The Great Lakes are the backbone of the one of the world’s largest regional economies. Great Lakes businesses and individuals account for about 28 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Great Lakes basin, according to Fortune Magazine, is home to 38 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. The Lakes attract more than 1.5 million anglers annually, who are the foundation of a $7 billion sport and recreational fishery that supports 58,291 jobs, according to the American Sportfishing Association. According to a study by the Great Lakes Commission, there are 4.3 million registered boats in the eight-state region. Spending on boating and boating activities generated $16 billion in 2003, directly supporting 107,000 jobs.
More than 1.5 million U.S. jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes, generating $62 billion in wages annually, according to an analysis by Michigan Sea Grant at the University of Michigan.
The Great Lakes continue to face many serious threats, such as sewage contamination and invasive species, which threaten the Lakes and the region’s economy. Unless America invests in the Lakes, the problems will get worse and cost more to solve.
Every $1 investment in Great Lakes restoration creates $2 of economic benefit, according to a Brookings Institution report. Investing $26 billion to restore the Great Lakes will bring at least $50 billion in economic benefit to the region through increased tourism, fishing and home values. Major cities around the region—including Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Ind., Milwaukee, and Duluth, Minn.—stand to gain between $200 million and $7 billion in economic benefit.
Thousands of local workers are needed to fix old sewers, restore miles of coastal wetlands and remove tons of toxic mud from Great Lakes waterways. Doing the job requires an army of workers with a wide-ranging set of skills — from engineers, chemists and biologists to truck drivers, landscape architects and construction workers.
Investments in Great Lakes restoration programs create good-paying jobs. For example:
• 125 jobs were created for a $10 million project to restore fish and wildlife habitat in Muskegon Lake, a Great Lakes Area of Concern in Michigan.
• 177 people are employed to control the invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes, which costs the U.S. and Canadian governments $20 million annually.
• 174 jobs were created, some of which were filled by at-risk youth, to remove dams and other barriers in a 150-mile stretch of the Milwaukee River system.
Restoration Saves Communities Money
A healthy Great Lakes and connected system of wetlands, parks and open spaces can protect against flooding, erosion and polluted run-off—reducing or eliminating the need for municipalities to spend money on storm water ponds, pipes, treatment devices and other costly hard infrastructure. For example:
• By using wetlands, trees, and downspout disconnection to limit storm water flows into its combined sewer system, the city of Indianapolis is saving over $300 million.
• New York purchased land and conservation easements as part of a green approach to providing New York City with safe, clean drinking water. Taxpayers saved money—investing $1 billion in green infrastructure rather than $5 billion for a new filtration plant.
Strong Business Support
Numerous chambers of commerce in the region—including Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis— support Great Lakes restoration as part of a broad regional agenda to increase competitiveness. Read the report, “A Business Agenda for Economic Transformation in the Great Lakes Region.”
Inaction Costs More Later
The nation’s investment in Great Lakes restoration is starting to pay dividends in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. If we cut funding now, it will only cost more later, because all of the projects will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait.
• “Faces of Restoration: People Working to Restore the Great Lakes”
• “Healthy Waters, Strong Economy: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem” by the Brookings Institution
• “Place-Specific Benefits of Great Lakes Restoration: A Supplement to the ‘Healthy Waters’ Report” by the Brookings Institution