Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC)  launched a new report last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference showing that the URC is playing a major role in protecting the water resources of Michigan and the Great Lakes region, using those resources to promote economic development in the state and globally.

The three universities that make up the URC – Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – received nearly $300 million in awards for water-related research and outreach from 2009 to 2013 and are producing more than 3,400 graduates annually in those fields, according to the “Innovating for the Blue Economy” report released Thursday on Mackinac Island.

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The URC Presidents Speaking About the “Innovating for the Blue Economy” Report


Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson and URC Executive Director Jeff Mason spoke with reporters and talk show hosts from more than a dozen media outlets at the Grand Hotel about the findings of the report.


URC water infographic




Among the most important findings is the fact that the water industry is an important economic driver in Michigan. The state ranked fourth in the nation in the percentage of jobs associated with industries related to water, at 718,700 – or one in five jobs.

“One in five Michigan jobs is tied to having good and plentiful water,” said AEG founder and CEO Patrick Anderson, whose company also has prepared studies on the URC’s impact in the auto, information technology, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and alternative energy sectors. “It is an important economic driver in Michigan, and extends to Great Lakes shipping, advanced manufacturing, agriculture and fishing, and over 80 other industry subsectors where Michigan workers are employed today.”

While most of Michigan’s water-related jobs are in industries such as agriculture, shipping, mining and manufacturing, about 138,000 jobs extend to core water products and services such as solving water quality and quantity issues, including more than 80 other industry subsectors where Michigan workers are employed today.


URC Presidents Speaking with Paul W. Smith of 760 WJR


The URC Presidents Speaking with Paul W. Smith of 760 WJR

“Water isn’t just Michigan’s defining characteristic but the foundation of life on earth,” said Simon. “Our three universities make significant commitments to support water-related research and programs. These not only support Michigan’s economy and quality of life, but position the state as a knowledge wellspring for the world’s most precious natural resource.”

The report showed that the 2,100 awards received by the URC during the five-year period led to innovations in a variety of areas, from dealing with invasive species to monitoring water quality and finding ways to optimize water use in agriculture. The awards went to dozens of departments and equal the amount of dollars spent on auto-related research, as the URC reported in 2012.

The report also showed that the three premier research universities are producing more than 3,400 graduates each year prepared to analyze and find solutions to water-related issues, and that nearly 40 percent earned advanced degrees. The three universities offer 68 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in water-related areas spanning engineering, agriculture, public health, natural resources and business.

In total, 341 researchers were principal investigators on water-related projects spanning Great Lakes restoration, water monitoring and filtration technologies, agriculture-related research, climate and weather research, and policy research to help governments deal with water-related issues.

“Michigan’s entire history and quality of life is tied to water, and the URC works hard to protect that important resource and find ways to advance the state’s economy through water-related technology and innovation,” said URC executive director Jeff Mason.

Though much of the URC’s work affects the Great Lakes region, it also has global reach. All three universities are collaborating with researchers across the state, the country and the world.

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For instance, Dr. Joan Rose, who leads Michigan State University’s Center for Water Sciences and its Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment, is an international authority on water microbiology, water quality and public health. She leads a team of “water detectives” to develop new genetic analytics to study waterborne health threats.

URC universities also are engaged in research on the major lakes bordering the state and the inland lakes, streams and wetlands that make up the Great Lakes basin, as well as water systems across the United States and around the world. The $9 million University of Michigan Water Center, which launched in 2012, is guiding efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes by reducing toxic contamination, combating invasive species, protecting wildlife habitat and promoting coastal health.

“The URC is making important contributions to interdisciplinary research, including work being done in the United States and Canada through the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the International Joint Commission,” Coleman said. “We’re proud to be part of this well-deserved focus on protecting and developing water resources.”

Additionally, the capacity and expertise in water research and innovation at the URC universities represents a strategic asset for the state and Metro Detroit region. Wayne State’s Urban Watershed Environmental Research Group – comprised of professors, researchers, administrators and students from law, medicine and engineering – is working to protect and improve the fresh water in the Great Lakes region, in part by helping reduce the energy required to power large water utilities so pollution emissions are reduced.

“We are fortunate to be surrounded by the greatest body of fresh water in the world with a fifth of the world’s freshwater supply at our fingertips,” Wilson said. “The URC is working hard to make sure that water is an economic resource not only for today, but for future generations of Michigan residents.”

The report also was praised by several leaders in water innovation.

“The URC’s Innovating for the Blue Economy report shows the breadth of the role of water in the state’s economy and the significant contribution the URC universities are making to statewide efforts to protect and leverage Michigan’s greatest natural resource,” said Jon Allen, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes director. “As the Office of the Great Lakes completes its work on Gov. Rick Snyder’s water strategy for Michigan, it will draw on the report to paint a clear picture of the efforts already being done and the important leverage points the universities afford the state and the region.”

Added Michigan Education Center director John Austin: “Leveraging Michigan’s special water and innovation resources to solve global water problems means jobs, talent and new economic activity. Findings from the URC’s report reinforce the Michigan Economic Center’s assessment that Michigan has the assets to be the global leader in ‘smart water solutions’– the center of excellence in water research, education, and new technology and business development.”

The full URC Water Report can be found at https://urcmich.org, along with a graphic that highlights the report’s main findings.