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Great Lakes important to state's economy

February 24, 2011 - Steve Murch
One thing many people in Michigan do is take the Great Lakes for granted. There are people who live here who don't really give two hoots about them other than they like the water. They forget that they are vital to what happens here.

Well, according an analysis by Michigan Sea Grant at the University of Michigan, more than 1.5 million U.S. jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes, generating $62 billion in wages annually. Now that's a reason to care about more than just the beauty of the Lakes.

A press release on Thursday stated, “The analysis, released today, is based on 2009 employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and represents a conservative estimate of direct employment related to the Great Lakes in several industries, according to the authors, Michigan Sea Grant's assistant director, Jennifer Read, and research specialist Lynn Vaccaro.”

While the jobs are spread out over all the states on the Great Lakes, image for a moment that they were all concentrated in Michigan. That figure would represent more than 15 percent of the population of the state., which includes children and retirees, so it could be 20 percent or higher of the working population.

"Many people don't realize how large an impact the Great Lakes have across many large sectors of this region's economy," Read stated in the press release. "The total number of jobs and the percentage of jobs by industry illustrate just how critical the Great Lakes are to the region. For example, there are more than 525,000 Great Lakes-related jobs in Michigan alone."

If you spread it out over the states, Michigan has the highest number of jobs that depend on the Lakes (525,886), followed by Illinois (380,786), Ohio (178,621), Wisconsin (173,969), New York (157,547), Indiana (54,397), Pennsylvania (25,479) and Minnesota (11,877). Over a half-million jobs directly tied to the Great Lakes.

By comparison, GM had approximately 79,000 employees when it the federal government bailed it out.

Manufacturing was responsible for 66 percent of the Great Lakes-linked jobs, followed by tourism and recreation (14 percent), shipping (8 percent), agriculture (8 percent), science and engineering (2 percent), utilities (1 percent) and mining (1 percent).

"The quality of our lives in Michigan, and the region, is largely defined by the Great Lakes. They provide us sustenance, livelihoods, recreation and a sense of place," said Jim Diana, director of Michigan Sea Grant and a professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. "Unless we continue to protect them and do even more to restore them, we will lose the ability to attract and retain new businesses and talented workers. Restoration of the lakes is crucial to our future."

It couldn't have been said any better.


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