Michigan's Universities Tapped Into Future of Water

Michigan's Universities Tapped Into Future of Water
Detroit Free Press/June 16, 2014

By Lou Anna K. Simon, Mary Sue Coleman and M. Roy Wilson

Detroit Free Press guest writers

It’s the time of year when Michigan residents rush to enjoy the state’s lakes, rivers and streams, often without thinking about the huge economic advantage that freshwater brings to our state and how much it deserves to be protected and promoted.

Water is the foundation of life and is Michigan’s defining characteristic. As the presidents of the three universities that make up Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC) — Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University — we’re proud of the commitments our universities make to water-related research and service. These programs support Michigan’s economy and quality of life, and position the state as a knowledge wellspring for the world’s most precious natural resource.

A new report commissioned by the URC from Anderson Economic Group (AEG) shows the URC’s efforts to protect the water resources of Michigan and the Great Lakes region and use those resources to advance our economy statewide and globally. Our three universities received nearly $300 million in awards for water-related research and outreach from 2009 to 2013, and those 2,100 awards 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.

Our universities together produce more than 3,400 graduates a year prepared to analyze and find solutions to water-related issues, bringing new talent and energy to the field.

AEG’s analysis showed that Michigan ranked fourth in the nation in the percentage of jobs associated with industries related to water, at 718,700, with 1 in 5 Michigan jobs tied to having good and plentiful water.

Most of Michigan’s water-related jobs are in water-enabled industries — such as agriculture, mining and manufacturing — but about 138,000 are in core water products and services solving water quality and quantity issues. Water sector jobs extend to Great Lakes shipping, advanced manufacturing, agriculture and fishing, and more than 80 other industry areas employing Michigan workers.

The URC is making important contributions to interdisciplinary research, including work being done in the U.S. and Canada through the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the International Joint Commission. Our universities are engaged in research on the major lakes bordering the state and the inland lakes, streams and wetlands that make up Great Lakes basin, as well as water systems around the world.

Our state’s entire history and quality of life is tied to water, and our universities are working hard to protect that important resource while making Michigan a national leader in innovation and talent development. With a fifth of the world’s freshwater supply at our fingertips, the URC knows it must make sure that water is an economic resource, not only for today, but for future generations of Michigan residents.

Lou Anna K. Simon is president of Michigan State University; Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan; and M. Roy Wilson is president of Wayne State University.