Saturday, March 7, 2009

Local chamber pushing Great Lakes economic plan

Thursday, February 19, 2009
By Dave Alexander

MUSKEGON -- Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce officials were among a group of 40 in Washington last week to lobby not for a larger piece of the economic stimulus package but for longer-term investment in the Great Lakes.

Chamber leaders from 12 states and two Canadian provinces met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill for three days last week to push a five-point strategic plan for the Great Lakes region.

The economic development strategy touches on the environment, border issues with Canada, transportation funding and federal immigration. A regional innovation strategy is needed to transform the Great Lakes economy, the chamber leaders argued.

"When taken as all 12 states and the two provinces, our gross domestic product makes us the second-largest economy in the world," said Janessa Stroud, vice president of government affairs for the Muskegon chamber. "I think we turned some heads in Washington."

The chamber strategy is to "leverage" the Great Lakes for economic development, Stroud said. A future regional summit on port development and binational issues with Canada is in the works, she said.

Great Lakes restoration legislation that has not made it out of Congress and was not specifically addressed in the economic stimulus plan signed by President Obama Tuesday is also key to the chambers' agenda, Stroud said.

The fact that Obama lived along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago and has been a co-sponsor of past Great Lakes restoration legislation gives chamber officials hope that the issue could move through Congress in late 2009 or early 2010, Stroud said. Restoration of the lakes could include $20 billion over five years to upgrade waste and stormwater infrastructure.

Another $150 million annually could go to clean up sediments in waterways that feed the Great Lakes.

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