Rust Belt and, by extension, the nation as a whole, action will continue to be slow, under scale, and safe to the point of inconsequential. What's more, Mr. Shah is struggling to find any real leadership on the horizon.

"I'm struck that, as we gear up for the 2008 presidential campaign, there's hardly a single major candidate that is talking about the issue of competitiveness and innovation," he said.

Mr. Shah's comments came in a half-day seminar sponsored by the Great Lakes Economic Initiative, a project of the Brookings Institution. The seminar, the first in a series leading up to the 2008 presidential election, aims to indentify federal policy reforms that will boost economic development in one of the more important, but troubled, regions in the United States of America. More on that later. The plane home is boarding.

Beat Down Economics

The beating continues until morale improves.

That's the central message of a thought-provoking report just out from the University of Michigan titled Michigan's Economic Transition: Toward a Knowledge Economy.

The report doesn't ignore the fact that Michigan has shed more than 274,000 manufacturing jobs in the past eight years. But it does cite numerous trends to suggest the state is the midst of economic transformation. Not an economic meltdown.

The report highlights job growth in key 'knowledge economy' sectors such as finance, healthcare, and education. It notes the state is a leader when it comes to churning out highly educated scientists and engineer. It also ranks high in privately funded R&D; employment in high-tech sectors as a percentage of total state employment; and overall R&D intensity. It also provides evidence that Michigan ranks 1st out of 50 states in total jobs generated by new startup businesses.

These and other stats compile a convincing case that "Michigan is undergoing economic diversification during a period of transition from a dying economic model to an emerging one."

The trouble is media reports, policy debates, and popular opinion is dominated by the idea that the state is an economic disaster zone. That negative sense of pessimism and self pity, the authors suggest, now threatens to hold the state's resurgence down.

"If the way forward to a new economy requires talent, entrepreneurialism, innovation, risk-taking, and a more educated workforce," the report states, "then focusing only on negative news will hinder the state's ability to take the positive steps required to reach that brighter future."

"The sense of gloom has to be overcome," the report continues. "The self-image of a rust-belt wasteland has to be replaced by a more complete view of a state in transition. The new economy requires vision, optimism, and hope."

Bioenergy Boost

The campaign to make the Midwest 'ground zero' for alternative energy innovation got a lift today when the United States Department of Energy awarded two of the region's major universities a $125 million grant to establish the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

The center, one of three announced around the nation, is the result of a partnership between the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University. It will be headquartered in Madison and focus on transforming plants into fuel.

“Large scale production of cellulosic biofeuls could usher in a new green economy across the nation," said Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman.

"These centers will provide the transformational science needed for bioenergy breakthroughs to [make] cellulosic ethanol cost competitive with gasoline by 2012 and assist in reducing America’s gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years,” Dr. Bodman added.

Whether this relatively small investment is on the scale necessary to reverse the economic decline of the Rust Belt, or restore America's standing, is doubtful. But every Great Lakes leader with both oars in the water has a plan to pump up energy innovation. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Party affiliations aside, they've all delivered rousing - but provincial - speeches about how their state will be the one to "kick America's dependence on foreign oil."

In the very least, this latest announcement officially unites Michigan and Wisconsin in pursuit of the common goal and illustrates the region has increased power - economic, political, or plant - when the separate states join to act as one.

"The funding of this center provides a unique opportunity for Wisconsin and the Midwest to be leaders in the process that transforms the way we produce and use energy," said UW Professor of Bacteriology Tim Donohue.

“This center is a great achievement for MSU researchers,” said Ian Gray, vice president for research and graduate studies at Michigan State. “Linking the wealth of talent at MSU in plant-related activities with the strengths of researchers at the University of Wisconsin is a dream partnership. This center will have a significant impact on agriculture and manufacturing throughout the Great Lakes region and beyond."

Click here to link to a Webcast of the DOE's announcement.

Michigan Asleep at the Wheel

While Michigan's Congressional delegation has spent the past several years narrowly focused on blocking new fuel efficiency standards to modernize the American automobile, Oregon's political leaders manuevered to secure a lucrative federal grant that could ultimately give rise to a $1 billion sector of the transportation industry.

The case is yet another example of how Michigan's claim of becoming a center of modern mobility technology amounts, at this point, to little more than a circus of big talk, missed opportunity, and little action from the state's politicians, corporate leaders, and news media.

What's the big deal? Today's Portland Oregonian reports how local officials, business executives, and politicians like U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) orchestrated a savvy, multi-year campaign to land a $4 million federal award and build the first modern American-made street car.

Dozens of cities across the nation, following Portland's lead, now are planning to rebuild historic streetcar lines as part of a comprehensive strategy to accelerate urban revitalization, improve quality of life, and boost competitiveness. So the clever people of Portland, who travelled all the way to Czechoslovakia to find streetcars for their now incredibly successful system, figured 'why not build them ourselves.' To them, the idea represented a promising opportunity to pioneer American-made mass transit technology, generate jobs for local manufacturers, and continue to diversify their economy for the 21st century.

The Oregonian's latest report suggests public officials fixed the highly competitive federal bidding process so Portland would win the grant. And the deal does sound a little suspicious. So what. They innovated the idea in the first place.

The point of this post is that neither Michigan nor Detroit are once mentioned in the article. Gomaco Corp of Iowa made a play for the federal funding. So did Pennsylvania-based Brookville Equipment Corp. Inekon, a Czech company, Siemens Transportation Systems, based in Germany, and other foreign competitors also reportedly wanted a shot at the contract.

Where's Ford and GM? Car-dominated Michigan continues to think like a bunch of car salesman, rather than mobility providers, and holds tight to the idea that there's only one way to get around: the automobile. There's certainly a need for affordable, clean cars in the 21st century. Indeed, it could be big business.

But the auto-only approach is increasingly out of touch with a rising number of global mega trends that favor a booming mass transit business. It also threatens to diminish - if it already hasn't - Michigan's standing as a world-reknowned transportation innovator and expert.

Vehicles of Victory

I don't know how much the American automakers are spending on lobbyists to fight higher fuel efficiency standards in the United States. But it's probably a lot. And so far their strategy of resistance appears to be failing. The money would have been better spent to hire Tony Robbins and appoint the self help guru as a strategic corporate advisor.

Robbins has this theory that decisions shape destiny, and that there are three decisions people make every moment of their lives: 1) what am I going to focus on? 2) what does it mean? and 3) What are you going to do?

An example: A man by the name of Lance Armstrong learns he has testicular cancer. What did he decide to focus on after hearing the news? He chose to focus on beating the disease rather than how unfair life can be. What did the news mean to him? It was the beginning of a compelling new challenge rather than the sad end to a good way of life. And what did he decide to do? He went out a won 7 consecutive Tour de France bike races and became the best bicyclist in history.

Apply the line of thought to Ford, GM, and Chrysler. They learn Congress aims to hike fuel economy regulations. What did the companies focus on? They chose to concentrate on the costs of new technology and the burden of government regulation. What, then, did the push to boost fuel standards mean? It meant more expensive cars, job cuts, bureaucracy, stalled economic growth and, according to at least one Republican lawmaker, 'the death of Michigan.' And so what did the automakers decide to do? Launch an all out lobbying blitz to convince the nation's leaders that more stringent fuel economy standards are unnecessary.

Now, what if the Detroit Three - and the Michigan delegation that speaks for them - made different decisions? What if they publicly seized on the national push to improve fuel efficiency as a way to drive innovation, reinvent their broken companies, and set the stage for a new century of profit

What if the Congressional action meant, to them, an opportunity to help America boost homeland security, safeguard the environment, and strengthen 21st competitiveness. Not to mention land some sizable federal funding for R&D.

And what if the car companies, after misjudging the market for a decade, actually started to design, build, and sell the cleanest, greenest, and most inventive line of modern mobility technology the world has even known?

Hard to say what that alternate reality might look like. But I bet national leaders, newspaper headlines, and people in general would celebrate the ingenuis car makers as defenders of the American way - like they did in WW II - rather than lament their loss of political, economic, and technological clout.

How Do You Define 'Clean'

Pere Marquette Beach, located in Muskegon, MI on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a nationally certified clean beach three years running. It's regularly rated one of the more attractive beaches in Michigan. And it's one of two beaches in all the Great Lakes region to be recognized by the nonprofit Clean Beaches Council's Blue Wave Campaign, which promotes clean and safe beaches. (North Beach in Racine, WI is the other.) National Geographic has even been there!

So it's somewhat surprising that health officials closed the stretch of shoreline to the public twice in the past week for pollution and safety-related problems. A potentially hazardous algal bloom kept swimmers out of the water last weekend, when temperatures passed a steamy 90 degrees. And sampling on Tuesday revealed elevated levels of E coli - a common indicator of fecal contamination - and closed the beach for yet another day, according to a report in yesterday's Muskegon Chronicle.

No doubt the Great Lakes are cleaner today than they were 30 years ago. And this event might just be some idiot emptying the head on his Sea Ray. But closing such a highly decorated and relatively isolated beach like Pere Marquette park because of contamination is not only ironic. It's symbolic of the ongoing degradation of the Great Lakes water supply and telling of the work yet to be done.

Toledo, Detroit Take it to the River

It's probably been awhile since the deindustrializing Detroit riverfront was featured as an entertainment or recreation destination. But the Weekend Preview in today's Detroit News says the waterfront is the place to be. That's because the city is set to kickoff a six-day party on its new riverwalk this Friday.

Two years after bulldozing three ugly cement plants, the city is celebrating the opening of a 3.5 mile promenade, the first phase in a $144 million rehab plan for the banks of the Detroit River. The celebration, billed as the biggest waterfront festival in the city's history, also drew an above-the-fold headline in the News that reads Riverfront REBORN.

"This is one of the most important projects our city has experienced," Faye Nelson, president of the RiverFront Conservancy, told the News. "It brings people together."

There's a similiar story unfolding just a short ride south down I75. Civic leaders in Toledo, OH recently announced that funding is nearly in place for a new $25 million public park fronting on the Maumee River. The park is expected to help catalyze and anchor a proposed $320 development that will include restaurants, retail, market-rate housing, and an improved marina.

The promising news coming out of the cities of Detroit, MI and Toledo, OH - two poster kids for the economic and ecological decline of the greater Great Lakes region - is the latest sign that waterfront revitalization increasingly is viewed as a popular strategy to reshape the Rustbelt as a more attractive and prosperous place in the 21st century.

The picture of the Fountain at GM Plaza comes courtesy of photographer John Martin, General Motors, and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy.

Clinton Energizes Conservative Grand Rapids, MI

Michigan's West Coast, with the booming City of Grand Rapids at its center, is one of the more socially and fiscally conservative region's in the United States. But the people there appreciate a straight shooter with hard facts, thoughtful ideas, and a nonpartisan delivery. Especially when it comes to the progressive issue of sustainability, or balancing economic, ecological, and social goals.

That's why former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, received a standing ovation last night after his speech to the largely Republican audience at the local econ club.

Pres. Clinton ranged widely on all the headline issues of the day - terrorism, avian influenza, globalization, and Britney Spears' hairdo. But he reserved a significant portion of his remarks to highlight the benefits of an aggressive energy agenda. In fact, he called the pursuit of energy conservation, efficiency, and innovation a "business deal" where "everybody's going to make money."

"I am convinced that the reason wages have been stagnant and we've continued to lose manufacturing jobs is because we have not taken seriously the opportunities to create a clean, independent energy future," Pres. Clinton said. "I believe if we did it would create millions and millions of new jobs in America."

A recent report from the University of Michigan reinforces and localizes Clinton's optimistic claim. The 564-page report, titled Michigan at a Climate Crossroads, predicts that Michigan can generate some 3,400 jobs and increase the gross state product by an annual average of $380 million by striving to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 84 million metric tons by 2025.

"I believe we'd have the biggest mobilization since America mobilized for WWII," Pres. Clinton said. "We'd create millions of jobs. You'd stop people complaining about income and inequality. We could grow together if we made a serious commitment to bringing maximum American ingenuity to a clean independent energy future."

Thanks to Wood TV 8, the local NBC affiliate, you can view President Clinton's speech online in six seperate segments. Check it out:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Richardson Rides the Bullet Train Idea in Minnesota

Here's a quiz. Who is the first presidential candidate to propose a specific strategic idea that can help Great Lakes cities conserve energy, manage traffic congestion, combat climate change, and revitalize blighted urban areas to compete in the 21st economy?

Is it Rudy Giuliani, the Republican contender, or Hillary Clinton, the front running Democrat, both of whom hail from New York City, one of the world's urban capitols of commerce? Nope. Is it Barack Obama, the inspirational change agent who represents Chicago, a great American city? Nope. What about Mitt Romney, the self made Republican hopeful who's based in Boston, the Cradle of Liberty? Nope.

The answer is Bill Richardson, the current governor of New Mexico and Democratic long shot, who works in lil' ole' Santa Fe.

Campaigning in Minnesota last Friday, Gov. Richardson cited the short list of standard issues: Iraq, energy, and education. But during a brief 17 minute conversation with reporters before leaving town, he also found the time to address an increasingly important issue for Midwest cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland: the lack of modern mass transit.

"You guys have a traffic problem," Gov. Richardson said. "This is endemic to a lot of cities. A president should care about transportation policy. If elected, I would actively promote light rail. And I would work closely with cities and state governments, instead of having just the presidential highway bill be directed towards repairing existing highways and potholes, I would redirect it to light rail, smart growth, and bullet trains. My transportation policy, we would try to jointly fund with the city and the state a light rail system."

The lack of rapid transit is national challenge. But it's also a glaring and ironic problem that strikes at the heart of the greater Great Lakes region's environmental, cultural, and economic well being. I mean, Detroit talks about becoming a center of modern mobility innovation but it's the French who are cranking out the fastest trains.

By seizing on the issue, Gov. Richardson, a former secretary of energy and Clinton cabinet member, aims to define himself as a leader who's uniquely in touch with domestic issues - in this case the link between mass transit and metropolitan competitiveness - and not afraid to break from the pack to talk about specific solutions.

Michigan Discovers Still More Wind, Maybe

When it rains it pours. Or, in light of the promising alternative energy news coming out of Michigan this week, the wind blows trade.

After years of unsuccessful lobbying to build ritzy homes on the shores of Lake Michigan, a sand mining company has scrapped that plan and decided to look into building a wind farm instead. Nugent Sand recently received permission to erect two towers to measure wind speeds and determine if the site is in fact suitable to generate wind-driven energy, according to a report in yesterday's Muskegon Chronicle.

The company's consultant has little doubt. "We're virtually certain we'll have enough wind," Tim Langenberg told the Norton Shores City Council Tuesday.

There is good reason not to get too excited yet. With at least a year of monitoring planned, according to the Chronicle report, the proposal has a long ways to go. The company initially is only considereing one, maybe two, turbines. And some neighbors are sure to fight Nugent's plans, as the company is not typically viewed in a positive light among some vocal locals.

But one more Michigan businessman sees economic opportunity where the wind blows. And the news continues to pump momentum into the state's lagging alternative energy debate.

Campaigning in Cleveland

The three leading Democratic presidential campaigns will slide through Cleveland, OH in the next week. The question is whether any of them will directly address what is one of the most important issues in that and other Great Lakes cities: urban revitalization.

The smart money says 'not a chance.' Senator Hillary Clinton. Senator Barak Obama. Former Senator John Edwards. Not one of them has yet offered a serious agenda to restore the health and vitality of urban areas. And that's a shame because a historic convergence of global mega trends suggests strong cities are the key to future prosperity for the Rust Belt, and America as a nation.
  • The urgent need to attract young, talented workers and prosper in the Digital Age.
  • Anxiety about increasing traffic congestion, rising gas prices, and the growing financial burden of car ownership.
  • The bright ambitions to promote green building and sustainable development.
  • Demographic changes and immigration trends fueling population growth in central cities.
  • Mounting concerns about climate change and environmental protection.
  • Lifestyle changes that favor walking, biking, and healthy living.

These trends overwhelmingly favor growth in metropolitan areas with vibrant downtowns, attractive waterfronts, convenient public transit, plenty of green space, and good schools. That's something that, outside of Chicago, is rare around the Great Lakes.

The Democratic candidates all express the urgent need to stregthen families, promote energy independence, and stomp out poverty. But those are empty words for a region stuggling through heavy job losses, busted budgets, and other dismal economic trends. They need to dive much deeper to distinguish themselves and their capacity to lead.

If the common goal is to nurture high tech companies, generate good paying jobs, and boost competitiveness in the knowledge economy, then strong cities are an essential component of economic success.

The issue of war in the Middle East continues to suck the oxygen out of any substantive debate about domestic issues. But when political hopefuls specifically recommend updating federal policies and redirecting government spending to help cities thrive, we'll know they understand the fundamental challenges facing the Great Lakes economy in the 21st century.

Michigan Discovers Wind

Hate to keep banging the green power drum. But the story today is that Michigan has decided to join the pursuit for America's energy independence.

No, car makers in Detroit didn't submit to modern fuel efficiency standards. But the business leaders and the governor did announce a major wind project. In doing so, they also revealed just how quickly change can happen for a battered state struggling to reinvent itself for the 21st century

By spring 2008, 32 wind turbines are expected to be up, turning, and generating enough energy to power 15,000 homes, according to a press statement from Wolverine Power Cooperative. The $90 million Harvest Wind Farm, located in Huron County in Michigan's thumb region, will be the state's largest commercial scale wind development yet.

"Projects like the Harvest Wind Farm and investments in the alternative energy industry are key to our economic future," Michigan Governor Granholm said in a press statement. "They create jobs and help diversify our economy - two top priorities for Michigan."

Surely one of the great unifying ideas in the Great Lakes region today is the notion that energy innovation can stregthen America abroad, generate jobs, safeguard the environment, and help transform the Rust Belt for the modern era.

The announcement from Michigan is a promising sign that one of the nation's most innovative and capable state's is turning a deeper level of its attention to advancing more sustainable development. Now, about all those proposed coal plants........

Photo courtesy of FreePhotoBank.

Which Way the Wind Blows

If you want to know why Michigan continues to fall behind in the pursuit of green energy innovation, go back and read Ken Kolker's excellent investigative report in Sunday's Grand Rapids Press. But here's the short answer: uneducated citizens and idle politicians.

More than 700 wind turbines dot the skyline in Minnesota, according to Kolker's report. Illinois has 96, with some 640 on the drawing board or already under construction. So how many megawatt making wind mills are turning in Michigan, the 14th windiest state in the union? Three. Two in Mackinac City and one in Traverse City.

Not that energy entrepreuneurs aren't trying. There are preliminary plans for 90 wind turbines on Michigan's West Coast and separate plans for 32 turbines on the east side. Together, the two projects could generate enough clean energy to power tens of thousands of homes. They could also relieve Michigan's need to import coal, reduce energy costs, prevent Great Lakes pollution, and bolster the local farm economy.

"I want to be part of something we need in this country: renewable energy," farmer Eugene Kokx told the Grand Rapids Press. "Why not step and do your share. I want to be part of something new."

But the naysayers argue the machines will kill birds, make noise, and erode property values. The experience in states like Illinois, Texas, and California doesn't back the misinformation. Still, they've fought the energy projects tirelessly in town halls around the state.

And state lawmakers - despite plenty of rhetoric about energy independence, climate change, and going green - have yet to take any real action and enact a modern energy policy that paves the way for wind, solar, and other alternatives.

Michigan Democrats reportedly will introduce today a proposal to boost green power. It isn't the first plan. And it probably won't be the last.

Where's Michigan's Green Power Proposal

The new power plant proposed in Midland, MI will have "a stack for emissions, a cooling tower and a boiler that will look like a giant box," according to a report published today on What the facility apparently will not have is solar panels, wind turbines, or any other sort of green energy technology hyped by the state's politicians these days.

"We have a choice," Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recently said announcing a new ethanol plant in Lansing. "We can invest in things like alternative energy that can strengthen our 21st century economy, or we can disinvest and drop out of the race for economic success."

Michigan talks a big game when it comes to energy innovation. But there's little substance or action to back up the words coming out of the state capitol. There's no official policy to deploy renewable power sources. There are few financial incentives to encourage investment in alternatives beyond coal or natural gas. Heck, there isn't even a policy to encourage basic energy conservation, which is perhaps the most economical and environmentally sensitive strategy to meet the state's near-term energy needs.

Neighboring Great Lakes states are discovering that aggressive action to promote energy innovation is not only a legitimate response to climate change, terrorism, and rising energy demand. Investment in green power sources, they're finding, can also help restart the region's entrepreneurial spirit, spark renewed investor interest in the Rust Belt, and promote a 21st century-style economic agenda.

"There is something interesting going on here," Norman Polanski, the mayor of Lackawanna, NY, said about the $40 million Steel Winds farm now up and running on the former site of Bethlehem Steel. "And finally it's all good. Finally, Western New York has got the limelight."

Meanwhile, Michigan seems content to accept the energy innovations of the century past, instead of investing in, developing, and deploying the power supplies of the future.

Maybe a new coal plant in Rogers City. Maybe a new coal plant in Bay City. Maybe a new nuclear plant in Newport. Now maybe a new coal plant in Midland.

When will the news from the Great Lakes State read 'maybe rooftop solar stations in Detroit,' 'maybe a cutting edge, energy generating waste water treatment plant in Saginaw,' or 'maybe a wind farm on Michigan's West Coast'? Can't yet find the hyperlinks to those kinds of inspiring stories.

"The flurry of new proposed coal plants will test Michigan's commitment to the twin goals of energy independence and climate change solutions like nothing else," David Holtz, the director of Clean Water Action's Michigan office, said in response to news of the proposed Midland project. "Many elected leaders in Michigan give lip service to global warming, but what we will watch is their actions."

"What rules will they pass for permitting new utility plants," Holtz asks. "Will they honestly evaluate Michigan's future energy needs or buy into the utility industry's desire to line up as many coal plants as possible before Congress passes stricter rules on carbon emissions? Will they try to foist upon the public the unproven technology of 'clean coal' (there is, it turns out, no such thing today) as their choice for new energy capacity instead of efficiencies, wind, solar, etc?"

Waukegan Harbor's Turning Point

Civic leaders in Lake County, IL are arguing about whether Waukegan Harbor should be 10 or 20 feet deep, as reported in today's Daily Herald. But the debate is about much more than dredging and navigation. It crystallizes the primary economic challenge now confronting the greater Great Lakes region as it enters the 21st century.

The Great Lakes is currently in the midst of an intense phase of installation where, to paraphrase technology historian Carlota Perez, new ideas erupt in a mature economy, advance like a bulldozer, disrupt the established fabric, and articulate new industrial networks.

"At the beginning of the period," Perez notes, "the revolution is a small fact and a big promise; at the end, the new paradigm is a significant force ready to serve as a propeller of widespread growth."

One of the increasingly popular small facts and big promises in the Great Lakes today is the idea that restoring and redeveloping gritty industrialized waterfronts like Waukegan Harbor - currently one of the most polluted waterways in the nation - can generate jobs, lure new residents and talented young workers, and boost competitiveness in the knowledge economy.

The City of Waukegan. Detroit. Cleveland. Buffalo. Milwaukee. The communities in Northwest Indiana along Lake Michigan's southern shore. Seemingly everbody has a plan to restore the natural beauty of working water- and riverfronts and revitalize them with modern condos, clean beaches, new businesses, and other amenities. What is being installed is the idea that the Rust Belt can transform and reinvent itself as the Blue Belt and kickoff a new era of prosperity.

But acting on these ambitious plans - what Perez calls the deployment phase - often requires incredibly difficult and complicated feats of strength that really grind the gears of proponents for the old and outgoing model of industry. Demolishing riverfront cement plants, for instance, consolidating the lakefront steel industry, relocating a waterfront airport or, in Waukegan, sparring with a drywall manufacturer at the harbor's edge.

That's what behind the news of civic leaders arguing about water depth in Waukegan.

"If it does go to 10 feet, we will be forced to shut down," Steve Rogers, plant manager of the National Gypsum company, told the Daily Herald.

"The question keeps coming up," said Ray Vukovich, director of governmental services in Waukegan, which anticipates a $1.2 billion redevelopment of the Lake Michigan waterfront. "How long is industry going to be there."

Going to Work in Kalamazoo, MI

Cleanup of the contaminated Kalamazoo River is underway in Michigan, and the $21 million environmental restoration project is boosting the local economy by providing jobs for people and clients for local businesses.

The work is by no means replacing the hundreds of knowledge jobs lost when pharmaceutical giant Phizer announced a pullout earlier this year. But it's good hard honest work nonetheless - something the people of the Great Lakes excel at - and it's adding value to the local quality of life that will improve the Kalamazoo region's competitiveness in the modern economy.

The river cleanup primarily involves removing some 132,000 cubic yards of waste material, including 4,400 pounds of PCBs, a nasty chemical linked to an array of adverse health effects such as cancer and reproductive disorders.

Removing the toxin-laden soil and sediments, disposing of them, and restoring the riverbanks with a green buffer is putting some 75 people to work, according to Stephen Garbaciak, a principal engineer and vice president of ARCADIS BBL, the firm managing the work.

"On-site contractor labor executing the construction typically will be between 10 and 30 personnel with an average of 20 during 2007," Mr. Grabaciak told the Great Lakes Guy. "In addition, four construction oversight personnel, a surveyor, and a health and safety professional will be on site full time."

"A team of over 50 scientists and engineers have contributed to the site evaluation and design of the removal project," Grabaciak added.

Much of the work is going to local firms. Terra Contracting in Kalamazoo is managing earthwork construction and transportation services. A yet-to-be named company from the Great Lakes region will install sheet steel pilings to retain the river banks as well as a system to manage the water flow. All aggregate materials are being purchased locally. And a local contractor will seed native plantings along the river banks to complete the project.

The project is another of many local examples that demonstrate how approving and fully-funding the comprehensive Great Lakes cleanup bills languishing in Congress will generate immediate short-term job opportunities, provide new customers for local businesses, enhance quality of life, and speed the Rust Belt's transformation to the Blue Belt.

Evolution of a Car Salesman

Bill Ford, Jr. today delivered a passionate speech about the need to transform the auto industry, the Detroit region, and the State of Michigan for the 21st century knowledge economy. But one simple sentence deep in Mr. Ford's remarks illustrates how the Great Lakes State has yet to seriously confront the scale of cost, effort, and change in thinking necessary to compete and win in the era of globalization.

Speaking on his company's long term goals, the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company said: "We want to transform ourselves into a leading-edge provider of sustainable personal transportation."

That's certainly a laudable goal, especially when it comes to pushing the boundaries of energy efficiency and innovation. Clearly there is money to be made researching, building, and selling better automobiles, particularly in the emerging markets of the developing world. Just look at Toyota's performance.

But Michigan and Detroit must think beyond the car if the true intention is to become a global center of transportation innovation. Personal transportation is just one segment of a much larger mobility market. Dozens of cities in the United States alone, for example, are studying and investing billions to build mass transportation options such as light rail systems, street car networks, and energy efficient buses.

The technologies are by no means perfected. Just getting the trains to run on time is a challenge in car-dominated Michigan, but ridership is up nonetheless.

Right now, however, American auto makers are basically ignoring the opportunity to apply their unique expertise, expand their product portfolios, and lead the mobility industry. Indeed, when asked whether public transit and private automakers can coexist, Mr. Ford responded: “There’s room for both.”

There sure is. Visionary manufacturers in Oregon aim to generate jobs and grow their business by turning out American made street trolleys.

Foreign countries like France and Germany strive to innovate faster and faster trains. Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, and Atlanta also are investigating high-speed trains. The question is who's going to develop, build, install, operate, and maintain them?

It's not that Mr. Ford doesn't grasp the dynamics of the challenge. Few auto insiders have done as much to promote a green business agenda and reinvent the industry for the modern era.

"Today, with climate change, soaring gas prices and billions of potential new customers waiting in developing markets, people finally understand that environmental sustainability is the critical issue for our future growth and prosperity," Mr. Ford told attendees at the Mackinac Policy Conference, an annual event sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

But the scale of change necessary demands thinking less like a car salesman and more like a mobility provider.

“We can transform ourselves into a leading center of technical innovation and sustainable mobility, but only if we act swiftly and boldly,” Ford added.

Click her to see the video of Mr. Ford's speech.