The first two stops of the University Research Corridor’s (URC) Blue Economy tour have brought together water researchers and leaders from higher education, state and local government and economic development to emphasize the importance of water to Michigan’s economy and work on developing more ways to promote and protect the state’s water resources.

The URC – an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – kicked off its five-city statewide “Blue Economy” tour at the Lake St. Clair Metropark in Macomb County’s Harrison Township on Sept. 3, and visited Houghton in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where  Michigan Technological University’s Great Lakes Research Center hosted a tour stop on Sept. 26.

These meetings have enabled the URC to have meaningful exchanges with the Huron to Erie Alliance for Research and Training (HEART), Macomb Community College, Macomb County, Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, Michigan Sea Grant and Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce. The next tour stop will be at the Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute housed in Grand Valley State University’s Lake Michigan Center in Muskegon on Thursday, Oct. 9, followed by an Oct. 30 stop in Traverse City ahead of the Oct. 31 Sixth Annual Freshwater Summit at Northwestern Michigan College. A Dec. 17 tour stop at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium also is in the works.

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“Michigan’s University Research Corridor is committed to increasing partnerships throughout the state and region,” URC executive director Jeff Mason said. “With one in five Michigan jobs tied to having good and plentiful water, we look forward to working with the education and business communities in each of the five cities we’re visiting as well as statewide to move the needle on water research.” 

At each of the tour stops, the URC hosts a roundtable discussion and meets with the media afterward to lay out the highlights of the discussion. The roundtable meetings allow leading researchers, university partners, economic development directors and local business and government leaders to discuss the impact of water-related research on economic development in each area of the state on the tour as well as on Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

Participants talk about ways they can develop additional partnerships with the URC and others tied to the Blue Economy to connect university research, innovation and outreach with the aims of industry and regional organizations through water-related projects and efforts.

Nearly $300 million in grants were awarded to the three URC universities for water-related research and outreach from 2009 to 2013, according to the “Innovating for the Blue Economy” report commissioned by the URC from East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group and released earlier this year.

In addition to R&D, the three URC universities each year produce more than 3,400 graduates prepared to analyze and find solutions to water-related issues in academia, government and the private sector, bringing new talent and energy to the field. Nearly 40 percent of those graduates earned advanced degrees, according to the report. Michigan ranked fourth in the nation in the percentage of jobs associated with industries related to water, at 718,700.

“Water impacts not only the quality of life but the economy as a whole in Michigan,” said Detroit Regional Chamber Executive Vice President Ed Wolking. “Countless businesses, from farms to manufacturers and tourism-related enterprises, depend upon a readily available supply of fresh water. Driving the research and innovation surrounding water positions Michigan to lead in the global economy.”

Jon Allan, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes director, is participating in the tour and talking about the importance of water research and resources to Michigan’s economy. That’s something well understood by Elizabeth Hoy, Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce board member and Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement assistant director of operations and industry outreach.

“We value our water resources, from the deep waters of Lake Superior to the countless waterfalls, streams and rivers that enhance life in the Upper Peninsula,” Hoy said. “We want to be a part of both protecting and using that water in new and innovative ways in important U.P. industries.”