Making an impact on Michigan’s blue economy

06-27-2014

It’s summer again, and people across Michigan are heading for the water—lakes, rivers, or maybe just the backyard pool. Water not only defines the geography of the state, but it’s also an integral part of Michigan’s history, economy, and quality of life. 

And water was the topic of much conversation at this year’s Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference. There, along with my University Research Corridor (URC) colleagues, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman and Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson, I joined URC Executive Director Jeff Mason and economist Patrick Anderson to release a report detailing our universities’ engagement in Michigan’s “blue economy.” 

Each year our three research universities focus on a particular economic sector as we quantify our collective impact on the Michigan economy. This year’s Anderson/URC report topic was particularly apt, given the conference’s location at the historic and economically vital Great Lakes crossroads at Mackinac Island. 

Each annual report proves enlightening, and this year we learned that the three universities conducted about the same level of water-related research—nearly $300 million worth over the last five years—as was tabulated for our auto-related research in last year’s report. The 2,100 funding awards that supported our water research led to innovations and understanding in a wide variety of areas, including invasive species, water quality, groundwater withdrawal impacts, and agriculture. 

We can be proud that each year the three URC universities produce more than 3,400 graduates who are prepared to analyze and find solutions to water-related issues in academia, government, and the private sector, bringing new talent and energy to many fields. The report indicates that nearly 40 percent of those graduates earn advanced degrees, information that was particularly relevant to the overall conference theme—talent development for Michigan. 

Our URC group met to discuss the report with more than a dozen news media organizations, including radio, television, print, and online. We’re pleased to see such interest in the research and public service work we’re performing on behalf of the state of Michigan. Our water research, in fact, is a perfect example of how what we learn in our own backyard can be applied to some of the world’s most pressing problems, and vice versa. 

Each year the Mackinac conference gives me a chance to connect with dozens of Michigan State alumni among the crowd gathered on the island. It’s extremely gratifying to see so many Spartans among the state’s business and political leadership. It’s also encouraging to hear so many acknowledgements of the importance of higher education from our friends in the business community, including important advocacy from the Business Leaders for Michigan. 

Higher education is vital to nourishing Michigan’s 21st-century knowledge economy. Each year more than 12,000 MSU undergraduates participate in research projects that connect the lab and classroom to the cutting edge in the most direct way possible. We’re providing students with high-impact learning experiences that prepare them to make a positive impact on Michigan and the world.

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