New study shows every dollar spent on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will produce at least $3.35 of additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region

Sep 25, 2018 | News and Announcements

Ann Arbor, Mich. – A new report released today shows that every federal dollar spent on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) projects from the program’s launch in 2010 through 2016 will produce an additional $3.35 of additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region through 2036. The study – which estimates only some of the GLRI benefits – shows that in certain communities, the longer-term impact will be even greater: every dollar spent in Buffalo and Detroit, for example, will produce more than $4 of additional economic activity.

GLRI launched in 2010 and Congress appropriated over $2.5 billion from 2010 through 2017 to fund more than 3,600 projects that have dramatically improved environmental conditions around the region. While the GLRI was intended to accelerate environmental restoration of the Great Lakes and was not intended to stimulate the economy, the study shows that it created or supported thousands of jobs — approximately the same number of jobs per dollar of investment that would be created by a conventional federal stimulus program designed to boost job growth.

The study also shows that GLRI has strengthened tourism in the Great Lakes region. Every federal dollar of GLRI project spending from 2010 through 2016 will generate $1.62 in economic activity in tourism-related industries through 2036. Additionally, the study found that GLRI increased the value that residents place on living in coastal areas: every project dollar spent between 2010 and 2016 produced quality of life improvements worth $1.08 to residents as measured in housing values, leading to an overall increase of $900 million in home values in Great Lakes coastal communities.

Eight case studies illustrate how the regional impact of the GLRI translated into local improvements in specific Great Lakes communities. The case studies showed that GLRI leads to significant new real estate and commercial development, particularly in waterfront areas; a resurgence in traditional water-based recreation and the emergence of a new type of tourism focused on kayaking, kitesurfing, and paddle-boarding; improved quality of life, as indicated by willingness to pay more for housing in coastal areas; and increases in the number of young people who are choosing to stay in or relocate to Great Lakes communities.

Research was led by the University of Michigan’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics and reviewed by a panel of economists and other experts from outside the Great Lakes region. The case studies were developed by the Issue Media Group and a panel of Great Lakes stakeholders provided guidance on the scope of the project and helped articulate the outcomes. A team led by the Great Lakes Commission and the Council of Great Lakes Industries coordinated the study. The team included the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, and the University of Michigan’s Water Center. Funding for the study was provided by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Wege Foundation, the Fund for Lake Michigan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Office of the Great Lakes, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of the Great Lakes.

The report and other project materials are available at


Groups involved in the project said:

Kathryn Buckner, president, Council of Great Lakes Industries
“The GLRI is critical for healthy Great Lakes, which are in turn critical to the continued success of our region’s manufacturing and industry sectors. This study shows that the GLRI not only is improving the ecosystem, but it also has generated and will continue to generate economic activity in the region. CGLI is proud to have been part of this work.”

John Linc Stine, chair, Great Lakes Commission and commissioner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
“This study describes what we already know in facts & figures – cleaning up legacy pollution and restoring aquatic habitat on the Great Lakes isn’t only good for the environment, it creates jobs and fuels the regional economy. It’s a positive legacy that States and our partner organizations can leave for future generations. The Great Lakes states are ready and excited to continue this critical work until the job is finished.”

Mike Shriberg, executive director, the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center Executive Director
“This study moves our understanding of the impacts of GLRI from anecdotal to comprehensive.  The results prove what community leaders have been telling us for years: The GLRI is not only stimulating regional economies but is also transforming waterfronts and generating community pride. “

Alesha Washington, director, Great Lakes Metro Chambers
“The Great Lakes are one of the world’s greatest natural resources and a major economic force for our region. This study demonstrates the impact of the GLRI far beyond the environmental benefits and the need for continued investment in this important program.”

Molly Flanagan, vice president for policy, Alliance for the Great Lakes
“The research released today shows once again that programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative can help the environment and our economy. The GLRI is clearly a strong investment for the region, protecting our drinking water and recreation opportunities while supporting local economic growth and quality of life in communities across the region.”

Jon W. Allan, director, Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes
“For too long, the Great Lakes states have turned their backs on their lakes and rivers. The results of this study give us just a glimpse of this region’s potential to build a new legacy in which we embrace our natural assets and reconnect with water. A new future is developing in the Great Lakes states and that future is blue.”

Jennifer Read, director, University of Michigan’s Water Center
“We have long suspected that the health of the Great Lakes is an important driver of our regional economy, but it is fantastic to now have a clear and quantitative demonstration of that connection.  Through this study we can see that restoring Great Lakes ecosystems can boost recreation and tourism, help attract new people and businesses, and revitalize local economies.”


For media inquiries, please contact Beth Wanamaker,

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