The Great Lakes: An Economic Super Region

Last winter, a group of people came to Washington – people who usually compete with one another to draw business to their cities – people who left the Capital united and committed to working together to bring back the Great Lakes region.

“A year ago we came together to try and approach the Federal Government collectively with a strategic agenda for dollars and policy for an economic super region: the Great Lakes. We think we have a compelling story to tell,” said Andrew Rudnick, president and CEO for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership at a Press Conference. The Great Lakes Region Coalition came to Washington this week to talk to as many US Congressmen as would listen.

What brought this group of 30 Chambers of Commerce from 12 states and two provinces in Canada together are a common economy, a common history, culture, common assets and challenges. Our region is responsible for a third of the nation’s GDP, 90 percent of our country’s surface fresh water, and as a region the economy is the second largest in the world. They met last February and came up with a blueprint for prosperity that boils down to a five point agenda that includes restoration of the Great Lakes.

“All together, connectedly: we invent it, we design it, we build it and we ship it. Among us we have the best interconnectedness and it is all within the Midwest,” said Mark V’Soske President of Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

They approached Capitol Hill in teams with representatives from several states. So members from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin might have spoken with a Congressman from Ohio. “We were talking to a legislator that only has a relationship with one of the people in our group. That, I think, is a little different. One Congressman, after hearing us said, let me know when I can tap my colleagues – that was a good reaction,” according to V’Soske.

This trip to Washington was planned before the rest of the nation was hit with the economic crisis. Coalition members made clear they were not here as a reaction to the stimulus package currently being debated. Instead this coalition is presenting a long-term strategy that could potentially pull this region and the rest of the nation out of this fiscal mire.

“We can help legislatively develop and fabricate the policy that can move this country forward,” said V’Soske.

And the restoration of the Great Lakes is an integral piece for the success of this agenda. “It is not only important for ecological reasons, but the economic impact from the clean up has an enormous impact on the places that are most polluted,” said Rudnick. “Clearly, whether it’s the Administration or Members of the Great Lakes Congressional Delegation in many states, including New York State, there is much interest in this environmental – ecological piece. It is the next wave,” he added.

V’Soske was in agreement, saying “Not paying attention to the Great Lakes is like owning a multimillion dollar house and spending all your time and money making sure the barn is painted.”

It won’t be long now before the economic stimulus package is completed and Congress will have more time to devote to their residences – lets make sure they don’t spend the Spring painting any barns!

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