A press release came to my inbox a few weeks ago announcing the creation of the Michigan Economic Center at East Lansing’s Prima Civitas with a title that read, “Center plans to build support for investments in distinctive state assets for the coming ‘Green’ and ‘Blue’ economies.”

To which my response was, “Blue economy? Blue economy? That’s genius! A blue economy! We’re Michigan! We should have one of those! Do we have one of those? Can we get one?”

I grew up on one of the most beautiful stretches of the world’s longest freshwater coastline, Tawas Bay. It never gets less wow.

Michigan has been a state for 175 years now, and, to my knowledge, has had 3,288 miles of freshwater coastline and some sort of economy that entire time. How did it take all that time for someone to come up with this concept? Why couldn’t that someone have been me? (Perhaps the copyright is still available on the phrase? Oh, to be a economic development visionary!)

As it turns out, some very smart people have been mulling over the idea of re-imagining our largest natural resource as something more powerful than a jet ski parking lot for some time. A little bit of initial research reveals conversations about developing our blue economy have been taking place since at least 2009. And I’m too lazy to go past the first page of search results on Google, so imagine how much earlier the topic may have actually been under discussion.

It’s similar to how our green economy concept developed: one day someone realized that we are flush with skilled workers and manufacturing plants, and since the world needs all this new environmental technology, why don’t we build it? So companies and communities and non-profits have raised capital, received grants and diverted funds to create super-duper battery plants and energy auditing services and magic furnaces, among other stuff (technology is paraphrased). As someone who writes about innovation and entrepreneurship in Michigan, I’ve written about green businesses until I was blue in the face. I mean, it’s cool and all, but it’s getting to be a bit of a snoozer.

Besides, we need to continue to diversify our new economy. If any state in the nation could be a poster child for the perils of building an economy around one industry….uh…yeah. That would be us. The good news is that we have 64,980 inland lakes and ponds (thank you, Wikipedia), and then there’re these five big ‘ol ones you may have heard of. We’ve done a super job of promoting their beauty and touristy benefits (thank you, Pure Michigan), but we’ve only begun to harness the economic potential in having the world’s longest freshwater coastline.

Six quadrillion seems about right.
National Parks Service photo. Wikipedia said I could use it.


How? Well, on a larger scale, that’s what the new Michigan Economic Center is goingto figure that out and then convince people to do it. They’ve already got a few ideas though. Essentially, it could work a lot like the green economy, that is, creating jobs around building a more environmentally healthy water system. This could include water cleaning, monitoring, and conservation technologies; water infrastructure repair; wetland preservation; waterfront renewal and more. Is an economy built on preserving our lakes sustainable? Well, we’ve got six quadrillion gallons of lake, so it should keep us busy for awhile. (You’re think six quadrillion is a fake number, but no.)

Not every place in Michigan is waiting around for the new think tank to give them direction. Macomb County has already begun a Blue Economy Initiative, with such goals as increase accessibility to Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River, enhancing and improving environmental quality, increase entertainment and recreational development opportunities. And they’ve got a Facebook page dedicated to the initiative already, so…it’s on.

Macomb County has good reason to be a leader in the blue economy game, with 32 miles of coastline Lake St. Clair. So, super job, Macomb County. Way to get a jump on that. Now – I’m talking to us, the other 3,256 miles of lakefront – tag, we’re it.

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