Great Lakes Restoration is an economic goldmine

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, a study headed by the University of Michigan reported that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) – which works to improve water quality and habitat health around the region – provides a tremendous payoff for Great Lakes communities. The report found that the GLRI, already known to be an environmental success since its inception in 2010, will produce $3.35 in economic activity around the Great Lakes for every $1 invested by 2036. Minnesota cities like Duluth and others along the North Shore are great examples – they’ve seen both direct investment and economic ripple effects from the GLRI that have helped revitalize their economies.

The GLRI’s initial impacts on water cleanup, shoreline restoration, and other projects have created a powerful economic engine. These efforts have created and sustained jobs in scientific research, conservation, engineering, landscaping, and many other fields. The GLRI also provides funding to a variety of agencies and organizations to create opportunities for job training and other workforce development programs.

The restored shorelines, harbors and waterways support another expanding sector – tourism and recreation. The study estimates that the GLRI’s benefits to this sector will amount to $1.62 for every dollar spent through 2036.

A major boost for Duluth

The Duluth-Superior area is an especially positive case. Prior to the restoration efforts, the St. Louis River estuary in the Twin Ports was deeply contaminated, but the infusion of $60 million from the GLRI has made major improvements, making the area a more attractive destination. The study found that since 2008, jobs in the hospitality sector have increased by 4.4% and the city of Duluth’s tax revenue from tourism has doubled. Hotels, restaurants, and breweries are expanding and springing up in the Twin Ports in part because of the much improved water and recreation opportunities. Along Duluth’s once-contaminated harbor, three new hotels have opened in the last four years.

The restoration has also made Great Lakes communities more appealing places to live in. The Twin Ports have seen their populations of young adults increase significantly since the GLRI began, in part due to the parks, amenities, and environmental quality that the GLRI has helped create. Overall, the study estimates that every dollar spent on the program causes residents to gain $1.08 in increased property values as lakeshore communities become more desirable.

GLRI’s success is evident – the trick is protecting and building on it further

The GLRI effort has won broad support from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, especially in districts around the Great Lakes that have enjoyed the prosperity it generates. In its last two proposed budgets, the Trump Administration attempted to slash the program’s funding by 90% or more, but Congress has overwhelmingly moved to reject the cuts and fully funded GLRI with $300 million each year.

Continuing to protect GLRI’s funding is a top priority for organizations and leaders around the region. It’s also critical to restore funding to agencies, like the EPA, that administer the program and ensure the money is invested effectively. And the Great Lakes face growing challenges like plastic pollution and invasive species that demand further action.

This week, MEP’s Great Lakes Program Director Andrew Slade visited Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and staff to ask them to ramp up their efforts to protect the Great Lakes and cities like Duluth. Slade was accompanied by Rosie Alberio and Eben Phillips (all three in picture above), two representatives of the Duluth Stream Corps. With funding support from the GLRI, the Corps hires and trains Duluth residents to work on restoring shorelines, forests, and streams around the city. It’s a powerful example of the many programs that have revitalized the economy and improved the lives of millions of people around the Great Lakes.

These GLRI programs tell a story of how cleaning up land and water and growing the economy aren’t opposing goals – we can and should have both. Restoring and protecting the Great Lakes is a proven job creator and a boon to communities, and our lawmakers should continue investing in this success for years to come.

One Response to “Great Lakes Restoration is an economic goldmine”

  1. Jamie Harvie

    Several weeks ago I the good fortune to see the progress being on AOC goals in the Duluth harbor. And also the pleasure of reconnecting with Andrew. While the economic benefits are smaller in scope many hundreds of Duluth citizens and local organizations are fighting to stop the flow of plastics into the Duluth harbor and our beaches. On our website we document how a shift to single use bags can save the average grocery store $60,000 per year. Regardless of the savings our local beaches and waterways are contaminated with a new pollutant and Bag it Duluth is working to convince our city council and mayor to act. Here is our recent op ed


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